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One-on-One with James Parker

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — If you run into James Parker, chances are he’ll be wearing his cowboy boots and a cowboy hat.

But the 75-year-old lawyer also will likely be wearing a fine set of threads – buying clothes counts as one of his biggest splurges.

James Parker, Modrall Sperling lawyer and shareholder, also works with the Small Business Council of America. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

It’s a style the Oklahoma native dons with ease, whether it be at his longtime quarters at the Modrall Sperling law firm, at the University of New Mexico business center that bears his name, or in Washington, D.C., as part of his work with the Small Business Council of America.

His roots, he says, are pure Oklahoma. Ponca City, to be exact.

“I tell people I grew up in the city my father grew up in,” Parker says. “It wasn’t until I went to college that I realized my name is not ‘Bob Parker’s son.'”

He grew up working at his father’s lumber yard, but he was “on a mission” to get a degree in accounting and then move on to a career in law.

That was more than 50 years ago. Along the way, he made plenty of time for coaching baseball.

A longtime fan of the St. Louis Cardinals, Parker spent nearly three decades coaching, including an Albuquerque Academy middle school team and at a school summer program – “I had the privilege of coaching Alex Bregman for a year. Wonderful young man” – as well as through Little League, the American Legion and Menaul School.

And he remained true to his deep interest in family business.

He has represented some small businesses through three generations and capped his commitment to what he says is the foundation of the state’s economy with creation of the Parker Center for Family Business at the University of New Mexico.

Parker and his wife, Linda, founded the center in 2015.

“Family business has been a passion of mine for years,” he said.

How do you see things for family businesses now in New Mexico?

The economy in New Mexico has always been tough and for family businesses, they need help and support to help them grow. I’ve always felt rather than providing big incentives for major companies to come to New Mexico and stay here awhile and then they leave, that if we provided credits or tax benefits of some type to family businesses when they hire new employees that would help them in the cost of training new employees. But the thing is we need to grow our economy and support and buy locally.

In looking back on a long career, what are the things you are most proud of?

I have represented many, many clients for multiple generations. Some families, it’s now their third generation. Most of my friends over the years are clients. The type of practice you have with family businesses, you’re not only their lawyer, you’re their counsel. You help them in a lot of different areas, working with children and lots of issues rather than just the legal business issues.

Anything you wish you’d done differently?

I really don’t know. I’ve enjoyed everything that I’ve done. … Professionals who work in the business, say, yeah, spend more time with your family, but I was always involved with my kids in school.

What gets on your nerves?

People driving less than the speed limit on Corrales Road because I’m always in a hurry.

James Parker (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Do you speed?

Not in Corrales. They enforce the speed limit in Corrales, which is good. The last time I got a ticket I think I was ripping through Bernalillo to get to a baseball game on the West Side and I got a ticket. When I went in to appear before the judge, the lawyer I took with me told him I’d had a good driving record. The judge said, “When’s the last time you got a ticket?” And I said, “I got a ticket going 57 miles per hour up by Las Vegas, New Mexico, and the speed limit was 55.” The judge said, “Are you serious?” And I said, “Yes, your honor.” He says, “We owe you one. Case dismissed.”

What kind of childhood did you have?

I was a severe asthmatic, but I had a good childhood. It didn’t really keep me from anything I wanted to do. I played baseball and tennis from junior high through high school and college.

Do you have any hidden talents?

I retired as an artist when I was 15. I worked with oil paint. I painted scenes.

Why did you stop?

Baseball was too important.

What are your current hobbies?

I enjoy genealogy. My mother’s side of the family goes back to 1066, to the Normandy invasion. I’m sure there’s a horse thief in the mix somewhere, too.

Do you have any strange superstitions?

If you coach baseball, you have superstitions. I had a ritual … when we played double-headers on Saturdays and Sundays, I would get up and go to breakfast and do my lineup before I went to the field. I ate at the same place: Village Inn. I ordered the same food: two eggs over medium with a side of pancakes with sausage.

Did it work?

We were always very successful.

What makes you really happy?

When the Cardinals win. That really makes me happy. I sat up the other night – they lost a game in 13 innings. (sigh) They need a hitting coach this year.

What keeps you up at night?

Like anyone my age, I worry that the next generation – my children and grandchildren – won’t have the opportunities I’ve had. Because I basically lived the dream in that I came to a place where I knew four people and was able to build a very satisfying career and have had made many, many friends and have been able to give back to the community. That’s the interesting thing about Albuquerque. You go to charitable events, you see many of the same people. We do have a giving community. I tell people New Mexico is a small city.