Photo Courtesy of Pensacola News Journal
J. Alistair McKenzie, a 2011 alumnus of FIU Law, practices law at a small firm in Pensacola, Florida, and was recently appointed Regional Vice President for the National Lawyers Guild. McKenzie, recently discussed his career path with us and his duties with the National Lawyers Guild.
Where are you working and what kind of law do you practice?
I am practicing law at a small firm in Pensacola, Florida. I mostly practice civil rights law on behalf of people whose rights have been violated. I have worked on First Amendment speech cases, police misconduct cases, prisoner rights cases, and am currently in the process of challenging some ordinances which criminalize homelessness. Additionally, I work on personal injury, medical malpractice, and consumer rights cases. As well, I handle all of my own appeals and have already been involved in appeals in the 1st DCA and the 11th Circuit. I have been blessed with the freedom to practice law on behalf of the poor and disadvantaged, the people who don’t normally have a voice in our country or legal system. As a result of this blessing, every day I am thankful that I have the opportunity to practice law that is meaningful and which gives my life and career a purpose.
What is a typical day like for you?
Like any practicing lawyer I spend most of my time at my desk researching and writing. As a litigator, I am also frequently in court, be it for hearings or trials. As a plaintiff’s attorney and being part of a small practice, I also typically am communicating with clients, networking with other lawyers, managing the firm, and promoting our firm’s services.
You were just appointed Regional Vice President for the National Lawyers Guild. What does it mean to you to be elected?
It was a tremendous honor to be elected. I was an at-large member in law school, as we did not have a Guild Chapter at FIU, and immediately upon being licensed as an attorney I became a full-fledged attorney member of the Guild. To me, it is meaningful to have been elected as the Regional Vice President because I want to help the Guild grow and prosper in its work and especially in the South. It truly is the pre-eminent legal organization for those interested in protecting the civil and human rights of Americans and others across the globe. There is no other legal organization I am aware of that really goes to the mat for people’s rights like the Guild does, no matter how unpopular the person’s cause. I have had the opportunity as a Guild attorney to handle a major First Amendment case and I took part in defending the first amendment rights of protesters on the ground in Tampa last year at the Republican National Convention. Simply put, it is quite an honor to be a member and now an active hand in the Guild which for nearly a century has been a last legal line of defense for civil and human rights in this country. As the Regional Vice President, I have been given the opportunity to assist the Guild in the South and work with passionate lawyers, activists, and citizens of all kinds who are concerned about making this world a better place. I am honored to do what I can for the Guild and for civil and human rights in the South.
What are your duties at the National Lawyers Guild?
There are many duties, but to sum it up, I am the National Lawyers Guild representative responsible for the South. I am responsible for working with all of the Guild Chapters in the South on all their endeavors, promoting and fighting for the constitutional and human rights of people in the South and across the country, and growing the presence of the National Lawyers Guild in the South and across the country. There are also a whole host of administrative duties that are equally as important as the other duties that must be done to keep the Guild organization running that I now take part in with others in the NLG executive organization. I would encourage law students, alumni, and professors to all get involved with the National Lawyers Guild, as it is a great organization for people who believe in the importance of fighting for human rights.
In what ways did FIU Law help prepare you for your career?
Thanks to the dedication and quality of the legal education at FIU Law, I was prepared to hit the ground running in my legal practice. I can’t say enough about the quality of the professors at my alma mater and their dedication to their students. Without their passion and insight into the law and their encouragement to keep reaching for more that they instilled in me, I do not believe I would be the attorney I am today. Surely I would not have had as successful a beginning to my career as I have had were it not for FIU Law.
What was your favorite class at FIU Law? Why?
It’s difficult for me to pick just one, and given my interests in all things constitutional law, all of the classes I took from Professors Wasserman, Stack, Baker, and Strickman have to top my list. Also, Professor Fish’s jurisprudence course was an intellectual high point of my education at FIU Law. These professors classes really stand out, not only because the subject matter was of keen interest to me, but also because the professors taught with passion and demanded a high level of work and competency from their students. Their demands on students were great preparation for the difficult work of managing a full caseload as an attorney, as that taught me to maintain a high degree of competency and dedication to my clients and the law even when overwhelmed with many pressing deadlines. But, that said, all of my professors at FIU Law were excellent and each left a distinct impression on me that is expressed in my work every day.