James J. Thomas II ’76 was inducted as an honorary member of the Order of the Coif during William & Mary Law School’s Awards Ceremony on May 16 at Williamsburg’s historic Kimball Theatre. The event, held the day before the Law School’s Diploma Ceremony at Lake Matoaka Amphitheater, included the presentation of awards and special recognitions to law graduates of the Class of 2015.
“A man of tremendous drive and tenacity in the practice of law, [Thomas] is highly ethical,” said Davison M. Douglas, Dean of the Law School and Arthur B. Hanson Professor of Law. “He’s the kind of guy if you’re ever in a tough spot, and it’s two a.m., you call Jim Thomas.”
A native of Allentown, Pa., Thomas graduated from William & Mary with a B.A. in government in 1973 and remained to earn a J.D. from the Law School. To pay his way through law school, he taught martial arts to William & Mary students and at local Army and Navy bases, ran an undergraduate dormitory, and worked as a bouncer in a local bar.
Thomas served as editor-in-chief of the William & Mary Law Review and, in addition to receiving the Corpus Juris Secundum Award, was awarded the Weber Diploma by the faculty as outstanding student.
Thomas is one of nine original lawyers who established the Atlanta-based firm Long & Aldridge, which eventually became known as Long, Aldridge & Norman. The firm has grown over the years and, as the result of a merger, is today known as Dentons, the largest law firm in the world.
Initially focused on business and commercial litigation, Thomas’s practice shifted to sports and entertainment law. Thomas has served as head of the firm’s Litigation/Dispute Resolution Department, Managing Partner of the firm, and Chairman of the firm’s Ethics & Practice Standards Committee.
An avid athlete who played football, wrestled, practiced karate, and went undefeated in Japan as a kickboxer, Thomas has been a major force in the world of sports. He has represented and managed the careers of five world boxing champions, including four-time heavyweight champion of the world Evander Holyfield and legendary middleweight Roy Jones, former Atlanta Falcons quarterback Steve Bartkowski, and pro golfer Jan Stephenson. He negotiated more than $200 million dollars of purses for Holyfield, including Holyfield’s record $35 million payday for the boxer’s second bout with Mike Tyson in 1997.
Thomas also served as outside general counsel to the Professional Karate Association for more than 30 years, was the first Commissioner of the Women’s Senior Professional Golf Tour, and was president of the Georgia Force in the Arena football League. He is currently developing professional boxing leagues in Mexico, Nigeria, the Philippines, and Indonesia.
Always thankful for his law education, in 1991 Thomas joined fellow classmates Jacqueline R. Denning J.D. ’76 and M. Scott Hart J.D. ’76 in establishing the Denning, Hart, Thomas Scholarship at the Law School. The scholarship is awarded annually to the editor-in-chief of the William & Mary Law Review.
Membership in the Order of the Coif is the highest academic honor a law student can achieve. It is equivalent to membership in Phi Beta Kappa for undergraduates. Coif chapters may elect to honorary membership "those who as lawyers, judges and teachers have attained high distinction for their scholarly or professional accomplishments." The Law School's Coif chapter inducted its first members beginning with the Class of 1981; law alumni chosen as honorary inductees graduated in earlier classes. William & Mary law faculty who are Coif members select the graduate who will receive this honor.
While accepting his membership in the Order of the Coif, Thomas reminded the Class of 2015 that they had much to be thankful for in attending William & Mary Law School.
“Were it not for a superb faculty and administration, I would not have been prepared, and you would not now be prepared, for a distinguished career,” he said. He also mentioned the unwavering support of his mother, Charlene, and wife, Trish, both of whom were in attendance at the awards ceremony.
Thomas concluded his remarks by praising the Law School for graduating citizen lawyers who put ethics above personal gain.
“I can tell you that you will be challenged repeatedly to swap those around and put personal gain ahead of ethics,” Thomas said. “I urge you not to, because as I look back on my career, the thing that I’m most proud of now is that I can say--and I hope you can say when it’s all done--that no matter what happened in my career, I did it the William & Mary Law School way.”
Thomas Jefferson founded William & Mary Law School in 1779 to train leaders for the new nation. Now in its third century, America's oldest law school continues its historic mission of educating citizen lawyers who are prepared both to lead and to serve.