Jackson — Adams & Reese founding partner David Watkins was mulling retirement when a client asked him to locate office space in downtown Jackson. Watkins discovered that the second floor of the recently renovated Union Station Railway Depot was available and brokered a contract.
Soon after, two seemingly unrelated events occurred: Watkins’ client no longer needed the office space, and the latest revitalization attempt of the King Edward Hotel had faltered. Watkins leased the depot suite for himself and orchestrated a renovation plan between Historic Restoration Inc. and New Orleans Saints running back Deuce McAllister to breathe new life into the downtown landmark hotel. It is expected to reopen in the spring of 2007.
“Then after I left the firm, Jim Young called and said, ‘you still got some space down at the train station?’ So we created this new law firm,” said Watkins, with a chuckle. “We’d been talking about it for years, and it all came together.”
Watkins and Young had worked together at Brunini, Grantham, Grower & Hewes, PLLC, and were among the 11 attorneys who left the law firm in 1996 to form Adams & Reese, LLC. Last May, they formed Watkins & Young, PLLC.
“We’ve been very pleased with this new life,” said Watkins. “I’ve had more fun in the past year practicing law than since I don’t know when.”
Watkins describes the law firm as “convergent … for the new generation, serving business needs by integrating business and law,” a niché he said was routinely filled “in the good ole days.”
“When I started practicing law 31 years ago, there was a little different element of professionalism,” he said. “There was no marketing, advertising or soliciting. Marketing was making a name for yourself by doing good, quality legal work and by participating in community, civic and bar association activities so people knew you to be a person of good character. They knew your reputation as a human being, citizen and a lawyer. Now that there are so many lawyers, and advertising, the business climate has changed. There’s not so much of a close, personal business relationship that I long for. I’m not an old-fashioned sort of guy, but there are old-fashioned notions that I like: client loyalty and professionalism.”
Watkins and Young tailor solutions for clients that generally involve a fixed fee.
“We record our time, but we don’t worry about billable minutes or hours,” said Watkins. “We try to be smart about it and price it right so we can make a living, but we also want clients to walk away feeling they’re getting value for our service and not worry that if they call us, it’s going to cost another five minutes. In my work over the years, many clients really hesitated to call because they didn’t want that 1/10 of an hour billed that month. That hesitation to call because of billing hurts the client the most. Law firms are so big and so billable-hour driven now that the pressure has made it easy to lose sight of the client’s best interest. I don’t want to paint all law firms with a broad brush because some law firms do a very good job of delivering personal service to clients.”
Watkins specializes in education law, and Young practices public finance law. An associate, Jason Akers, is “a very good utility lawyer,” said Watkins. All three attorneys are listed in the National Association of Bond Lawyers “Red Book.”
In addition to a staff of two full-time and two part-time legal assistants and eight to 10 contract consultants, the law firm has a network of 15 attorneys at law firms in New Orleans, Mobile, Dallas and Washington, D.C.
“We like keeping it small,” said Watkins. “Plus, we don’t have room for expansion at the train station. We have 4,500 square feet and we’ve just about filled it up. We’ll probably add a couple of lawyers over the next year, but mainly we’re going to network with other lawyers rather than grow our overhead. We think that concept is in the best interest of our clients.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at firstname.lastname@example.org.