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J. Shepherd Russell III, Managing Partner of Friday Eldredge & Clark (Exec Q&A)

3 min read

J. Shepherd Russell III
Education: Russell earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of North Carolina and his law degree from the University of Arkansas School of Law.

Experience: Russell has practiced exclusively in the area of public finance law since 1978. His work focuses on the financing of public and nonprofit projects throughout Arkansas.

Recognition: Chambers and Partners USA gives Russell its highest ranking in the areas of corporate-commercial law: municipal bonds. He also is listed in The Best Lawyers in America.

J. Shepherd Russell III recently replaced Byron Eiseman as managing partner of the Friday firm.

Q: We’ve read a lot about an oversupply of lawyers. Is the Friday firm – and other Arkansas law firms with which you’re familiar – hiring young lawyers? And what qualities are you looking for in new hires?

A: We are hiring young lawyers. All candidates must have strong academic credentials. We also look for persons who can work well with others as part of a team.

Q: How did the economic downturn affect your firm?

A: The economic downturn had a minimal impact on us because we are a full-service firm and have diverse practices. While the downturn negatively impacted some areas, it enabled growth opportunities in others. We did not freeze or cut salaries for associates or staff. We have tried to look closer at our needs and the needs of our clients. This has caused us to hire fewer staff and attorneys.

Q: The economy appears to be improving. Is that your impression as it regards your legal practice?

A: We see improvements based on the type of work that is coming from our clients. For example, banks seem to be lending again, and that has helped our real estate development clients. Investment bankers and venture capital firms are looking for investments. There seems to be money that has been uninvested that is making its way back into businesses.

Q: Did you see Arkansas corporations cutting back on legal expenses because of the difficult economy?

A: Companies have been interested in cutting all expenses, including legal expenses.

Q: What areas of the law are growing? What areas are fading in popularity?

A: Areas of growth are in government compliance, employment, health care, employee benefits, medical malpractice and general litigation. The interest rate environment has been good for municipal and corporate finance. Real estate development has been down for a few years since banks were not lending on new development projects, but the flip side was that restructuring work for lenders and clients increased and parties tried to restructure loans or work through foreclosure or alternative collection issues. So far, there is not really an area that is fading. Given the uncertainty in the estate tax laws, estate planners are waiting to see what Congress does with the exemptions that are set to expire at the end of the year.

Q: What legal reforms would you like to see?

A: Many of our clients are interested in tort reform.

Q: What goes through your mind when you see Robert Shapiro pitching LegalZoom in TV ads?

A: I am concerned about the client as a consumer. Legal services for the most part are unique to the client’s specific facts and circumstances. In many instances, a one-size-fits-all approach does not work and may end up causing more harm than good. A lawyer will know to ask specific questions and address situations in documents that are not contemplated by a form. It costs much more to straighten something out than to have it done correctly on the front end.

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