Civility: New OCBA president says 'we can do better'


By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

He is the first to admit that he may need a “filter,” but that won’t dissuade Jim Parks from speaking his mind as the new president of the Oakland County Bar Association.

Parks, a partner with Southfield-based Jaffe Raitt Heuer & Weiss, mixed more than just metaphors when he was sworn in as the new OCBA leader at its 84th Annual Meeting June 4 in Birmingham’s Townsend Hotel. He did considerably better, entertaining a sell-out crowd with some light-hearted remarks about his upcoming presidency while also imploring OCBA members to take the concept of “civility to the next level” as he aims to emphasize the importance of “diversity” and “inclusion” in the year ahead.

But first the fun part, which began shortly after Parks was sworn in as president by Oakland County Circuit Judge Karen McDonald, a former colleague of his at Jaffe. As the newly minted “Prez,” Parks decided it was time to poke fun at another “President,” one who makes a habit of stretching the truth.

“For all those naysayers who had concerns about my abilities to lead as President, I have a letter, from my personal physician, that attests that I am ‘healthiest, greatest, and bestest’ ever elected to this presidency,” Parks said to a roar of laughter from the OCBA audience.

Taking the matter of “facts” a step further, Parks gazed out over the crowd that numbered in the hundreds and called it the “best turnout ever for this event,” perhaps even surpassing the size of another recent “inaugural” gathering.

Then, after another round of laughter subsided, Parks turned serious, encouraging “civility among lawyers,” claiming that “we can do better” in an age when proper behavior and decorum are being tested.

“One does not have to like the opposing counsel or the court,” said Parks. “One need not agree with them. Counsel may criticize their opponent’s view, and counsel must zealously defend their client’s position.

“Nevertheless, the lawyers pledge our code of conduct and this organization mandates that lawyers treat those they deal with – with respect. Respect for the institutions. Respect for the profession. Respect for the adversary.”

Equally important, said Parks, is the need to “do better” when it comes to “diversity” in the legal profession.
“Plain and simple, our association currently does not reflect the breadth and width of the rich diversity of gender, race, religion, sexual orientation and identity, or ethnicity of people working in the legal profession in Oakland County,” Parks told those gathered for the Annual Meeting.

“For too long the discussion has been about diversity,” he said. “Let’s use a new, different word. Let’s use ‘inclusion.’ It’s not my idea, it’s an edict clearly set forth in our mission and goals.

“It is not likely we can remedy this matter in one short year,” Parks noted. “However, I can promise we can start asking the hard questions and begin the dialogue necessary to understand how it is that we, as an organization, can better serve those members of our legal community and profession who have heretofore been underserved.”

A challenge, for sure, but Parks has grown accustomed to those over the course of a legal career than spans 38 years. After earning his bachelor’s degree from the University of Arizona, Parks enrolled in Pepperdine University School of Law, a prestigious legal institution located on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean and the magnificent city of Malibu, Calif.

“I paid for the view, but it was a helluva view,” Parks said with a smile. “It wasn’t an easy place to study. There were plenty of distractions.”

Following law school, Parks worked for the National Labor Relations Board. He then moved to Houston where he defended management in labor disputes. His interest in labor and employment law dovetailed nicely with plans to form his own firm in metro Detroit. Chief among his clients was the union representing deputies with the Oakland County Sheriff’s Department. After 20 years in private practice, Parks made the switch to the Litigation Group at Jaffe 15 years ago.

“It is a great firm with a diverse client base and a culture that is supportive inside and outside the workplace,” Parks said. “Their commitment to the community and charitable organizations is unparalleled.”

So much so, Parks quipped at the Annual Meeting, “I would like to thank my partners at Jaffe for buying half the tickets to this event.”

Before he began his own firm, in the cinderblock basement of his home in 1986, Parks took a detour to Dallas, where he joined a longtime friend in a fledgling seafood restaurant business.

“I helped him take it from one to four restaurants during the time I was there, but I learned rather quickly that the restaurant business is no place for a family guy,” said Parks. “The hours are brutal.”

Of course, sometimes the payoff can be handsome, Parks discovered a decade later.

“Ten years after I left, my buddy sold his chain of seafood restaurants for $20 million,” Parks reported.

“Good for him, as in not-so-good for me,” Parks said with a chuckle.

Parks, who was honored by the OCBA in 2010 with its Bar Professionalism Award, has enjoyed more than his share of career success, however, helping clients large and small in legal matters involving intellectual property rights, international transactions and contracts, the Uniform Commercial Code, probate law, and labor and employment issues.

He remembers well a case more than 20 years ago, as a sole practitioner, when he went to bat for the estate of a Taylor woman who had accumulated a coveted collection of 21 Tiffany lamps.

“All of the Tiffany collectors wanted it,” Parks said of the collection that was to be sold at auction by the world-renowned Christie’s. “The only hitch was that two of the lamps turned up missing, including one that was the most valuable of the lot.”

It took Parks nearly 3 years to put a tidy bow on the case, after discovering the identity of the thief and inviting him to return the lamps without the risk of criminal prosecution.

“Thankfully, he did, and the collection was sold at auction for millions of dollars,” said Parks. “It was a happy ending, for sure.”

The youngest of five children, Parks wasn’t sure he would live to see his OCBA presidency, which would have been a decidedly unhappy ending.

While working on a home improvement project several months ago in his basement, Parks accidently spliced a 220-volt electric line, sending him flying across the room and knocking him momentarily unconscious.

“I thought I was dead,” Parks said, dispensing with his trademark deadpan humor. “I really, truly thought I was a goner.”

But like the proverbial cat with nine lives, Parks survived the near death experience, much to the relief of his wife of 40 years, Mary Beth, and their three grown children, Abbey, Taylor, and Maggie.

“I’m getting too old to tempt fate again,” Parks said of the do-it-yourself jolt. “Next time I’ll probably hire the job out.”