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By Clayton Ruley

This month we are speaking with James Elam IV, a partner at Elam Reavis, LLP in Center City. This brother is a prominent lawyer hailing out of Philadelphia. Mr. Elam, where exactly in Philly are you from?

James Elam: I was born and raised in Southwest Philly!

what schools did you attend?

JE: I went to Julia Masterman for Junior High, Overbrook High School, the University of Delaware and Widener Law School.

GC: What made you choose law?

JE: I really didn’t decide to be a lawyer until my early twenties, but I interacted with some of my fraternity brothers and found that it was a good way to get a leg up. You need a profession in this day and age you definitely need a profession.

GC: What did you do to get close to the business? Did you do any meaningful internships or first job?JE: Well I started out in law school working in the U.S. Attorney’s office; I worked at the Attorney General’s office, which are both working with the government obviously. After school I immediately began working with Dilworth Paxson, LLP.

GC: What made you get into the entertainment law specifically

JE: I grew up around the entertainment business, I’ve been DeeJaying since I was ten, I went to Overbrook and there was a bunch of cats that were there that were in the music industry it was something I was just passionate about and also dealing with athletes I’ve been an athlete my whole life so it was something that was a natural progression for me. It allowed me to take the professional part and incorporate that into something I’m passionate about.

GC: Yeah a lot of people once the games are over and the playing days are at the end think there is no avenue to express their love and things they like to do on a professional level. It’s very nice to see someone doing what they loved doing in a business atmosphere.

GC: How long have you been a lawyer? How long have you been at this firm?

JE: I have been practicing for about six and a half years and have had my own practice for 2 years in March. I graduated law school in 1997.

GC: Who was your first client or client of significance?

JE: I don’t really know! I guess my first label client was probably Jaguar or maybe Major Figgas or Gillie Da Kid. I can’t remember the first one but I do know I did those three pretty early.

GC: Could you name some of your current or former clients?

JE: I have worked with a tremendous amount of people from the area and nationally. Just locally your talking about Jill Scott, Floetry, Kindred, Freeway, Ms. Jade, I missing some but those are some and there are more new acts like Rosco P. Coldchain on Star Trak so it’s a pretty good number in a short time I’d like to think. I’d like to think I’m just getting started.

GC: So how did those networks come about, how did you develop such a roster of people you have worked with? Was it simply off word of mouth?

JE: Mostly off of word of mouth and I have a philosophy “ You have to be as good as you say you are” which means you have the combination of being able to market and adequately promote yourself but also have to have the ability to do the work you set yourself to do, that you tell the people you do. I think the people who are competent in what they do shine through in the end.

GC: What services do artist usually come in needing and expecting and what do you usually give.

JE: I’m a corporate intellectual property lawyer, which means I do transactional work, I do contracts, and I build businesses sometimes from the ground up. Whether it’s an artist, record label, producer or I represent the School District Of Philadelphia; I represent the Philadelphia Housing Authority, general corporate companies or Multi-media companies, I do contracts for people Intellectual property is copyrights and trademarks, patents I don’t do any patent work but I do trademark and copyright work for my clients as well so clients comes to me to help set up a business, for business advice, or doing recording contracts. If you are looking to get out of jail you are looking at the wrong person, in a car accident I’m the wrong person!

I’m very well connected. I’m the president of the Barristers Association of Philadelphia and what that is the organization of all the black lawyers in Philly. So obviously I have a tremendous network of people that I deal with that is not the type of law I deal with traditionally.

GC: Was there any particular time you felt “This is too hard” or wanted to pursue another avenue?

JE: You know it’s funny especially in light of the economy and how bad the music industry is in particular right now the questions gets asked a lot right now but no I love what I do. I have a great time even with the struggles, in fact a buddy of mine just a moment ago sent me a message like “hey, why don’t you get a job” and I’m like no I don’t want a job, I had a job, I love doing what I’m doing!

GC: And the job you had?

JE: I was with a big firm and I did a lot of the same things I do here but there a level of comfort in having someone over you, making a salary but I make my own way in the world I always have!

GC: How did you put yourself through school?

JE: I just did it; there was no blueprint to it. I was the first college graduate in my family and obviously the first lawyer and it was something I wanted to do and I did it. I don’t leave obstacles for myself I just knock them down!

Have you experienced racism or any other difficulties entering or once in the profession?

JE: There is blatant racism and latent racism everywhere you look today, the reality is you deal with it. You fight and beat it where you can and tolerate it when you have to. That is a fact of life! Of course we have come far as a people and as a country but the reality is there is always going to be racism. It’s not something I can personally beat down; I deal with it as the situation demands I deal with it. Yes there is a lot of racism, whether there it’s institutional, difficulty getting clients or people calling out your name! It really depends!

People talk about affirmative action all the time and why we need affirmative action. Of course we need affirmative action, because we have lots and lots of untalented people who get over because of nepotism or because of the fact that they have friends and family in the right place. So when you are competing against those factors it’s more difficult for you.

I know people who graduated with me with far less credentials and got similar jobs and I didn’t have that the kind of background that allowed me that kind of opportunity. So of course we need affirmative action to help level the playing field, although it’s not going to be level cause we are so far behind in the race. It’s a matter of attempting to keep up.

 GC: What would you say to someone who wanted to become a lawyer more specifically someone in contract law? What should they start a habit of doing, and learning?

JE: It’s not really so much that because the reality is you learn everything you need to know, I mean law school doesn’t really teach you how to practice law, it really doesn’t. You graduate from law school you are not qualified to do much, it’s not like you’re an accountant and you can go and manage someone’s books.

GC: You still have to pass the bar right?

JE: Yeah, if you’re in med school you know how to be a doctor because they put you in hospitals you are taught how to take care of patients. In law school you don’t actually have to do that!

GC: Who were you biggest influences in and out of law?

JE: I really don’t have a set role model. They are certainly people I look to and respect for different reasons and ways just for being who they are and for what they do. I guess I’m in a spot where I follow the role models I had to where I am and now it’s a matter of figuring out who can be those role models to go to the next level.

GC: So you take a little from different people.

JE: Right! It’s funny were we are from you don’t say “ I going to be like Dr. Brown, I’m going to be just like him” It wasn’t like that at all, so it’s definitely like once you start to have things click you keep those people in mind. My fraternity brothers were the ones who inspired me to be an attorney.

GC: What frat was that

JE: Phi Beta Sigma. Once I entered the graduate chapter I met a few of the brothers that were attorneys and that influenced me and I got to meet some other lawyers and business people and they became influences on me one way or another. Funny enough some of my friends and I have a running joke that “nobody told me I was supposed to rich by the time I was thirty” so I’m working at that! I’m playing catch up!

GC: What should people look out for when dealing with an attorney?

JE: You need to make sure you are dealing with someone who is competent in his or her respective area. I was talking to someone who always calls and they were saying “my lawyer is such and such” and I’m like “that lawyer does car insurance!” So that and make sure you ask for references and make sure that they are good at what they say they are good that. If you aren’t familiar with lawyers you don’t know what to ask so be sure they know what they are doing.

GC: How do you like working with your clients?

JE: It depends there are some that are tremendously talented and comfortable with themselves and very good people to work with and there are some it’s a nightmare to work with. You hardly want to have a conversation with. It’s not the famous versus the relatively unknown people, so people are just fun to work with and some aren’t that’s all clients though. I will say that I deal with more flighty and unprofessional people than most lawyers. Well, that’s not true, I’d say just most corporate lawyers!

For serious inquiries about Mr. Elam's services contact the office of Elam Reavis, LLP at 215-545-9870

Any questions, comments, suggestions email Clayton at One!





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