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.
GeoClan.com: Mr. Elam,
where exactly in Philly are you from?
James Elam: I was born
and raised in Southwest Philly!
GC: what schools did you attend?
JE: I went to Julia Masterman
for Junior High, Overbrook High School,
the University of Delaware and Widener
GC: What made you choose
JE: I really didn’t
decide to be a lawyer until my early
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
GC: What did you do
to get close to the business? Did you
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
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
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
so it’s a pretty good number in
a short time I’d like to think.
I’d like to think I’m just
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
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
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
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
GC: How did you put yourself
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
GC: 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
far as a people and as a country but
the reality is there is always going
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
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
I know people who graduated with me with
far less credentials and got similar
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
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
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
JE: It depends there
are some that are tremendously talented
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. One!