As a high school student and later while attending the University of South Carolina as an undergrad, Ronnie Maxwell toiled in the textile industry.
It was hard and dirty work.
“The conditions at the mill were pretty horrible,” he said. “I was in the weave room, and I would come home covered in cotton.”
Maxwell started by splitting the second shift with another young employee.
Then, while earning a bachelor’s degree in history, with a minor in political science, Maxwell traveled home to Greenwood from Columbia every Friday during the school year for his factory job.
“I would go in at midnight and work until 8 o’clock on Saturday morning,” said Maxwell, who also spent summers at the mill.
He didn’t leave that part of his life behind until after he graduated from the University of South Carolina in 1973 and entered law school at the same institution.
“I’ll never forget the last day I worked in a cotton mill,” Maxwell said. “The people who worked there said, ‘Don’t ever come back here,’ meaning go out and do something else.”
And Maxwell did.
With a law degree on his resume, he moved to Aiken in 1976 and became a law clerk for U.S. District Court Judge Charles E. Simons Jr.
Maxwell then spent time with a couple of local law firms before going out on his own and establishing the Maxwell Law Firm in 1992.
Since 1995, the firm has had a North Augusta office in addition to the one in Aiken. Today, Maxwell practices with Jeanne Norris, Christy Tyner and Zachary Moulton, who all are natives of Aiken or Aiken County.
Maxwell’s experiences as a cotton mill employee “help me appreciate the work ethic of so many of our clients, especially manual laborers,” Maxwell said. “I represent people injured in car wrecks, and we do workers' comp for people injured on the job.”
Best Lawyers, a company that provides a peer-reviewed guide to the legal profession, honored Maxwell as the 2019 Lawyer of the Year for personal injury litigation in the Augusta region.
Maxwell also is a past president of the South Carolina Trial Lawyers Association, which now is known as the South Carolina Association for Justice, and the Injured Workers Advocates.
In 2017, he received the Matthew Perry Public Service Award from the Association for Justice.
Maxwell also has argued several cases before the Supreme Court of South Carolina.
“Personal injury work is called civil trial work, and I think that best explains it,” he said. “It’s civilized. Usually it’s a case of someone at fault because of a wreck, not because of an intentional reason. Very seldom is it terribly emotional. People may get hurt badly, and you want to make a good recovery for them, but it’s not because there was a criminal act, unless it’s a DUI or something like that.”
For Maxwell, personal injury was the right choice because he found real estate law boring and criminal law too filled with drama.
At the age of 67, Maxwell continues to practice with enthusiasm, but he’s also making some changes in his career path going forward.
“I’m getting to that stage of life where I’m trying to slow down,” Maxwell said. “My practice has become one where I am the mediator in a lot of cases before they go to court. I’m the person who helps other people settle their cases, and I enjoy it. I still have my own caseload, but I’m doing more and more mediation.”
Maxwell, who was born in Greenville, believes the key to his longevity in the legal profession is his involvement over the years in other activities.
“I know a lot of lawyers who are my age who have never done anything but practice law, and they are kind of sick and tired of it,” Maxwell said. “I’ve always done other stuff throughout my career.”
While furthering his education, Maxwell juggled his work in the mill with a job as a page in the state legislature in Columbia. In law school, he served as a law clerk at multiple Columbia firms.
That prepared Maxwell for later, when he managed his own law firm and handled his own cases while participating in politics and a variety of philanthropic efforts.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Maxwell was an Aiken City Council member. In addition, during the 1990s, he was the chairman of the Aiken County Democratic Party and also the chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party.
Maxwell attended Democratic National Conventions and presidential inaugurations.
“I got to meet a lot of people (including Bill Clinton),” Maxwell said. “I’ve been to the White House several times.”
Maxwell learned the importance of philanthropy from his parents.
“They implanted in me the idea of giving,” said Maxwell, whose father was a Baptist pastor. “They didn’t have much, but they were extremely generous with their time and their efforts and what they did have.”
Maxwell is a former president of the American Cancer Society's local chapter. He also has served on the United Way of Aiken County’s board of directors and supported a variety of other causes over his career.
“There are not too many people who ask me for money that I don’t do something for, even if it’s just a small amount,” Maxwell said. “I’ve been tremendously blessed, and I try to give back.”
Each Christmas season, his law firm provides families of its clients in need with a holiday celebration that includes food and presents for the kids.
“My passion over the last several years has been Children’s Place,” Maxwell said. “They are one of only two therapeutic child care centers in the whole state of South Carolina, and they render a tremendous service, not just to kids but to whole families.”
Maxwell is the chairman of Children’s Place’s Stand Up for Children capital campaign to raise funds for the nonprofit to relocate its headquarters from Barnwell Avenue to the corner of Willow Run Road and Beaufort Street.
Prior to his death in September 2018, former Aiken Standard publisher Scott Hunter was Maxwell’s co-chairman.
“We kind of paused it after Scott’s death,” said Maxwell of the campaign. “We are going to restart it soon and go about it in a little bit different direction. I am excited about our new plans.”
He added that the details probably would be announced in November.
Maxwell is married to Bonnie Willing Maxwell, who is his second wife.
“Between us we have six kids and six grandkids,” Maxwell said. “To me, family comes first; and I try hard at every holiday to include everyone.”
Maxwell also is close to his colleagues at Maxwell Law Firm.
“We are as much like a family as we are like a firm,” he said. “I haven’t had but one person who was a staff member leave in the last 20 years who didn’t retire. We treat everyone with respect, we treat them as equals, and we work as a team. The Maxwell Law Firm isn’t Ronnie Maxwell. It’s the tremendous lawyers and staff members who make it up.”
Maxwell was active at Aiken’s First Baptist Church for many years and now attends Cedar Creek Church.
“I’ve been a deacon for both of those churches,” Maxwell said.
He also has served on the executive committee of the South Carolina Baptist Convention.