BYC Spotlight – Debbie Bell

Debbie Bell (JD 1979)

Who has had a tremendous impact on your career and how did this person help you? 

I learned to write from two dedicated, intense teachers, Mrs. Evelyn North in high school and Mrs. Lipsey at Mississippi College. I can still hear them criticizing my organization and sentence structure. They taught me the power of words.

I was inspired in law school by my Poverty Law Professor, A.C. Wharton, who first introduced me to Housing Law. His class led me to focus on Housing Law for fifteen years.Two of my most important mentors were Bill Champion and Guff Abbott, who were kind enough to answer my repeated questions about land titles and future interests as I followed them in teaching Property.

What unexpected turns has your career taken? 

Probably the biggest change was a mid-career shift to family law. For almost half of my time as a professor, Property and Housing Law were my areas of focus. I first became involved in family law when the clinics I directed started a domestic violence clinic. I love teaching and working in the area of family law – in my opinion, it is where the law intersects with what is most deeply personal to clients.

What is one characteristic that you believe is important to be successful and why?

Be more prepared than anyone else. It is not always the self-confident or experienced lawyer who is the most successful, but the one who puts in the time, day after day, and is prepared for whatever comes.

What are you doing to ensure you continue to grow and develop in your career?

I am so fortunate to have spent my career teaching and to be challenged by each new generation that I have taught. I think more than anything, my students force me to reexamine what I believe and how I do things.

Why is supporting the mission of the Bessie Young Council important to you? 

I came to law school only one  year out of college, with no children, and with support from my husband, and still thought it was three of the hardest years of my life. I am so impressed by our students who return to law school with small children, some of them single parents, and who manage to effectively juggle school, parenting, and work. I am so proud of this initiative to support them.

What are your strongest memories from law school?

I love thinking back on our first year, studying with my classmates in the Union or at the alumni house, and seeing where they are now. I had no idea I was hanging out with the first female president of the Mississippi Bar, the future CEO of a major company, the world’s best-selling author, ABA leaders, federal and state judges, a governor, people who would reshape the legal community. It has been a great pleasure to watch their careers and to remember them trying to answer John Bradley’s abstract questions and to avoid George Cochran’s attention as he looked for his next target.