Discussions with Decision Makers: Justice Greg Cook

Justice Gregory Carl Cook (“Greg”) was elected to the Supreme Court in 2022. Justice Cook is the son of Gene and Dottie Cook and is from Florence, Alabama. From an early age, his parents instilled in him faith, the value of hard work, and the importance of public service.

Justice Cook attended Duke University on an Air Force ROTC scholarship, graduated in 1984 magna cum laude, and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. He then served our country in the United States Air Force, reaching the rank of Captain. Justice Cook received his law degree from Harvard Law School in 1991, magna cum laude, where he served as an Executive Editor of the Federalist Society’s Journal of Law and Public Policy.

After finishing law school, Justice Cook moved back to Alabama and practiced law at Balch & Bingham for over 31 years. He handled a wide variety of matters in over 40 of Alabama’s 67 counties and in over 15 different states, including jury trials, bench trials, and arbitrations. A large part of his practice involved complex commercial litigation including a number of class actions.

Can you tell us a bit about your early life and upbringing? Where were you born and raised?

My Dad was a member of the Air Force, so we spent a good deal of time moving from place to place.  But his home – and mine – has always really been Florence, Alabama.

What motivated you to pursue a career in law and ultimately run for office?

I love the law.  It is how our society avoids chaos and fights in the street; it is how we resolve disputes peacefully; it is how people can own property and build businesses.  I believe God has ordained the law as a gift to us.  The challenge to represent clients vigorously but with civility and ethics has always appealed to me.  Having the opportunity now to be on the bench is the realization of a lifelong dream.  I am still excited every day when I go to the office.

Where did you go to law school and what did you do before serving on the bench? 

I attended Duke University on an Air Force ROTC scholarship; so, I had the honor to serve in the United States Air Force for four years at the Pentagon.  I met my wife in church while in the Air Force.  After my tour of duty, I attended Harvard Law School and was blessed to be able to come home to Alabama to practice.  I spent almost 32 years at the law firm of Balch & Bingham. 

Could you share some highlights from your legal career before becoming a judge? What type of law did you practice?

Initially my practice covered all types of lawsuits and included cases all over Alabama.  I tried jury trials and bench trials, including insurance and workers compensation disputes among other things.  Over the years, my practice grew towards complex commercial litigation, including very large actions involving banking, energy, and class actions.  These cases were all over the country (many in federal court) and I appeared in courts in more than 10 states and took depositions in Canada and Germany. 

Could you walk us through your approach to analyzing a complex legal case?

My job is to know the details.  This means I (or my staff) need to read everything.  One of the important assets of my job is that I have the time to do reading and research with few interruptions.  The facts can often dictate the result.  At the end of the detailed analysis, it is time to take a step back and see whether the result makes sense and whether it fits with the original meaning of the law and whether it is a predictable result.  I promised the voters that I would be “boring and predictable,” and I try very hard to render results that do not surprise anyone. 

In medicine, physicians go through residency training after medical school and often cite mentors that impacted and made him or her the doctor they are today.  Have there been individuals who’ve had a significant impact on your legal career or your life in general?

Yes.  There were lots of lawyers at Balch & Bingham who were mentors and influenced me.  One of them was Mike Edwards. Mike was the chair of our litigation section when I joined the firm and had a prior military career like I did.  Mike was also a member of the American College of Trial Lawyers.  He taught me almost everything I knew as a litigator, and he always emphasized truthfulness and a complete devotion to the client.  Another mentor is Justice Champ Lyons.  Justice Lyons was the chief drafter in 1973 of our Rules of Civil Procedure, which govern the courts day-to-day process.  Afterwards, he wrote a treatise explaining the rules and was then appointed (and later elected) to the Supreme Court.  I assumed the authorship of his two-volume treatise and wrote the Fifth Edition.  He is a hero to me and has been an invaluable sounding board and example for me. 

What is the most rewarding aspect of serving on the Alabama Supreme Court for you personally?

The opportunity to provide justice to the citizens of Alabama is a great privilege.  I want every party who comes before our Court to feel that we have heard and considered everything they had to say.  I want our citizens to feel that, even if they lose, we are trying our best to get the answer correct.  I love the opportunity to have oral arguments and have the lawyers explain their arguments.  Then, the lawyers and their clients know we heard them, and I hope they can tell from our questions that we are very interested in their cases.

What is the one thing you would like to say to physicians in Alabama?

Trust our system.  Even if you may not agree with every decision (and I don’t), I believe that all of the Justices on our Court are trying to get the answer right.  If you believe our Court has gotten the answer wrong, I encourage you to go to the Legislature with your arguments to change the law.  I can promise all your physicians that we are grateful for the important services they provide, and we value their efforts to contribute to our health.  We know that they care deeply about every patient.  Thank you for what you do.

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