Microsoft. 3M. Progressive Insurance. Wayne Drinkwater‘s corporate clients–which he tends to defend in multimillion-dollar lawsuits–are household names. But the partner with Bradley Arant Boult Cummings in Jackson, Mississippi, may be best known for the long string of cases he’s tried with the goal of enacting change in the public interest. “I think that one of a lawyer’s obligations is not simply to do well, but to do good,” he told us in the 2007 edition of Mid-South Super Lawyers Magazine.
One of Drinkwater’s most important cases changed Mississippi law and was the impetus for reform in other states as well. He represented Joe Hogan, who had applied to Mississippi University for Women’s nursing school but was denied admission because of his sex. The case went to the Supreme Court in 1982, which invalidated single-sex higher education. “My old boss, Chief Justice Burger, voted against us, which was predictable,” Drinkwater says. “The case was a lot of fun. Interestingly, my wife had gone to school at MUW, and while I was working on the case we’d get letters from them asking her to contribute to a defense fund for the university.”
In another case, this one in the late 1980s, Drinkwater represented the Mississippi Ethics Commission against state legislators. “At the time, there were a large number of public officials who had contracts with the state as schoolteachers or other state workers, and they were voting on their own salaries and authorizing their own contracts,” he recalls. “It was not a case of actual corruption, but one of the appearance of impropriety. The Mississippi Supreme Court agreed with us, and I think it had a good effect on the state. People shouldn’t be voting in their own self-interest.”
At the moment, Drinkwater is deep into a class action suit against the Mississippi Department of Human Services, representing several thousand abused and neglected children. He took on the case after a colleague in New York who was investigating the situation for a national organization called and asked if he’d be interested. “I looked into it and decided it was something we needed to address,” Drinkwater says. “Our claim is that the agency isn’t giving the kids adequate treatment or housing or foster care. What we’ve learned is that when the system takes a young kid and then doesn’t treat him right, he graduates from the foster system right into a penitentiary. We want these children to grow up to be productive members of society instead.”
After three years of litigation, the state finally threw in the towel and agreed not to contest the constitutional violations. “That was a major battle,” he says. “Now we’re going to try to fashion a remedy for the kids, which will involve the state contributing more money, more case workers, better treatment and better foster care.” All the work is pro bono, of course: “These kids don’t have any money.”