Born to James T. Laura, Sr. and Barbara Kimbrough in Asheville, North Carolina, James T. Laura, Jr. (Jay) knew early on that he was destined for a professional life that involved both law and business. Much of Jay’s early life was spent moving from city to city as a result of his father’s career. While such constant change was not easy as a young child, the same offered Jay and his sister, Anna-Marie Laura, various opportunities for growth and life experience. While other kids spent their summers swimming at the neighborhood pool, Jay and his sister made friends in new places by selling whatever was marketable in their new neighborhoods to their neighbors and passersby alike. As a child, Jay had the pleasure of living in: Asheville, NC; Chesapeake, VA; Virginia Beach, VA; Sacramento, CA; Charlotte, NC; and, Greenville, SC.
In Virginia Beach, Jay’s family lived on a golf course. Each night during the summer he and his sister would comb the course for abandoned and lost golf balls to be cleaned and sold on the road to the clubhouse the next day. Business for the Laura kids was good, but at the expense of the clubhouse. Consequently, Jay first experienced early in life the wrath a more powerful or better-positioned business competitor can exert when the club and neighborhood association shut down his golf ball business. That was fine however, because soon Jay and his family moved to Charlotte, North Carolina where instead of golf balls, Jay and his sister sold handmade bracelets to children at the neighborhood pool. When the family moved yet again to Greenville, South Carolina, Jay’s entrepreneurial efforts did not skip a beat. Jay quickly approached his new neighbors and inquired as to their needs for lawn maintenance services. Once discerning that the majority of folks did not cut their own lawns, Jay began soliciting his neighbors for their business. By the time Jay could drive he had six (6) lawns to cut a week and more work than he could handle and thus turned his accounts over to a commercial service provider. To this day, Jay maintains life-long friendships with childhood friends from each place that he lived; the majority of which stem from his fledgling business endeavors.
Jay attended high school at Riverside High School in Greenville, South Carolina. While preparing to graduate from high school Jay was elected by his class to speak at their graduation ceremonies. The process of giving and the response to his graduation speech cemented in Jay’s mind that he should dedicate his life to moving people to action through communication.
After graduation, Jay headed off to college at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, South Carolina to study International Studies and Business Administration. Once on campus, Jay joined the South Carolina Delta Chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity. His membership in Sigma Alpha Epsilon served as the catalyst for his extensive extracurricular activities during college. It was through Sigma Alpha Epsilon that Jay met his future business partner, pledge brother Joseph DeCamilla (Joey). After their sophomore year in college, Jay and Joey headed west to San Francisco, California to start J&J Olive Sales, a direct marketing business that would sell olives and olive oil at farmers’ markets across northern California. Armed with only an idea and a one-thousand dollar ($1,000.00) loan from their fathers, Jay and Joey created and grew J&J Olive Sales into one of the most recognizable and lucrative vendors at Bay Area markets in three (3) short months. Upon returning to campus in South Carolina from California, Jay was elected President of his fraternity. Shortly thereafter, Jay was approached by the current Study Body President of the University of South Carolina to gauge his interest in running for University-wide office in the upcoming student body elections. While already committed to his studies and fraternity, Jay believed he could still contribute to the overall student population and decided to run for office. Jay and his running mates won the election by the largest margin in years and Jay ascended to the position of Student Body President. Jay’s tenure as President of the University of South Carolina was marked with numerous successes; including the establishment of the University of South Carolina Healthy Carolina Farmers’ Market, a cooperative project between the South Carolina Department of Agriculture and the University, as well as obtaining millions of dollars in funding from the University’s Board of Trustees for a new student health center.
After his undergraduate studies Jay enrolled in the University of South Carolina School of Law. While in law school, Jay focused his efforts on his studies and obtaining professional experience through clerkships and fellowships. After his first year in law school, Jay clerked for Barrett & McNagny, LLP in Fort Wayne, Indiana. While at the firm Jay saw first-hand how much the healthcare industry was changing as a result of new technologies, new fields of medicine, and the legal ramifications thereof. While in Indiana, Jay completed a fellowship with the Midwest Alliance for Health Education during which he examined the impact of new federal legislation on healthcare professionals. During his second year of law school Jay worked for the local public defender’s office where he attempted to assist accused criminals. Through his work with the public defender’s office, Jay gained an interest in criminal law and pursued a summer clerkship with the Florida State Attorney for the Fourth Judicial Circuit, Angela B. Corey. Jay was awarded the clerkship he pursued in Jacksonville, Florida and spent the summer learning the ins and outs of being a prosecutor. After completing the clerkship and during his last year of law school, Jay was offered a full-time position with the Florida State Attorney’s office. However, Jay declined the offer in order to accept a scholarship from Hult International Business School to study International Business at a Masters level in London, England.
After graduating law school but before moving to London to begin business school, Jay took a clerkship with Alexander Shunnarah Personal Injury Attorneys in Birmingham, Alabama. Although Jay never worked on the plaintiff’s side of civil law before he quickly realized that the same was his calling. The opportunity to directly interact with individual clients who sought the firm’s services to assist them through a difficult time was the ideal professional setting for Jay. Aspects of law, customer service, client management, business and counseling are all inherent in the personal injury practice and Jay enjoyed utilizing the varied skill set required by this area of law. As his clerkship was winding down and the time was nearing to head-off to London, Alexander Shunnarah offered Jay a full-time position with Alexander Shunnarah Personal Injury Attorneys in Birmingham, Alabama. Realizing that the firm would benefit if Jay was further educated on business, Jay and Alexander agreed that Jay would attend Hult International Business School in London, England as planned but would return to Alabama to join the firm once done.
Thereafter, Jay moved to London to pursue the formal business education he desired but now could do so with a clearly defined focus. Jay viewed each lesson through the lens of his future business – the practice of personal injury law. Classes in finance, operations and marketing all shed light on valuable ideas and concepts that Jay would implement in his future practice. While his colleagues were frantically attempting to obtain positions with international consulting firms, Jay was planning his return to Alabama where he would use the business education he received to reach unchartered levels of success within Alexander’s firm.
Upon his return to Alabama and his passing of the Alabama Bar Exam, Jay created his own department within the law firm of Alexander Shunnarah Personal Injury Attorneys in Birmingham, Alabama. On day one he had multiple assistants prepared to begin work on the case load that was transferred to Jay from another attorney within the firm. Jay and his first assistants, Anthony Shunnarah and Blake Davenport, helped change the culture of the firm and how each individual department within it operated and was managed. The tireless work of Jay’s team resulted in great success for both their clients and their department. Such success led Jay to ponder what more he could do for the firm and in what way he could make a truly recognizable impact. Contemplation on those points reached a head one afternoon as Jay and a colleague from the firm travelled to a University of Alabama basketball game in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Jay’s colleague acknowledged what Jay had done for the firm in a short time and asked, “What else do you think you can do for Alex that isn’t already being done.” This poignant question forced Jay to orate his goal to expand the firm’s practice into new geographic locations and practice areas.
In order to achieve his goal of expansion, Jay needed to identify where he could best be of service. A simple review of the firm’s letterhead indicated that at that time the firm did not have amongst its members a Florida licensed attorney. Therefore, Jay began preparing to sit for the Florida Bar Examination. After sitting for and passing the Florida Bar Examination, an attorney from Mobile, Alabama, Richard Taylor, approached Alexander Shunnarah about partnering on an effort to grow their two firms’ practices in South Alabama. While Alexander Shunnarah Personal Injury Attorneys did do a bit of work in South Alabama at the time, the firm clearly did not have a foothold in that market as they did in the other major Alabama markets such as: Huntsville, AL; Birmingham, AL; and, Montgomery, AL. Alex asked Jay to be involved in the decision-making process on whether or not to expand their practice into South Alabama through a relationship with Richard Taylor’s firm. After much consideration, Alex and Jay decided to move forward with the plan and Jay moved to Mobile, Alabama to open an office for Alexander Shunnarah Personal Injury Attorneys.
Once on site in Mobile, Jay began growing the firm’s presence in South Alabama. He quickly realized that the Gulf Coast of the United States is a community in and of itself and not simply a series of cities on the water. Rather, Jay began to understand that the Gulf Coast has its own unique culture and way of life and that goods and services flow freely across the state lines of Florida, Alabama and Mississippi along the Gulf of Mexico. As Jay continued to better understand the market he was working within the firm’s South Alabama practice began to thrive. After only six (6) short months of operating in Mobile, Alex approached Jay, acknowledged both the success they were experiencing in Mobile and the consolidated nature of the Gulf Coast community, and posed the idea of yet further expanding into Mississippi and Florida. Again, after much contemplation, Alex and Jay decided to double-down on their expansion efforts and open offices in the neighboring cities of: Gulfport, MS; Pensacola, FL; and Panama City, FL.
In order to achieve the tri-state expansion they desired, Alex and Jay needed to form a new legal entity to which they both would be partners; and Alexander Shunnarah & Associates was born. Jay was named Managing Partner and the new interstate law firm was off to the races. The firm’s offices now serve the citizens of numerous localities in three (3) states. The partners and members of Alexander Shunnarah & Associates attribute their success to superior customer service, unparalleled work ethic, legal skill, and a forward-thinking management style implemented and overseen by Jay.
As Managing Partner of the firm Jay wears many hats. Jay’s duties range from litigating cases to negotiating business transactions on behalf of the firm. Without his experience and education in business, Jay’s legal career would not be what it is today. The same can be said inversely as well; without his experience and education in law, the business of Alexander Shunnarah & Associates would not have flourished the way it has. As is the case with most folks, Jay’s personality and approach to the practice of law are composed by the collective result of his past experiences – none of which he would trade for the world.