An Enterprise attorney with more than 40 years of being “the voice for the voiceless” has been inducted into one of the premier legal associations in North America.
Paul A. Young was inducted into the American College of Trial Lawyers in a virtual ceremony before an audience of 670 Fellows during the 2020 Annual Meeting and 70th Anniversary Celebration of the college held online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Young becomes the second attorney from Coffee County selected for the honor in the 70-year history of the college. The late Joe Cassidy Sr. is also an American College of Trial Lawyers Fellow.
“Humbled,” is the way the son of the late Paul and Ann Young described his reaction to the news of his selection for the honor.
Membership in the American College of Trial Lawyers is by invitation only and is extended exclusively to those who have distinguished themselves in trial practice, said Past President Warren B. Lightfoot during the virtual induction ceremony.
Founded in 1950, the American College of Trial Lawyers is comprised of the best of the trial bar from the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico, Lightfoot said. “Those whose professional careers have been marked by the highest standards of ethical conduct, professionalism, civility and collegiality.”
The college is dedicated to maintaining and improving the standards of trial practice, professionalism, ethics and administration of justice, Lightfoot said. “Its membership includes trial lawyers representing every aspect of the bar, plaintiff and defendant lawyers from virtually every substantive area of civil practice, public interest, prosecutors and criminal defense.”
Lawyers must have a minimum of 15 years of trial experience before being considered for Fellowship. Membership in the college cannot exceed 1 percent of the total lawyer population of any state or province. There are currently approximately 5,800 members in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico, including active Fellows, Emeritus Fellows, Judicial Fellows who ascended to the bench after their induction and Honorary Fellows.
“I am humbled,” Young said after the induction ceremony. “I really don’t know what separated me from everybody else.”
High ethical and moral standards and collegiality are key characteristics of those who are successfully considered, according to Lightfoot. “The college is proud to include among its members every Supreme Court Justice of the United States and Canada.
“One cannot purchase fellowship, one cannot politic one’s way into the college, one cannot seek it, one must simply earn it and wait to be asked,” Lightfoot said. “It is clearly a benediction pronounced on a life well lived, a profession well served, a truly accomplished career.”
Lightfoot said that the biggest honor he had ever received was his election as a fellow some 36 years ago.
Young understands that sentiment. “This is probably the greatest honor of my career,” he said. “I will accept this award but I am accepting it on behalf of all trial lawyers because we work in relative anonymity here.
“And only those who do this kind of work really know how difficult it can be,” he added. “Those people and the people in your family that are close to you.
“The only people who know how difficult it can be are those you are defending and your family,” he said.
Lightfoot agreed. “What we do as courtroom lawyers is one of the most arduous vocations ever undertaken. The hours are long, the work is demanding, the pressure can become almost intolerable,” is the way Lightfoot described it. “Virtually none of us in the college would have made it without the greatest support and understanding from those closest to us, so while fellows must earn their induction into the college, we all recognize that much of the credit belongs to the spouses and significant others.”
Young’s wife of 29 years died Sept. 25, 2018. Two years later on the same day, Young was inducted into the American College of Trial Lawyers. “The biggest regret I have is that she isn’t here for this,” he said. “She was unique in this world.
“Shawn was my rock,” he added. “You don’t know how much a person does for you until they are not there. That kind of support is worth everything.”
In his message to the spouses of the newly inducted Fellows, Lightfoot noted that they “sit beside a lawyer whose ability has been scrutinized over an entire career, one whose talent has been measured against the finest courtroom lawyers on this continent, one who has been found to be the absolute pinnacle of our profession.”
The inductees are those “whose courtroom skills have been judged preeminently over and over by friend and foe alike,” Lightfoot said. “One whose courtroom accomplishments have truly been distinguished, whose experience has been exhaustively evaluated and one who has demonstrated that no challenge is too great, no test is too severe, one whose dedication to excellence has never waivered and one who is deeply committed to our great adversary system.”
The inductee is a lawyer whose character has been investigated over a lifetime and whose ethics and morals have been looked at intensely and with utmost attention, one whose integrity has been found to be impeccable, one who has been a shining example of rectitude for others, Lightfoot continued. “No higher accolade can be earned by a person in any profession than to have been tested and found beyond reproach by one’s peers and under the most adverse circumstances.”
After graduating from Enterprise High School in 1966, Young attended the Ozark Aviation School for two years. The Enterprise native joined the Air Force and remained on active duty for four years.
Returning to Enterprise, Young graduated from what was then called Enterprise State Junior College and then graduated from Troy University.
After graduating from the University of Alabama Law School in 1979, Young returned to Enterprise and practiced law with the late Thom Haigh. After Haigh left to work for Legal Services, an organization providing free civil legal aid for low income people, Young practiced solo “for a long time,” before joining Elba attorneys Debbie Jared and the late Gareth Lindsey. “That was a great experience,” Young said about the man he names as one of two mentors.
He also credits long time Enterprise attorney, the late Joe Cassidy Sr., as a person he learned from. “I always looked up to those two men. I’ll tell you something else, I wanted to be them so I started out my practice trying to be them,” Young said.
Young served as president of the Coffee County Bar Association for 15 years. He is a lifetime member of the ACDLA and has served on the board of directors for more than a decade. He received the ACDLA President’s Award in 2004 and 2007. Young holds the distinction of being the only Coffee County attorney elected President of the Alabama Criminal Defense Lawyers Association in 2016.
Young is a recipient of two of the highest awards that a criminal defense lawyer in Alabama can receive. In 1994, he was awarded the Alabama State Bar Association’s Clarence Darrow Award for his contributions to the integrity of criminal defense.
In 2009, Young was also awarded the ACDLA’s Roderick Beddow Lifetime Achievement Award for Criminal Defense, the most prestigious award given by the organization for his service in criminal defense.
“When I first started in law, there were the indigent (legal) appointments that paid $20 an hour for in-court time, $10 an hour out-of-court time, with a $500 cap on almost every case,” Young said. “Nobody wanted to do the indigent appointments because they were not much money.
“I didn’t grow up in the legal profession so I was taking what cases I could get,” Young said. “I did so much of it, that is how I guess my reputation got started for helping these people who had no voice.
“I didn’t get here by myself, that’s the main thing I want people to know,” Young said. “My wife, Shawn, supported me in every kind of way.
“I was just doing what I thought I was supposed to do, what I had seen good lawyers do,” he added. “The one I owe the most to is Shawn because for almost 30 years she was my rock. Still is. She’s the best thing that ever happened in my life. That’s the truth.”