How Jim Wilkes Made a Name for Himself In The Legal Field

Jim Wilkes received his Bachelor of Arts from the University of South Florida and his Juris Doctor from Stetson University College of Law.

Jim Wilkes received his Bachelor of Arts from the University of South Florida and his Juris Doctor from Stetson University College of Law.

He founded Wilkes & McHugh with Tim McHugh in 1985, and when Mr. McHugh retired in 2019, the firm was renamed Wilkes & Associates. Under Mr. Wilke’s and Mr. McHugh’s leadership, the firm has earned more than $1.5 billion in courtroom verdicts and hundreds of millions in out-of-court settlements. Wilkes & McHugh is recognized by The National Law Journal as one of the top performing firms nationwide. Mr. Wilkes is a frequent lecturer on personal injury issues and is renowned for his vocal advocacy on behalf of victims of fraud and abuse. He has repeatedly gained national and local media attention for the effective representation of clients.

Jim Wilkes and his former partner were among the only attorneys willing to fight for neglected and abused elderly victims at a time when most law firms saw little value in nursing home cases. Passionate about protecting society’s most vulnerable members, Wilkes & McHugh spent the last 30 years in pursuit of justice and improved care through litigation and legislation. Mr. Wilkes brings dedication to his practice areas and had the courage to navigate uncharted legal territories.

Jim Wilkes has represented over 10,000 clients across all 50 states. Since 1985, Jim Wilkes has helped to recover an excess of $3 billion dollars for his clients, winning nearly 100 jury trials, and, since 2010, over 3,000 successful out-of-court settlements.

Mr. Wilkes is a member of the State Bar of Alabama, the Arkansas Bar Association, the State Bar of California, the Florida Bar, the Florida Justice Association, the Hillsborough County Bar Association, the Kentucky Bar Association, the Mississippi Bar Association, the Tennessee Bar Association, the State Bar of Texas, the American Bar Association, and the American Association for Justice. He has a five-star AV Preeminent rating from Martindale-Hubbell for high ethical standing. He has been named one of The Best Lawyers in America by Best Lawyers since 2001 and a Super Lawyer by Super Lawyers Magazine since 2006. He was inducted into the Litigation Counsel of America and the International Academy of Trial Lawyers.

His other awards and nominations have included the 2006 Resident’s Rights Award from the National Citizens Coalition for Nursing Home Reform for his exceptional commitment to improving the lives of nursing home residents, the Florida Justice Association’s Jon E. Krupnick Award for Perseverance in 2005, the Florida Justice Association’s President’s Award in 1997, and a nomination for the prestigious National Aging and Law Award by the AARP.

What do you currently do at your company?

I am the president and CEO of Wilkes & Associates. I’m a well-regarded civil plaintiffs trial lawyer, and I work predominantly in the area of suing nursing homes and nursing home companies when they injure or kill people.

What was the inspiration behind your business?

In the 1990s, a man named Mongobi came into my office and told me how horrifically his wife was treated in a nursing home and how she died of mistreatment. At the time, nursing home lawsuits had no value because they were  expensive to prosecute. You didn’t have things like lost wages or survivors, and the law made it almost impossible to take these cases to court. Mongobi kept persisting and showed me documents about how this company rounded up low-profit residents, put them in a wing, then illegally discharged them so they could get rid of them. This information led to a multi-billion-dollar settlement with the federal government and simultaneous to this, I found an area of the law that allowed me to collect attorney’s fees on top of any settlement or verdict. I started taking these cases, and other law firms would offer theirs because these incidents of abuse and neglect were rampant, but I was the only one focused on these types of cases at the time. Once Tim McHugh and I started diving deep, things really took off.

What defines your way of doing business?

I am aggressive, but knowledgeable. I never approach a case in a predictable manner because I want to keep my opposition on the defensive.

Tell us one long-term goal in your career.

I want to keep the firm at a high level of service and elevation and to remain at the forefront of nursing home-centric litigation.

What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned through the course of your career?

In the nursing home industry, the further ownership is from the bedside, the worse it is for residents. For example, if you take a small, church-operated, nonprofit nursing home, they’re in it because they genuinely care. They see the people and their families. On the other hand, you have corporate owners that don’t even know they own nursing homes and they set up systems designed to just funnel money out.

What advice would you give to others aspiring to succeed in your field?

Understand corporate structure, first and foremost. You have to know how these corporations are set up, how they hide their assets, and how they direct, manage, and control the labyrinth of corporate shells that they set up as a way to funnel out money.

What has been the hardest obstacle you’ve overcome?

The biggest obstacle has been twofold. The first part is the game of cat and mouse where I figure out who owns what in the nursing home world and they immediately change ownership and payment structure, so I have to chase down the owners and the people who control and direct the homes. The second part is that these people tend to be very politically wealthy, and they pass laws that make it even harder to represent victims of nursing home abuse.

What does success look like to you?

I’ve worked hard to redefine the industry of nursing home litigation, so success for me would be continuing to build that career.

What is one piece of advice you would like to leave our readers with?

I would recommend always thinking long-term. It’s easy to come up with temporary solutions, but what’s more, is devising a comprehensive plan of action for the future growth of one’s business.