Jim was born in Alexandria, Louisiana. He was admitted to the Bar in 1972, after graduating with his J.D. from the University of Texas Law School in Austin. Prior to this, he obtained a B.A. in History also from the University of Texas, and a M.Sc. in Environmental Science from Rice University. In 1998, he was the recipient of the Bob Eckhardt Lifetime Achievement Award for Coastal Preservation Efforts from the General Land Office of the State of Texas, and in 2001 he received a National Conservation Achievement Award from the National Wildlife Federation. He was granted Honorary Membership in the American Institute of Architects in 2003, in recognition of his legal work associated with urban quality of life issues.
In 2004, Texas A&M Press published The Book of Texas Bays written by Jim, with photos by renowned Houston photographer Jim Olive.
He is a Professor of the Practice and Director of the Interdisciplinary Minor in Energy and Water Sustainability in the Environmental Sciences and Engineering Department of Rice University. He serves as a faculty associate for the SSPEED Center studying lessons learned from Hurricane Ike.
In 2004, he was named “Best Environmental Attorney” by the Houston Press. In 2007, Texas Southern University awarded the Barbara C. Jordan Community Advocate Award for his “unwavering commitment to protecting our environment and the health of Texans throughout the Gulf Coast region.”