Christian & Small LLP was created in July of 2000. The twenty founding members felt it was appropriate to emphasize the broad base of the firm’s practice and the technological efficiencies and investment that had allowed the firm formerly known as Rives & Peterson to grow to one of the preeminent firms in the southeast.
Our commitment to excellent, cost efficient client service has never waned. We want to acknowledge the firm’s roots and celebrate the firm’s longstanding commitment to our clients, our community and our profession. This important history is the foundation upon which we move forward to continue to meet the legal challenges our clients face and help them seize the opportunities that face all of our clients.
Rives & Peterson was founded in 1936 and was organized by Jim Smith, Kirk Jackson, Whit Windham and Al Rives. At the time, those four lawyers worked for the venerable firm of London, Yancey & Brower. Mr. George Yancey ran the firm. The four came to him one day and told him that they felt they were inadequately compensated for the work they were performing. Mr. Yancey said he would take the matter under advisement and would promptly reply to their request. When the four arrived at the office the next day, all of their files had been removed from their desks and were in Mr. Yancey’s office. He told them that all of the clients and the files were his and that they had no right to any of them. He advised that if they touched them, he would report them to the Grievance Committee of the Bar Association and that they should take their leave immediately. They went out and sat down on the corner of 3rd Avenue North and 21st Street, which was then across from the courthouse. After some thought, Whit Windham said, “I’ve always heard about curbstone lawyers but I never thought I would be one.”
These “curbstone lawyers” went on to form a formidable law practice, representing primarily casualty insurance companies. All of their wives came to the firm as secretaries and legal assistants, and Smith, Windham, Jackson & Rives went to work trying lawsuits. They quickly cemented their reputations as skilled trial lawyers. Jim Smith went on to become the U.S. Attorney, Whit Windham became a long revered Circuit Judge, while Jackson and Rives practiced law well into their 70’s.
During World War II, Erle Pettus, Sr. was hired as a caretaker for the firm while Smith, Windham, Jackson and Rives all went away to fight for their country as a part of The Greatest Generation. When they returned, Mr. Pettus remained with the firm and later his son, Erle Pettus, Jr. joined the firm after a distinguished military career. These, and other great lawyers over the next fifty years, helped to shape one of the strongest litigation firms in Alabama.
Contributed by Clarence Small