Jan. 4, 2023 – Law students and young lawyers: what do you want out of your legal career? Developing an entrepreneurial mindset may help you get there.
In the latest episode of Bottom Up, a WislawNOW Podcast produced by the State Bar of Wisconsin, co-hosts Emil Ovbiagele and Kristen Hardy join guest Alex Eichhorn, a partner at a Milwaukee-based firm, to discuss lawyers as entrepreneurs.
All three graduated from Marquette University Law School in 2014, and now have eight years of law practice experience. All three developed an entrepreneurial mindset that helped them reach their current roles as law firm owner, partner, and in-house counsel.
In this episode, each tell stories of the challenges they faced, both in law school and in the first years of practice, and how developing an entrepreneurial mindset is so crucial for young attorneys to blaze the path they want for themselves.
Not a Straight Path
Emil started his own law practice, on his own terms. In law school, he faced rejection. “I was the only one in my class who had a large law firm gig who did not come back to law school with an offer,” he said.
“That was the first time I had to think for myself, the first time I had to think past the path that had been created and handed down as told from orientation day.”
Ovbiagele eventually founded OVB Law & Consulting S.C., now a three-attorney firm doing civil litigation and employment law work. He is the managing partner. But getting there was not easy. Developing the entrepreneurial mindset was crucial.
“In all the experiences that I had before starting my own firm, I was able to take things that I felt I didn't like and start or create an environment that didn’t do that,” he said.
Hardy, a former college athlete in track and field, is now an assistant general counsel at Northwestern Mutual. She knew early on that she wanted to be an in-house counsel and took steps to get there despite the perceived obstacles.
“They said, you can’t go in-house right out of law school,” Hardy said. “I said, ‘but that’s what I want to do.’ I had a windy road to get there.
“It didn't work out exactly that way, but I was very intentional with OK, I know I want to go this unconventional path and I want to do it quickly.So I'm going to have to build up everything around me to ensure I can do that. It sounds so cliche, but it's true. You meet the right people. You talk to the right folks. You build your brand appropriately.”
Building Trust, Being Intentional
Eichhorn, now a partner at Tabak Law LLC in Milwaukee, earned partner status in part by helping his law firm transform itself through new processes and technologies to maximize client acquisition and increase revenue.
But that didn’t happen quickly. It required Eichhorn to build trust within the firm, primarily with founding partner, Fred Tabak.
“Maybe it happened a lot quicker than the molasses pace that is associated with the large law firm partner track,” Eichhorn said. “Over time, there was a trust that was built. [Fred] gave me a little thing and I did decently well at it.”
“And then he gave me another little slightly bigger thing and I did it decent and then before you know it, you've done a lot of little things that worked out well enough to be entrusted with the larger responsibility.”
Eichorn added: “It's very unlikely that people stumble to the exact endpoint where they wanted to be without failure in between, because they don't even know what the endpoint looks like without failure.”
Hardy and Ovbiagele added that young lawyers must walk before they run, but must be intentional about where they want the path to lead.
“Prove that you can do something first and then when you want to interject with whatever your changes are, people are more willing to listen to you,” Hardy said.
“Be intentional about where you want to end up, what you want to do, what you don't want to do, and where you see yourself,” Ovbiagele said.
Ovbiagele, Hardy, and Eichhorn dive deeper into various topics on how lawyers should be more entrepreneurial to set their own career path. The hour-long episode is available where ever you get your podcasts.
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