Southern Poverty Law Center was founded by Morris Dees and Joe
Levin. Morris Dees and Joe Levin seemed and odd pair of lawyers.
Morris was a Baptist who's parents were cotton farmers and he
loved the farm life. Joe on the other hand was the one of a Jewish
Lawyer who followed his father's footsteps. He enjoyed the city
life especially the abundance of restaurants and bars in Manhattan.
In the year of 1969, Alabama State Senator Mac McCarley faced
losing his seat in the senate and a federal suit for having solicited
a bribe from the police. The media had already covered the entire
case up and down, inside and outside, even before his trial. McCarley
wanted a lawyer named F. Lee Bailey, the most prominent in Alabama,
but he was requesting a fee of $25,000 plus expenses. So McCarley
got referred to Morris Dees by a friend and Morris took the case
for a lesser amount. Having interviewed and met with McCarley,
Morris Dees took the case believing his innocence and for the
challenge. It would be a difficult case to try if the public has
already seen the case as portrayed by the media and with all the
evidence against you. Morris' brother then referred him to Joe
Levin, a young lawyer from New York.
Joe Levin followed his father, Joseph Levin Sr.'s footsteps of
debt collection law. This field of law pays well but was not of
a challenge for Levin. Levin walked into courtrooms each day and
came out of them the same day already with a victory. He wanted
something more. So when he heard of the McCarley case, he wanted
to help. He had of Morris' job on the YMCA case and wanted to
Morris Dees and Joe Levin worked well together despite their
opposite backgrounds and personalities. Joe was the better researcher
and writer and proved useful during the cases. Morris had the
experience that would make a successful partnership. In 1969,
Morris Dees Jr. then 33, and Joseph Levin Jr. then 36, opened
up the law partnership of Levin and Dees. By that time, McCarley
was reinstated into the Untied States Senate even before the not
guilty verdict of State v. McCarley which made headlines all across
Alabama and the South.
Both men were wealthy and were into law for the challenge and
for justice. When they opened the firm they agreed to charge people
by what they could afford. If one could not afford to pay, then
one was not required to pay. If one could afford to pay, then
one would pay. The purpose was to furnish the pro bono
(non-paying) cases by using fees from the paying cases.