Attorney Nathan A. Bicks is the kind of manager who asks, “How are you doing?” and then actually sticks around to hear the answer.
He’s the one who buys a bottle of red wine and Lifesavers Gummies for a lawyer’s birthday because he pays attention to what she likes. And when he can’t use his season tickets to the Memphis Grizzlies games, he offers them first to the receptionist and the office runner.
These aren’t requirements to be the chief manager at Burch, Porter & Johnson law firm, but they exemplify the man elected to the top management spot for the last three years. He’s sort of a chief executive officer, except Bicks typically makes decisions in concert with a three-lawyer management team. If a consensus can’t be reached, then Bicks has the final say-so. But, so far, he hasn’t said so.
“Our management is not like a regular business,” Bicks says. “It’s hard for me to describe a management style because I really function as a part of this group. I wear the mantle of being the chief manager, but the functions of this position are shared by a group.”
Burch, Porter & Johnson, established in 1904, is the second oldest law firm in Memphis, behind Apperson Crump, which opened in 1865. With only 41 attorneys, it might appear that BPJ is a boutique, but that title applies to a firm with one or two niche areas of practice. The BPJ attorneys have 20 specialties among them.
Bicks says the biggest change in the legal community through the years is the expansion of regional and national firms into the local market. These firms merged with local practices and hired attorneys from Memphis-based practices to establish a presence here.
“With all of the rapid changes in the Memphis legal landscape, it made us realize that we have unique resources of breadth and depth across a diverse community,” Bicks says. “They enable us to help clients accomplish their goals. We are able to use our sense and knowledge of ‘place’ as a differentiator to set us apart from our competition.”
Some of BPJ’s Memphis clients are the developers of the Big River Crossing, Rhodes College, and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. The firm is outside counsel to the City of Memphis and the counsel for the National Civil Rights Museum. It also created the Shelby Farms Conservancy, the Wolf River Conservancy, and the Overton Park Conservancy.
Lawyer Jennifer Hagerman says younger lawyers have a big advantage over other firms because the BPJ senior attorneys who’ve practiced in Memphis for more than 50 years come to the office every day.
“We have these sources of knowledge of wisdom and experience day in and day out,” Hagerman says. “We can go in their office and ask, ‘What do you think about this?’ or ‘What should we do about this?’ Having that wisdom and experience so accessible was such a benefit to my career. They are also willing to listen to input from the younger lawyers and help us think outside the box.”
The firm’s offices occupy three buildings on the north side of Court Square. One of them is the eye-catcher at the northwest corner of North Court and Second, the former Tennessee Club, constructed in 1890. Bicks’ office is in the turret, the most distinguishable feature of the building designed in Exotic Revival, Romanesque, and Moorish style, according to the National Register of Historic Places.
Since his fourth-floor office is circular with eight windows, several items that would normally be hung on the walls sit on the floor or lean against the wall space under the windows. The paperwork on his desk is organized in piles. Photos of family and friends are placed around the room. His wife, Andrea Beinstock, is the general counsel for Belz Enterprises. They have two daughters, Rebecca, a freelance writer outside of New York City, and Alexandra, a school teacher in Boston.
Bicks, 62, has been at the firm since 1985. He practices law in six areas including healthcare, zoning and land-use planning, and white collar and criminal investigations. He’s also the town attorney for the Town of Collierville.
Hagerman says Bicks regularly sticks his head in the door if he wants to check in with her or others in the firm. He doesn’t send out a mass email expecting the pings as everyone replies. He’ll go door-to-door to get a consensus, she says. He’ll listen to what everyone has to say.
That’s because Bicks disdains email and texts, especially inside the office. If someone in the office sends him a text or email, he’ll usually pop out of his office and go to theirs to talk.
“I try to encourage everybody to not communicate electronically,” Bicks says. “There’s a lot of value in talking face-to-face. It enables people to have back-and-forth in a conversation. There are visual cues, emotional intelligence, tone — things that don’t come across in an email or text.”
As for Bicks, his turret is always open.
He gets his people skills from his parents, Dr. Richard and Marcia Bicks. His father was the chief of the gastroenterology department at Baptist Memorial Hospital. His maternal grandfather was a doctor with a general practice at South Parkway and Wellington. All of his mother’s cousins became doctors. It seemed like medicine would be the family profession.
“My father wanted me to be a doctor,” Bicks says. “My dad was a math and science nerd. I was a history and politics nerd. I believe he became a doctor because he was a people person and wanted to help people and solve problems. I like helping people and solving problems, too. I just decided I wanted to do it as a lawyer.”