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Sept. 28 — Paul Lancaster Adams fills many roles at Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, a management-side labor and employment law firm. He’s on the firm’s management and diversity and inclusion steering committees, and he runs the firm’s Philadelphia office.
As the office managing shareholder, he’s “ultimately responsible for creating and implementing firm strategy” in Philadelphia, where 10 Ogletree lawyers work. “I lead the overall practice,” which includes the quality, consistency and efficiency of the work, he said.
The lawyer also spends “a lot of time doing outreach,” such as through speaking engagements, “because of the entrepreneurial spirit of our office,” he said. The toughest part of being office managing shareholder is “making difficult personnel decisions because we all work so closely together,” Adams told Bloomberg BNA.
On Ogletree’s management committee, he helps oversee the firm’s budget and overall strategy.
Ogletree has about 750 lawyers spread across 49 offices in the U.S., Canada, London, Berlin and Mexico City.
Adams discussed his career in a Sept. 22 telephone interview and a Sept. 26 e-mail.
Adams has been Ogletree’s office managing shareholder since he joined the firm in 2012. Before that, he was the associate general counsel at Microsoft Corp., where he “really enjoyed managing and looking at the business side of an organization. When he was at Microsoft, he learned that founder and former Chairman Bill Gates periodically goes into seclusion to get a chance to think, and that practice has inspired Adams to constantly consider “how are we thinking outside the box in every one of our cases?” He said he likes to “look at client matters from different angles.”
Adams channels his experience as head of Microsoft’s diversity outreach committee into his work on Ogletree’s diversity and inclusion steering committee. The lawyers on the steering committee act as a diversity liaison to the offices in their region and oversee the senior lawyers in each of Ogeletree’s offices who act as “diversity ambassadors.”
The committee also acts as a board of directors for the firm’s professional development and inclusion team, which consists of five full-time staffers, including two lawyers.
“Lawyers are not on the same pace for diversity” that other professionals are, Adams said. “If you’re in a corporation, you understand that relating to your customers is important” and that “promoting and advancing diverse professionals can lead to more profitability.” By contrast, “Law firms are just slowly catching up.”
Adams believes diversity in the attorney ranks can improve a firm’s legal product. In law firms, “our widget is people,” he said. “The ability to relate to people and the ability to have a more diverse way of thinking affects the ability to represent” clients. A law firm can’t effectively represent management if it fails to understand the employees’ side, he said. “They’re people, and people are all different.”
In addition to his management and committee responsibilities, Adams practices labor and employment law. His approach “involves partnering with” his clients to understand their problems and their business methods, he said.
Lately, Adams has been “seeing a significant uptick in wage and hour issues,” he said. “There are companies that sometimes don’t fully understand the importance of proper record taking and the storage of such information.” He said, “You have to be able to support the decision on how you pay people.”
“What’s interesting to me is the mix of claims,” Adams said. For example, he explained, an employee may file a discrimination claim that also contains wage-and-hour claims. “That’s been an interesting dynamic.”
Adams enjoys practicing labor and employment law because of the intriguing facts. “You could never make this stuff up,” he said. “The most interesting stories and fact patterns evolve at work.”
Since he became a lawyer, “attorneys are becoming more specialized as clients are steadily developing increased knowledge and sophistication in the law” through increased access to information online. “Back in the day,” he said, “you could dabble in a number of areas,” but “you can’t do that now. You have to be an expert so you can give timely answers” to clients who are accustomed to the immediacy of internet searches.
Despite the changes caused by modern technology, Adams gives young lawyers some time-tested advice. “Develop your craft” and “be the best lawyer you can be” before trying to become a rainmaker who pulls in a lot of business for the firm, he said he advises them.
Adams also tells new lawyers to “stay in touch with your peers,” noting their law school classmates are potential sources of future business. He also cautioned young lawyers to protect their reputations by being careful how they portray themselves on social media.
“I’m always helping younger attorneys,” Adams said, but he hopes they’ll “give back and pay it forward.” He said, “If I help you progress and you don’t do it for others, it’s highly disappointing.”
Adams also tries to help children. He is on the governing board of Big Brothers Big Sisters, an organization that pairs children with volunteer mentors. Through this one-on-one relationship, a child, called “a little,” sees “there’s an adult I aspire to be like,” Adams said. His “little” aged out of the program, and now he is busy with his own daughters, ages 10 and 13.
Adams grew up in Richmond, Va., in a family that included many educators. Both his parents taught elementary school, and his paternal grandfather was the first school principal “of color” in Vance County, N.C., he said. His ancestors also include a politician—his maternal great-grandfather who in 1892 became the first “person of color” to be elected to the North Carolina Senate, Adams said.
He went to law school because he “always liked to argue,” he said. Indeed, he debated in high school and college. At Virginia Commonwealth University, from which he graduated in 1990, he also played basketball and served as student body vice president.
As a college student, Adams worked part time running errands for Hill, Tucker & Marsh, which he said was “the nation’s oldest predominantly African American law firm.” He followed college with law school at Wake Forest University, graduating in 1993.
His hobbies include exercising and watching basketball and movies. He also enjoys going to the theater.
Adams likes to travel and remembers fondly a 2006 trip with a delegation of labor and employment lawyers from the American Bar Association. They visited Shanghai, China, where Adams he appreciated the mix of “future and old” architecture.
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