Moritz College of Law The Ohio State University
This Month @ Moritz

Jim Oliphant '92: Rubbing Elbows with the Powerful in Washington, D.C.

Jim with daughter Kate
Jim with daughter Kate

Jim Oliphant '92 is right where many Moritz College of Law graduates would love to be - in the corridors of power of Washington D.C., at the nexus of the events and decisions that shape this nation, among the politicians, lobbyists, law firms and judges who play in front of and behind the scenes.

But Jim Oliphant is not one of the players. He is happily on the outside looking in, documenting the machinations as the editor-in-chief of the Legal Times , a weekly newspaper, and LegalTimes.com , its online component.

"I feel lucky to do what I get to do," he said. "I get to have interesting conversations with people all day long. It is hard to imagine doing something else."

Coming out of Ohio State in 1989, armed with a Bachelor's degree in journalism, the Upper Arlington, Ohio native was set to embark on his career, but ran into a slight problem - no jobs. So, he put his writing aspirations on hold and enrolled in law school.

Upon graduation from the College of Law, Jim moved to Cleveland and began working as a commercial litigator, a job he held for five years before deciding it was time to return to his original professional goal.

"Law is a great profession with great people, but it was not my niche," he said, noting that his father, James Oliphant '71, and wife are lawyers, as was his grandfather. "But I haven't gotten far from it. I loved law school and loved the ideas and issues. It has helped me get where I am now. It gave me the tools to analyze problems - and a healthy skepticism."

Jim resumed the search for a job in journalism that he began eight years earlier. In 1997, he took a reporter job with the Daily Business Review in Miami covering the local legal industry.

"When I left Cleveland, Lake Erie was completely frozen over. Within a matter of weeks, I was walking on the beach in Miami. It was one of those great transitions that makes you think anything is possible."

After three years in sunny Florida, the Legal Times , a sister publication to the Daily Business Review , hired Jim to cover the U.S. Justice Department. It was an opportunity he knew he could not pass up.

Jim and Candace on their wedding day, September 2002
Jim and Candace on their wedding day, September 2002

"Working in D.C. was always a goal," Jim said. "D.C. is a place where significant events occur. It is hard to articulate it without sounding like Jimmy Stewart. It is this big engine and it has always fascinated me. I wanted to decode it, learn the language. Some people want to go to New York and learn about finance or fashion. Some people want to go to L.A. and learn entertainment. I wanted to go to D.C."

Jim said the paper has a 30-year history in Washington D.C., at "the intersection of law, government and politics." It covers the courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, the numerous law firms in the city, government agencies such as the Justice Department, and lobbying.

"Chronicling power," he called it.

Aside from a diversion to New Mexico for a little more than a year between 2003 and 2004, Jim has been at the Legal Times since 2000, ascending from reporter, to news editor, to managing editor, and finally to editor-in-chief . He oversees a staff of 20 on the editorial side including reporters, copy editors and photographers, who cover the day-in, day-out of D.C., such as the ongoing Salim Hamdan case, which centers on the merits of military tribunals - just one of many issues Jim and his team is tracking.

As an editor, Jim laments the fact that he doesn't get the opportunity to write as much as he would like. He said there are times when he misses being in the field and immersing himself in a story, taking the people, events and words and giving them meaning for readers.

Jim speaks as a happy, regret-free man.

"I'd love to tell you this was my plan, but I never thought I'd end up in management," he said. "It's surreal. I didn't intend to be in charge, but the dominos fell into place. I don't know what the future might hold."

Friends wishing to get in touch with Jim can reach him at JOliphant@alm.com.