Jim Stuart Takes OBA Reins
By Lori Rasmussen
Shawnee, Okla., is the birthplace of 2013 OBA President James T. “Jim” Stuart. It is also the place he has called home almost his entire life, with the exception of the years he spent in Edmond, where he attended college at CSU (now UCO), and Tulsa, where he graduated from the TU College of Law. His family has lived in Shawnee since 1900, and his ties to the community are so deep that he lives in a home built by his grandparents in 1928.
“My three daughters are the fourth generation to live in the home,” Jim said. “My law firm Stuart, Clover, Duran, Thomas and Vorndran LLP, was founded in 1904, making us one of the oldest ongoing firms in the state. I’ve been blessed with a lot of stability in my life.”
He describes his upbringing as fairly typical; he was a football player at Shawnee High School and got good grades. At 16, he was selected as a delegate to the Boys State citizenship and government program. Following Boys State, he was chosen as one of only two Oklahoma delegates to Boys Nation, where he met representatives of Oklahoma’s congressional delegation.
“My mother worked as a legal secretary for Shawnee lawyers Charles Henry and Terry West, and that lead me to develop an interest in a career in law,” he said. “The experience at Boys Nation was a huge influence on my desire to be a leader.”
His exemplary high school career led to the offer of a scholarship at Central State University. He maintains strong ties with the school today, having served as a board member for the UCO Foundation.
While attending law school in Tulsa, he began dating his wife, Kathy, also a lifelong Shawnee resident, whose family he had known for years. The couple’s decision to move back to Shawnee to begin their life together was an easy one.
“In Shawnee you have the best of both worlds, 35 miles from the big city, but you also have the benefits of a small town — friendly people, great schools, Main Street lifestyle,” Jim said. “The town’s two universities lend a certain college flavor. It’s just a great place to raise a family.”
Now married 35 years, the couple has three adult daughters, Emily, Rachel and Sarah. Mr. Stuart’s home is located just minutes away from his office, where he maintains a primarily civil litigation practice — handling many cases in estate planning and probate as well as real property law. He said one major advantage to practicing law is that the profession lends itself to some flexibility; he never missed any of his daughter’s track meets or cheerleading events.
“Of course the trade-off is some late nights at the office, but it’s all worth it,” he said. “Now that my daughters are grown, we see the payoff. I always trusted my daughters to make good decisions, and they have never let me down. Hopefully, we have been able to serve as an example for them.”
RAISING THE BAR
Jim has also devoted time to serving the organized bar. He was active in YLD in the 1980s and developed relationships that endure to this day. In 1995, he decided to get involved with OBA leadership, but laughs when he recalls that his timing was unfortunate. He was defeated in his first bid for a seat on the Board of Governors by none other than Melissa DeLacerda, who went on to serve as OBA president in 2003. When her board seat came open, Ms. DeLacerda herself reached out to Mr. Stuart and suggested he try again.
“My losing to Melissa was the best thing that ever happened,” he said. “Look at all she has been able to accomplish during her years of service.”
He was ultimately elected to the board in 2008. Having served on the board, he decided it was time to run for president-elect in 2011. Now that it is his turn to serve, he has transformed his own desire to give back to his community into the cornerstone theme of his presidential year.
GIVING BACK IN 2013
“My goal this year is to recognize and celebrate lawyers who volunteer, serve and give of themselves,” he said. “Professionally and ethically, lawyers have an obligation to give back. I, like many others, am concerned about lawyer image. Because our profession involves adversarial litigation, the perception exists that lawyers are ‘greedy’ or ‘mean.’ I see the other side. I know firsthand the important and beneficial things lawyers do for their schools, churches and communities. It is important that we share this perspective on lawyers.”
Jim’s plans include a statewide day of service, in which all 77 county bar associations are asked to engage in the project in one way or another. Lawyers will be encouraged to develop a community service outreach effort that is unique and meaningful in their own communities.
“I won’t have to create facts or stage anything,” he said. “Lawyers give back every day. This will simply draw attention to work that is already being done.”
Jim also plans to continue the work of his immediate predecessors, emphasizing efforts to support the Lawyers Helping Lawyers Assistance Program and the Oklahoma Lawyers for America’s Heroes military assistance program. He will also encourage lawyers to become Fellows of the Oklahoma Bar Foundation.
“I see these assistance programs as a duty,” Jim said. “If I want to leave any legacy as OBA president, it would be that more lawyers recognize and practice their professional obligations to give back.”
Ms. Rasmussen is an OBA communications specialist.
Who was your mentor as a young attorney?
My senior law partner, Jim Miller
Best advice he gave you?
“Hunger cures burnout.”
Favorite sports teams?
OU Football and OKC Thunder Basketball
Favorite thing about growing up in Shawnee?
Developing lifelong friendships
Favorite thing about being a dad?
Watching my daughters grow up and become productive citizens
What are your hobbies?
Reading and attending my daughters’ activities. I am also interested in the American Civil War; my distant ancestor was Confederate States Army General J.E.B. Stuart.
Last concert attended?
Moody Blues at the Brady Theater in Tulsa
Favorite Oklahoma Getaway spot?
A close friend’s lake house on Tenkiller, which reminds me of living on Lake Keystone during law school
Favorite vacation location?
Playa Del Carmen on the Mayan Riviera; I am also excited about the upcoming OBA/CLE Alaska cruise.
What is the dorkiest thing in your closet?
A pair of Doc Martens
Your best stress reliever?
A brisk walk
Favorite tech gadget?
Favorite comfort food?
Cheese and crackers
What song gets stuck in your head?
“The Story in Your Eyes” – The Moody Blues
What is the most valuable life lesson you’ve learned?
The harder you work, the luckier you get.
Stepping in a time machine, where would you go?
If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
Least favorite musical artist/group?
Strangest food you’ve ever eaten?
What’s your proudest moment?
Being admitted to the bar
Best advice for a new lawyer?
Don’t ever compromise your honesty. Your word is your bond.
Published 84 OBJ 2 (Jan. 12, 2013)