Today is all about high-tech, high-speed and high-impact. Unfortunately, one of the casualties is old fashioned, one-on-one human contact. Real relationships, not just Facebook buddies.
There was a time, not so long ago, where somehow, we survived without computers, smartphones or Skype. A time when the pace wasn’t quite so accelerated and a man’s word was his bond. A handshake as good as a contract.
As partners in the law firm of Maples, Tucker & Jacobs, Sam Maples and Jack Jacobs are trying to recreate an environment that blends what was solid and true from the “good ol’ days” with the advantages of today’s modern tech world. They might be from different generations, but Maples and Jacobs share the same philosophy, to fight for their clients every day.
Maples grew up in Bessemer, a small, industrial city just southwest of Birmingham. A blue-collar community, where people worked hard, paid their taxes and took care of one another. Though blessed to be from one of the wealthier families in the area, Maples was keenly aware of the struggles other families were going through, including those of his friends and classmates.
It was the late 1960s to the early ’70s, a time before OSHA or really any protection for the workers of mines, steel mills or fabrication plants. Bessemer, a culturally diverse community was – and remains – a tight-knit community where the Golden Rule still reigns.
It was from this background that Maples drew his passion for fighting for the underdog. When he sees a wrong, he switches to tunnel vision, compelled to make it right.
“I think my first inkling that law might be my future was while serving as high school class parliamentarian,” he says. “Naturally, I had to be well-versed in Robert’s Rules of Order which is the generally accepted manual for parliamentary procedures.”
While he admittedly had advantages most of his friends did not, this did not prevent Maples from getting his hands dirty. Rather than ride on privilege, he joined the same blue-collar workforce as his friends and neighbors during the summers between school semesters. Though he knew it would not be his life’s work, these experiences gave Maples an even clearer picture of the difficulties and risks associated with such jobs.
“I wouldn’t give up growing up in Bessemer for anything,” he says emphatically. “It keeps me grounded and won’t let me get too big for my britches.”
Family Legacy of Caring
The son of a U.S. Navy sailor, Jacobs began life on a naval base in Millington, Tennessee. Though, like most military families they moved a lot, by the time he’d reached high school the family was settled in Jemison, Alabama. An even smaller town than the one where Maples grew up, this too was a tight-knit community where neighbors care for neighbors.
“I played tennis in high school,” says Jacobs. “I’m not sure I had ever seriously considered law school until after completing my undergraduate studies and working in the ‘real world’ for a while. I knew I wanted to do something that would help others and really make a difference, and knew that a sales career wasn’t the way to do that.”
Jacobs’ seemingly inherent desire to stand up for the “little guy” seems to be a family core value. Dating back to World War II, his ancestors risked their own safety and lifestyle to help those they felt couldn’t fend for themselves.
“My great-grandparents were ministers in the Christian church in California at the start of World War II,” he says. “They had several Japanese members of their church facing removal to internment camps. My grandparents helped these people get to Iowa where they would be safe for the duration. It was risky and very brave, but they were just doing what they felt was the right thing.”
Jacobs also pursues cases where he feels he’s doing the right thing. Like Maples, Jacobs grew up amongst blue-collar families whose livelihoods depended on factory work and the unions that supported their rights. He witnessed how hard it was for many to get the care or compensation they deserved.
“I decided that if I was going to be a lawyer, it was going to be to help those who can’t help themselves,” he says. “That is what’s most important to me.”
Bill Tucker Jr. rounds out the trio of partners in this ever-growing firm. Specializing in Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA) cases representing railroad workers injured on the job, Tucker also represents railroad workers under the new whistleblower provisions of the Federal Rail Safety Act, which protects railroad employees from illegal retaliation and discrimination.
“Sam and I had a vision when we began trying these cases together in 2005,” says Bill Tucker. “It was to have fun and do a good job for our clients. You see, doing a good job for your clients is the fun.”
With nearly a century of combined litigation experience among them, this firm is the recognized go-to firm, representing miners, railroad workers, steel workers and other laborers in Alabama and the Southeast. Whether the injuries are the result of a workplace accident, negligence or a reckless driver, their aggressive approach brings experience and empathy to each client.
“I’ve been trying these types of cases – coal mining and railroad litigation – since 1980,” says Maples. “It was hard to win back then, but now we’re very fortunate that we’ve had the opportunity to see the laws change in favor of coal miners, especially those suffering from black lung disease.”
In fact, the firm’s experience is so extensive and impressive that they became the designated counsel for United Mineworkers District 20 in 2010.
“I’ve been handling a lot of black lung cases in recent years,” says Jacobs. “Many are against Drummond Coal and Chevron Mining. One case involved securing black lung benefits for a widow whose husband died back in 2001, but his benefits had started in 2000. We were able to successfully recoup the benefits that had been denied to her from 2001-2012.”
“It’s very hard,” interjects Maples. “You see of lot of these people dying off, a result of the exposure to those fumes and toxins. We’re also hoping that Congress will honor the promise of 1946, when President Truman made a commitment to the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) to safeguard a welfare and retirement fund and a separate medical and hospital fund. Countless miners and surviving spouses trusted these things would be there for them.”
“We understand that there are fewer coal miners, fewer active mines and so the retirement funds are dwindling,” adds Jacobs, “but these people have given their entire lives to mining despite the numerous dangers and we’re hoping that Congress will augment these funds to make sure these promises are kept.”
On the Horizon
As the firm continues to grow and expand its practice areas, the partners have had to seek larger office space.
“We’re actually in the process of moving,” says Maples. “We’ll still be here in Park Place, but we’ll be able to accommodate our additional staff and continue to grow.
“We’re planning on expanding into more areas,” he continues, “even focusing on some mass torts with our client base and increasing our worker’s compensation and personal injury practices.”
“We’re also anticipating doing more black lung cases outside of Alabama,” adds Jacobs. “We handle some of those cases now, primarily in Tennessee on a referral basis, but we may try to work on developing that further.”
Expanding their client base beyond the state borders is made easier with the use of technology, they both indicate.
Despite their ample workload, the firm is still committed to providing pro bono services.
“One of our associates Tom Walker works with the Birmingham Bar’s mentoring committee,” says Jacobs. “He is the co-chair of that group, and Cee Cee Freeman, another associate, works with Oasis Counseling, a battered women’s counseling service. And, I’m a lay leader in my church.”
In addition, each year the entire firm participates in the Labor Day picnic with the AFL-CIO in Jefferson County.
“It’s a good cross section of workers,” says Maples. “You have steelworkers, miners, electrical workers and the American Federation of Teachers.”
“My wife knows that on Labor Day we’ll be at that picnic in Tannehill,” adds Jacobs. “We won’t be barbecuing at home! We make a family event out of it. She enjoys it as much as I do. We give out the ice cream and popsicles.”
Regardless of what’s around the corner for this proactive firm or how big they might grow, one thing is certain, they will always be in the corner of the underdog wherever or whomever that happens to be. And, they will continue to fight for their clients every day.