TS: What inspired you to become a lawyer? And what did you do prior to becoming a lawyer?
Wells: I majored in chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh. While working in a laboratory, I was exposed to a toxic substance and became ill. This incident led me to conclude that I am better suited for work with people than with toxic chemicals. My interest in history, government, and public policy drew me toward law school. I started law school the following year and knew immediately I had found what I was meant to do.
TS: How did you become involved with the ABA?
Wells: I was elected chair of the Pennsylvania Bar Association (PBA) Young Lawyer Division in 2003. The PBA provided funding that allowed me to attend meetings of the ABA Young Lawyers Division.
TS: What is the benefit of a new lawyer becoming active with the ABA?
Wells: Associating with the other remarkable lawyers in the ABA will make you a better lawyer. The opportunity to hold leadership positions in the ABA will make you a better lawyer. You also will form lifelong friendships and a valuable professional network.
TS: What early career practices led to your success?
Wells: I represent plaintiffs in personal injury cases. Early in my career, I learned that the best way to prepare a case is to meet with a client in his or her home. You can get by meeting with your client in your office conference room. But you will never be able to truly tell your client’s story with conviction until you have sat in their living room, discussing how their life has been impacted by their injury.
TS: What is your advice for a new lawyer seeking to acquire, retain, and nurture client relationships?
Wells: Always remember that every single person you encounter might refer a client to you. But almost no one will refer a client to you if they don’t like you. This is just one more good reason to treat everyone with courtesy and respect, including opposing counsel.
TS: What challenges you the most?
Wells: Maintaining a demanding professional practice, and then going home at night to my real job of raising our two young children.
Jim Wells’ Advice for New Lawyers:
- Thorough preparation can help overcome a lack of experience.
- Business development doesn’t happen while sitting at your desk. Join the bar association, have lunch with colleagues, and participate in community activities.
- When the demands of your practice seem overwhelming, stop and think of all the worse jobs you could be doing.
- Your professional reputation is critical to your success. Don’t take short cuts. Don’t wing it. Approach everything you do with honesty and candor.