James H. Frazier, III, is the managing member of McBrayer PLLC and practices out of the firm’s Lexington, Kentucky, office. His practice focuses on real estate, bankruptcy, mergers and acquisitions, and general corporate practice, with a special emphasis on mineral and energy law.
Nicholas Gaffney (NG): What career path would you have pursued if you weren’t a lawyer?
James Frazier (JF): I believe I would have made a great executive director for the Humane Society–I have a natural instinct for herding cats. In all seriousness, I probably would have gone into real estate development. My practice fundamentally has always centered on “dirt law” and all the nuances associated therewith.
NG: What advice would you give a new managing partner?
JF: Listen more than you speak. Early on, depending upon the circumstances, the new managing partner will need to prove themselves. Listening carefully enables you to understand your constituency and their issues. Also, check your ego at the door. Look at matters on a macro level, not micro.
NG: What are the most important/difficult decisions you make as a leader of your firm?
JF: Letting someone go. It is always a difficult conversation no matter how many warnings and reviews have been given. No one likes to disrupt another person’s, and their family’s, economic lives. There are times, however, it is simply impossible not to have to part ways. I always return to the adage “slow to hire and quick to fire.” If you can maintain that principle, you can hopefully minimize the times you have to let someone go.
NG: What is one characteristic you believe every leader should possess?
JF: Good communication skills. The inability to communicate, either in written form or, more importantly, verbally, will prohibit you from ever going anywhere as a leader with your constituency. Communication skills are not always innate and are normally acquired over time. I am a much different managing partner today than I was 20-plus years ago when I started in this role. The ability to stand in front of a crowd, represent your firm at functions, and address your attorneys is crucial in the leadership role, in my opinion.
NG: What is the biggest challenge facing law firms today?
JF: COVID-19 aside, I would have to say the increasing competition from inside and outside the legal field. Today, accounting firms and other non-legal professional firms are creeping into the practice of law on multiple levels. Additionally, the clients’ scrutiny of fees today is much more intense than it was a decade ago. Clients want value for the services rendered at a reasonable price. Remember, there is always someone down the street who will do it cheaper. COVID-19 has taught us the ability to work remotely, which is more natural to some than others. My personal belief is that the new normal will become the normal. I believe we will see a downsizing in office space and more flexible/remote working going forward.
NG: What is most rewarding about leading a multi-generational law firm?
JF: Realizing that there are many ways to learn and practice law. These current times have given me a greater appreciation and understanding of the multi-faceted opportunities that exist to practice law. Learning how different generations view life and the practice of law allows me to have greater insight into the policies and procedures that we want to establish for our firm. There is truly no one size fits all. Accommodation, recognition, and validation of the different generations’ beliefs and principles goes a long way to attorney retention.