DOUG ALEXANDER AND THE Art of Persuasion
The appellate attorney helps shape the law—
and sometimes ‘translates’ it for judges
BY ALISON MACOR PHOTOGRAPHY BY JEREMY ENLOW
It was the slang heard round the state.
Doug Alexander wasn’t trying to disrespect the
Supreme Court of Texas, but in 1999, frustration
got the better of him as he was arguing for the
appellant in City of Fort Worth v. Zimlich.
He swore. Kind of. He said frickin’.
While this may not seem shocking to most
sensibilities, it is the sort of word seldom heard
in the hallowed halls of the state Supreme Court.
Days later, Texas Lawyer trumpeted the faux pas
in its weekly briefing of legal happenings around
It wasn’t the first time Alexander had let loose a
bit in the courtroom, and it would not be the last. By
his own admission, the appellate attorney has also
used the phrases “out the wazoo” and “bunch of
crap”—although the latter was in response to now-Chief Justice Nathan Hecht’s use of the phrase.
“He’s comfortable enough in his own skin and
with the court that he just lets his personality come
through,” says appellate attorney Amy Warr, who
argued against Alexander in Fort Worth. Partly
because of the respect she has for her former
adversary, she is now Alexander’s colleague at
Alexander Dubose Jefferson & Townsend. “Doug
kind of feels free to do things unconventionally,”
“To me, the most important thing is to
communicate,” says Alexander, 64. “It’s not to be
smooth. I get really excited, and words come out.”
Alexander honed his communication skills as a
teenager growing up in Santa Barbara, California.
His father, Harold, an ophthalmologist, took
Alexander to Europe—his first international trip—
when he was 13 years old. Two years later, Alexander
accompanied his dad to Guatemala, where Harold
performed eye surgeries. Then the following year,
Alexander went to Nicaragua for three weeks as
a volunteer with the Santa Barbara chapter of
AMIGOS, a youth organization that runs summer
service projects in Latin America. As a 16-year-old,
he helped give vaccinations to a community of 800
people primarily living in huts with dirt floors. These
trips put Alexander in situations with people he
didn’t know, and whose language he didn’t speak,
forcing him to learn how to get his ideas across.
A year later, he joined the field staff of AMIGOS’
international office, and participated in service projects
in various countries. While finishing his undergrad
degree at Pomona College, the 21-year-old became
the regional director of AMIGOS for South America. He
negotiated with ministry of health officials in various
countries and handled sticky situations. In the process,
he learned the delicate art of persuasion.
“In 1974, we were working in Central America
and a priest in Columbia saw that a vaccine listed
sterilized water as an ingredient. He then went to
the local paper to say the Americans are sterilizing
local children.” Fighting such rumors became an
integral part of Alexander’s job.