Episode 146 — Rex Elliott — Committed to Impact: Transforming Adversities into Opportunities
When you come across a lawyer who’s determined to represent the underdog no matter what, that’s when you know you’ve got someone special.
Rex Elliott is that lawyer. His entire goal in life is to help those who weren’t given the same opportunities as those more fortunate. He vows to try cases that others are too intimidated by, and that’s what has made him so successful.
On this episode of The Game Changing Attorney Podcast, Rex and Michael sit down to discuss:
- How to leverage the media in high-profile cases
- Why the most valuable lessons come from our losses, not our wins
- How lawyers have the power to change the world
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Try a different perspective. “There’s an old Chinese parable that says it could be good or it could be bad. Let’s say something seemingly really good happens in somebody’s life, but it turns out to be not such a good thing — or something seemingly really bad and challenging happens, but it turns out to be one of the best things that ever happened to them. That’s how I look at my life. When you connect the dots backwards, things clear up. I’ve learned many lessons over the years thanks to the things that have happened to me, both good and bad. The key is to never let pride get in the way. During the low moments, I’ve tried to see through that particular problem and have tried to figure out why it was that that was happening to me at the time. I think if you’re not listening and observing those kinds of things, you’ll miss them.”
A life-changing case. “There was a Black man named Willie Gladdens who was on death row for killing his white girlfriend’s former white ex-boyfriend out of self defense. He had a court-appointed divorce lawyer representing him in front of an all-white jury, and his lawyer ended up running out of the courthouse crying during his closing argument. Willie was put on death row instantly. At the time, I was at Sullivan & Cromwell, and our job was to get him off of death row — and we did that. He even managed to get out of prison and live a productive life later on. That’s when I felt for the first time that my license to practice law was being used in the way that God intended me to use it. I was helping another person that needed it the most. I loved my experience in big law firms, but the reality is at some point when you’re representing Fortune 500 hundred companies, though it is really important work, I felt at some point like I was moving money around a balance sheet that I really wasn’t impacting the world. That’s what led me to open my own practice.”
Making the most of the media. “The media can be a powerful partner with you in terms of getting your message out. I’ve always used the media as a member of our team, and if you’re good to them and never misstate things to them, they will be powerful partners for you. They have been my ultimate marketing and advertising machine for the last 25 years, especially since I don’t use television ads or anything like that.”
Building a brand around a sensitive subject. “I’m not going to pretend that it wasn’t a big question. I’m a white guy from this privileged community in Columbus. How am I possibly going to understand what families of color go through? My response to that is, you’re right. I don’t know firsthand what happens in those communities. But what I can tell you is this: There are too many police shootings disproportionately affecting people of color — typically young African American men. What happens when that occurs is that largely the Black community gets up in arms. The point I’m making is that it is time for all of us to get angry and to get on TV and say enough is enough. No, I’m not a Black man; I’m a white man, but it should be just as outrageous for white men and white women as it is for Black men and Black women.”
It’s time to put an end to hazing. “The way I look at hazing cases, there are a number of different participants in hazing. There’s the 18- to 22-year-old kids, the national fraternity and sorority organizations, and then there’s the universities — and I frankly think that we’ve spent way too much time talking about the 18- to 22-year-old kids. All they’re doing is living within a system that was created for them by adults. We need to focus on the national organizations and the universities to put a stop to this. If we are going to start putting in the hands of 18- to 22-year-old kids to stop hazing in this country, it’s never going to happen. We have had a hazing death on a college campus in this country every single year since 1959, and it’s become my mission to do everything I can to end hazing altogether.”
Down with the Greek system. “I’ve called for an end to pledge programs across the country. They’re antiquated, they’re archaic, and there’s absolutely no purpose for a pledge program anymore. That’s where all these deaths and injuries are occurring because there’s an imbalance of power. The active members have something the pledges want, so the pledges go through a process. At some point they become invested and they’re so far down the path, there’s no turning back. Think about it for a second. These 18- and 19-year-old kids are on a college campus. They’re living independently for the first time in their lives. The last thing they’d want to do is quit something, and I think we need to eliminate pledge programs in general. One more death on a college campus in this country is too much.”
What does being a game changer mean to you? “Being a game changer means being committed to what you believe in. Don’t do things that you aren’t committed to. You’ve got to be humble and not get caught up in your successes. When you’re fighting for the underdog, you’ve got to work hard for them. And of course, make your family your priority. You can be a great attorney, but you’ve got to remember to be a great mom or dad too.”
RESOURCES & REFERENCES
Sullivan & Cromwell
National Football League
Bowling Green University
CONNECT WITH MICHAEL
Text directly at 404-531-7691