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VOL. 123 | NO. 21 | Thursday, January 31, 2008

Public Service, Law Practice Balance Well for Wilkins

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Name: Ricky E. Wilkins
Position: Owner
Organization: The Law Office of Ricky E. Wilkins
Basics: Wilkins, a litigator, currently represents the Memphis Charter Commission, the elected body that is considering changes to the 40-year-old Memphis City Charter.

Ricky E. Wilkins' career has included a mix of law and public policy. Owner of The Law Office of Ricky E. Wilkins, he currently represents the Memphis Charter Commission, the elected body that is considering changes to the 40-year-old Memphis City Charter. The charter converted city government from a commission form to the current mayor-council form of government.

Virtually every issue the commission discusses touches on legal questions.

Wilkins also is treasurer of the Memphis Bar Association. He won the bar's Sam A. Myar Jr. Memorial Award in 1998 and is active in the Ben F. Jones chapter of the National Bar Association. He was president of that chapter in 1992 and won the A.A. Latting Award for outstanding community service in 1993.

Wilkins has represented the Tennessee Bar Association as a member of the American Bar Association House of Delegates. He is also a long-time member of the Memphis Housing Authority Board.

Q: How difficult is it for an attorney to balance maintaining a practice and doing things like serving on the Memphis Housing Authority board?

A: That part of it is really not that difficult for me because serving people is what I love. Obviously, time management is key and critical in balancing professional, personal and public service activities. I started my professional career knowing that coming back home and serving the community was part of my makeup.

I was fortunate to begin practicing law at Burch, Porter & Johnson (PLLC), a law firm with a long history of public service. The firm allowed me to grow as a lawyer, but also supported my commitment to be of service to this community. I served on the MHA board all those years. I appreciate my partners at Burch Porter.

There are times when your time management isn't as good as it ought to be. You end up spending more time in public service than you do in professional development. I had the benefit of those who would pull my coat-tail, so to speak, and help make sure I stayed in balance. Right now, it's just a part of who I am and what I do. I had a board meeting at MHA recently. I had bar association activities the same afternoon. You just figure out a way to put all of those things into your schedule and make sure that you are serving effectively, whether it be for paying clients or for the public for whom you serve out of the love and desire of making the community better. I don't really consider it to be difficult except that it requires you to balance your time.

Q: What is your practice area?

A: I am a litigator. I practice in the area of general civil litigation. I also serve as local counsel to a number of out-of-state companies who conduct business in Memphis and need assistance navigating through the legal and political landscape.

Q: Where did you attend undergraduate and law school?

A: I'm a proud graduate of both Howard University in Washington, D.C., and Vanderbilt University Law School in Nashville.

Q: Do you have an enduring law school memory?

A: I remember the very first day I sat in the auditorium for orientation at Vanderbilt Law School. I looked in each direction all around me and I never saw another African -
American face. I'll never forget that. I had been educated in majority-black schools growing up here in Memphis and at Howard University. When I got to Vanderbilt, it was my first time being in a majority- white educational setting. I just remember being there that day and not seeing anybody who looked like me in that orientation. I will say, though, I had a wonderful experience at Vanderbilt Law School. But I'll just never forget the first day that I set foot on the campus as a student. It was a little bit different.

Q: What should people who don't practice law know about our legal system?

A: Our legal system certainly is not a perfect system. But it is described by most scholars throughout the world to be the best that man is able to come up with. It allows competing interests to be adjudicated in a way that resolves disputes without folks having to resort to other more uncivilized ways of resolving their disputes.

Q: Does the public have an accurate perception of the scope of our legal system?

A: The legal system is very vast and broad. The people who practice in the criminal law area, their practice is much different from the practice that I have. I think a lot of times the public thinks of the law in sort of one setting. A lot of times the criminal law context is what people refer to. The practice of law is far, far broader than the criminal arena. The entire legal arena covers a great deal more territory.

Q: Is there a person you would most like to depose or get on the witness stand?

A: Well, I've got a few cases that are pending right now. Not in the context of a case that's pending, but I've been inspired to be a lawyer by all of the legal giants that have come before me. It would have been interesting to have had the opportunity to pick the brains of the Charles Hamilton Houstons, Thurgood Marshalls and Constance Baker Motleys of the world. The struggle of those legal giants who practiced law at the highest levels under some very, very trying circumstances taught me so much. Those of us who practice law today have the benefit of having had them carry forth the mantle, making it far easier for us today to practice on a more level playing field. I would have cherished the opportunity to pick their brains and talk to them about how they withstood so much, yet continued to advocate justice while dealing in a system that, quite frankly, was anything but just at the time.

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