James W. Parkinson’s doctor father wanted him to be a doctor, too, but Parkinson’s interests led him to pursue a law degree from BYU. He became interested in the J. Reuben Clark Law School when he heard Rex Lee speak at a Blue Key Honor Society event. He was impressed by Lee and thought that anything Lee was involved with would be successful. “Rex Lee was the reason I came to BYU Law. He was so dynamic and so positive,” Parkinson said.
The relationships that Parkinson developed during law school have lasted throughout his life. “The most significant thing about law school was the friendships I made,” he said. Fellow students such as Paul Warner, Tom Perry, Dee Benson, and Steve Hill have influenced Parkinson’s life positively through their high morals and intellect. Professors Monroe McKay and Ed Kimball also heavily influenced Parkinson. He was a research assistant for Professor McKay while in school, and still maintains contact with him. “He was a role model for my legal career,” Parkinson said. “Every time I had a serious problem with my law practice I called Monroe McKay.”
Since graduating, Parkinson has worked as a trial lawyer. One of the major cases of his career included Ellis v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, in which he was counsel with Robinson Calcagnie Inc. and Casey Gerry Reed & Schenk.
Parkinson considers the paramount case of his career to be Harold Poole, et al. v. Nippon steel, et al. During this case, Parkinson represented American soldiers used as slave laborers in World War II, filing claimes against the Japanese corporations that had enslaved them. “Even though we were unsuccessful in the case–it taught me the most,” he said. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court and Parkinson appeared on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. Parkinson wrote a book about the case, Soldier Slaves, along with Lee Benson; it was afterwards made into the movie,The Inheritance of War.
Parkinson helped put together the Orrin G. Hatch Distinguished Trial Lawyer Lecture Series at BYU Law for eight years. He assisted in soliciting distinguished speakers in the law for the series. “I wanted students to be exposed to top litigators, to become the best in the program,” he said.
Currently, Parkinson is helping people learn how to self-educate. This is something that has played a significant role in Parkinson’s life. He said everyday he asks himself the question: “Jimmy, do you want to be as ignorant today as you were yesterday?” His book, Autodidactic, Self-taught discusses ways to self-teach through vocabulary, reading, and writing. “Young people don’t read as much as they should,” he said. “I think it’s really important that people know how to be self-taught.”
Parkinson has sold over 20,000 copies of his book, and he has traveled to speak to high school students in Utah, California, New Jersey, Mississippi, Indiana, and Tanzania to promote his book. “I enjoy nothing more than speaking to students,” he said. “Using skills I perfected as a trial lawyer for 38 years, I engage the students in an interactive exchange on the importance of taking responsibility for their own education.”
Parkinson acknowledges that his time at BYU Law helped him to serve others throughout his life. “If you live your life and you’ve come in first–then you’ve made a mistake. You want the people that are around you to come in first,” he said.