Legal History

Still Practicing at 100, 'Miss Alice' Talks of Harper Lee and Working in Their Dad's Law Firm

  • Print.

Watch the trailer for Hey, Boo: Harper Lee & To Kill
a Mockingbird

Nelle Harper Lee, the famous and reclusive author of To Kill a Mockingbird, has rarely, if ever, given interviews since a few years after the book was published in 1960.

But her older sister, “Miss Alice,” is still sharp as a tack at age 100, working as the oldest practicing lawyer in the state of Alabama and fielding questions about her 85-year-old sister on occasion. Suffering from hearing loss, Miss Alice had to sit close to a filmmaker so she could see her lips and understand the questions as she was interviewed for five hours, two years ago, for Hey, Boo: Harper Lee & To Kill a Mockingbird, a PBS documentary that aired Monday.

Now the senior partner of Barnett Bugg Lee & Carter, her father’s law firm in Monroeville, Miss Alice recalled working for the Monroe Journal and living at home for a couple of years during the Great Depression, because her parents couldn’t afford to pay college tuition, writes the filmmaker, Mary McDonagh Murphy, in an article in the Daily Beast. Landing a job at the new Social Security office helped Lee get back into the classroom at night.

After finally getting her law license in 1943, she was asked by her father if she wanted to join his law firm. She had a couple of questions, among them: “How is a small town going to react to a woman in a law office? There were not many around those days,” Lee told Murphy. “And my father smiled and said, ‘You’ll never know until you try.’ ”

She’s practiced at Barnett Bugg ever since, handling real estate transactions and drafting wills for most of the residents in Monroe County at some point.

Once a week, she works the crossword puzzle in the New York Times Sunday Magazine, and has a tried-and-true method of falling asleep—reciting the names of the U.S. presidents. If she isn’t asleep by the time she gets to Obama, alternative soporifics include naming all the vice presidents of the U.S. and all the first ladies of Alabama.

The Daily Mail, the Press-Register and the Washington Post (reg. req.) also have stories.

Prior coverage:

ABA Journal: “Meeting Miss Nelle: Ala. Lawyer Has a Rare Encounter with the Author of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ “

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.