It is difficult to adequately summarize the life and career of Bibb Allen (1921-2007). Bibb truly epitomized “The Greatest Generation.”
Bibb was a hero in World War II. As a fighter pilot, he flew P-47 fighters in more than 100 missions, including a mission in the Allied Forces’ invasion of Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944, and 14 missions over the next 12 days. Upon his return from the war, Bibb married his college sweetheart, the lovely Louise Irving, started a family, and attended the University of Alabama School of Law, where he excelled as a student. Upon graduation from law school, Bibb began his practice in Birmingham.
Bibb was awarded many honors, including induction into the American College of Trial Lawyers, the International Academy of Trial Lawyers, and the American Board of Trial Advocates. Bibb also served as President of the Alabama State Bar, the Birmingham Bar Association, and the Alabama Defense Lawyers Association.
He authored the Alabama Insurance Liability Handbook, which serves as a fixture on the desks of many lawyers across the state. The last five years of his practice, Bibb asked John W Johnson to prepare the supplements for his book which led to John preparing the second edition and renaming it in Bibb’s honor after his death.
Bibb sincerely believed in the importance of giving to his community, teaching Sunday School at First Methodist Church of Birmingham for forty years. He taught evening courses in Torts and Civil Procedure at the Birmingham School of Law for thirty years.
Bibb was a legendary trial lawyer. Bibb tried an estimated 500 jury trials, mostly for the defense. Bibb was wildly successful in part because he enjoyed his profession. His charisma and humor were infectious. It seems that every lawyer and judge who ever met Bibb has a story about his unique trial tactics and strategies.
Despite his incredible achievements, Bibb was sincerely humble. When asked to give advice to young lawyers, he would quickly say, “the best advice is found in the book of Micah, chapter six, verse eight: ‘Do justice, love, kindness and walk humbly with your God.'” If Bibb were here today, he would still say the proudest accomplishment of his lengthy career was the cultivation “of relationships I’ve been fortunate to have with lawyers of the highest reputations and standards who can be trusted and who are interested in the law and its results.” The lawyers of Christian & Small are proud and thankful that we had the opportunity to call Bibb our partner and friend.
He is missed.
Keep Your Shoes Shined
One attorney recalls when Bibb instructed him, “You need to get your shoes shined because the jury will be looking at your shoes to see what kind of person you are. You can tell a lot about a person by how his shoes look.” This was ironic coming from a man who often wore mismatched socks to work and ties that bore the remnants of lunch. It wasn’t long before the young attorney understood the true value of shined shoes.
As the lead attorney began her opening statement giving very detailed, deliberate account of the facts when a sound began, something akin to a squeaky wheel. Everyone in the courtroom could hear it, but no one could identify the source. The plaintiff’s attorney was clearly becoming distracted.
Then she found the source – it was coming from underneath the table where Bibb was sitting, eyes closed and head back in his leaning chair. And his freshly shined shoes rubbing against each other in a rhythm matching the rocking of his chair.
The judge instructed Bibb to stop squeaking his shoes. Bibb shuffled as if waking up, rubbed his eyes, and rose to his feet. In his most dignified voice he said: “Ma’am, I am so sorry to have disturbed you while you were talking. It’s just that you had gone on so long saying bad things about my client that I lost attention to what you were saying, and I must have just dozed off. Please accept my sincerest apologies. I will try to stay awake until you finish and I won’t be squeaking my shoes anymore while you are talking.”
The jury watched with a mixture of humor and admiration for this funny old man who knew just exactly what to do to cause the out of town lawyer to look like a mean spirited young whippersnapper in front of the jury. And he did it even before she could finish her opening statement.
While defending a trucking company and its driver in a rural Alabama courtroom, the plaintiff’s attorneys were saying our old driver could not see well enough to drive, and that his poor vision led to the accident. Bibb decided to prove them wrong.
“Mr. Jones, they say you don’t see so good.”
“Well, I think I see fine.”
“Well, I want you to prove it to me.” Bibb took five steps away from the witness box, turned around and held up two fingers.
“How many fingers am I holding up?”
Bibb took five more steps and held up five fingers. “Now, how many am I holding up?”
Bibb took five more steps and held up seven fingers. “Now, how many am I holding up?”
Mr. Jones squinted his eyes and said, “Eight.”
Bibb immediately looked at the jury box and said, “Mr. Jones, there ain’t anything wrong with your vision. You just can’t add.”
Favorite Bibb Quotes
On the appearance of one particularly prominent plaintiff’s lawyer appearing in court for a trial, Bibb commented, “You are one of the few people I have ever known who could strut while sitting down.”
On a plaintiff client asking Bibb what he should do about a particularly tempting offer to settle his case during the trial even though he really didn’t want to settle the case, Bibb responded, “Well, the Bible says that there a three things that a man cannot know- the fate of a ship on the sea, the truth of a woman’s love for a man, and what a serpent is liable to do. The good book should have added two more. How a football is going to bounce and what a jury is going to do.” (The client decided to take the offer after all.)
A man of honor
After a particularly hard fought case that resulted in a favorable judgment, Bibb instructed a fellow attorney to take the client to celebrate. When asked why he wasn’tcoming with us, Bibb said that he wanted to talk to the opposing lead attorney. Bibb explained, “This was a really big case for her and she wanted to win it so bad. Now that she has lost it, she is really hurting. She is worried about what her client and her partners will think of this outcome after telling them for the last three years how she was going to get a big verdict. I just want to see if I can cheer her up some before I join you.”
Bibb told her that she tried a great case, that this was only the first round and that she might win the case on appeal (she didn’t) because he usually found some way to put some error in the record, and that she should not be disappointed because she gave it all she had to try to win the case.
Win or lose, Bibb knew just what to say.