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A stint as a legal assistant during his studies at Virginia Commonwealth University started Paul Lancaster Adams on a path to law school and his stellar career as a litigator. The 1993 Wake Forest School of Law graduate has excelled at representing employers in disputes, earning him numerous accolades, including recognition on Lawdragon’s Guide to the Most Powerful Employment Lawyers. Adams, based in Philadelphia, describes Ogletree Deakins as a unique place of “collaboration and synergy.” He also credits his time as Associate General Counsel and Chief Employment Litigator at Microsoft Corp. for making him a better lawyer in private practice.
Lawdragon: Can you describe for our readers what cases you tend to handle?
Paul Lancaster Adams: I represent employers in federal and state employment litigation, class and collective actions, labor arbitrations and administrative proceedings. I also defend clients in investigations by government agencies such as the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, its state and local equivalents, the U.S. Labor Department and the National Labor Relations Board, and I conduct and oversee internal corporate investigations into various types of employment misconduct.
LD: What do you like about your practice?
PLA: I have always found what people do in employment settings fascinating. The stories are intriguing and create an environment that allows you to experience an array of case scenarios – you just can’t make this stuff up!
LD: Is there a specific reason why you chose Wake Forest over another law school?
PLA: An important reason was Wake Forest University School of Law’s reputation. Additionally, the professor-to-student ratio made it a preferred choice. Receiving an early admittance offer to attend also didn’t hurt.
LD: Can you describe how you became interested in a law degree?
PLA: Yes. The decision to go to law school was a natural inclination, fully embraced by my experience serving as a legal assistant while an undergrad. As a 20-year-old, I had the opportunity to work at Hill, Tucker & Marsh in Richmond, Virginia. While a full-service law firm, the practice’s pioneering efforts in the civil rights arena were unparalleled. Founder Oliver Hill’s case, Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County, was one of the five cases decided under the landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education and co-founder Henry Marsh participated in Quarles v. Phillip Morris, the nation’s first legal case involving racial discrimination in employment.
At the time of my experience there, I was relatively clueless about law, but excited to have the opportunity to serve in any capacity at the firm. Hence, this translated into being a gofer, a researcher and simply doing anything that needed to be done at the firm. At times, I literally ran to the courthouse before the clerk's office closed, trying to get that ever-important motion filed. (Note: I'm definitely telling my age, as this was long before there were electronic court filings.) Coming full circle, enough cannot be said about being motivated and stimulated by the firm's history, the exposure I received and the inspiration of working with and being around such legal trailblazers.
LD: Was there an early experience that helped shape the course of your professional life?
PLA: Yes. While conducting my very first jury trial, many years ago, a critique involved a more senior attorney explaining to me that during the trial I took on some of the persona of opposing counsel. My adversary was loud and overbearing and apparently I focused too much on his behavior and antics. The feedback included the suggestion that I should always remain true to who I am, and that juries will be able to see the sincerity in me when advocating and telling a story. Following that advice has led to success for me.
LD: How has your practice changed since the early part of your career?
PLA: Typically, law school does not prepare you to have business acumen while practicing law. Through years of representing both small and very large clients, in various industries - all of whom have unique issues and challenges - I have learned the importance of business partnering and the value of understanding, from a client’s perspective, while not losing sight of critical legal concerns.
LD: Can you discuss your time at Microsoft and how that has benefited your skills and ability in private practice?
PLA: My in-house experience at Microsoft was phenomenal. Having the opportunity to represent the company and seeing how legal issues developed, and be part of the solution and decisionmaking internally, while considering business imperatives, was invaluable. The experience has allowed me to develop unique insight into client issues, while maintaining a practical perspective; and I believe having practiced at a law firm, going in-house and then returning to private practice keenly prepared me to be a better lawyer. I cannot tell you how many times a client has said to me, “Wow you really do get it” or “I know you fully understand the scope and the impact of the situation considering our business directives.”
I believe Microsoft’s work culture also contributed to my legal maturation. The company always drove to continuously think of the next step, or the anticipated progression and evolution of any process or device, etc. How can we do it or make it better? How can we prevent further issues of concern going forward? What have we thought of that no one else has? These questions always lingered. And as all Microsoft employees were expected to operate in this fashion, and even annually reviewed on such, the lawyers were not exempt and strove to think similarly. This stretching of thought process while evaluating company legal issues improved my effectiveness as an advisor and counselor. In private practice, I continue to operate in this fashion.
In an era when organizations are seeking more efficiency and access to general information is more easily attained, via the internet and social media, among other things, not only is providing timely and specialized legal representation paramount, but the ability to consider broader impact and reasonably anticipated trends, I believe, make you more useful as an advocate.
LD: There are many high-quality firms out there. What do you do to try to “sell” about Ogletree Deakins to potential recruits – how is it unique?
PLA: Since its creation 40 years ago, Ogletree Deakins has uniquely been a place of collaboration and synergy amongst all offices. That has benefitted our clients greatly and as we continue to grow, our focus has remained the same. It is a pleasure to work alongside such talented labor and employment attorneys dedicated to providing quality service and professionalism to our clients. Given the firm dynamics, it is not a hard sell.
LD: What do you do for fun when you’re outside the office?
PLA: I find this question very interesting as often we don’t get the opportunity to talk about this side of us, as attorneys. Fun is a relative term. As I have matured as a practitioner, work-life balance, which would involve having fun outside the office, has become more challenging; rather I do appreciate its importance. I believe it is helpful to distinguish the value of quality time verses quantity time.
Quality time with family is a priority. The moments I enjoy most are when I can attend my daughters’ basketball and volleyball games. Having played sports growing up, watching them participate in organized sports is especially gratifying. Occasionally, I also like to go to the movies, attend live sporting events and the theater, travel and hosting gatherings in my home. Moreover, taking the time to simply unwind, although not always afforded, is something I strive toward - the occasional long weekend can be revitalizing. Lastly, I would be remiss if I did not thank my family and friends for their understanding of my work commitments and for being a great support system.