Oct. 18, 2023 – Milwaukee attorney O. Emil Ovbiagele’s vision of the world is anchored by a profound belief: “That our most transcendent purpose extends beyond our immediate circles and is deeply rooted in enriching the lives of others. In other words, giving more than we receive, and serving others,” he said.
“In serving others, we are not just fulfilling our societal roles, but actively replenishing the world with kindness, understanding, and a shared commitment to progress,” he said.
When we dedicate ourselves to the service of others, “we are making a solemn promise – to pour back into the world with an abundance that surpasses what we take.”
“And it's this ethos, this balance of giving and receiving, that I hope to be remembered for,” he said.
Ovbiagele is founder and managing partner with
OVB Law & Consulting S.C., Milwaukee, where he represents clients in civil litigation and employment law matters, and counsels closely held businesses.
Currently, he is president of the Milwaukee Bar Association and an adjunct professor at Marquette University Law School. He is also the 2023 recipient of the
John Lederer Distinguished Service Award from the State Bar of Wisconsin's Solo, Small Firm & General Practice Section.
The Lederer Award recognizes those focused on improving the lives and practices of solo and small-firm attorneys in Wisconsin. The award is given annually to an individual, group, or organization that exhibits the leadership, spirit, and dedication of the late John Lederer of Oregon, Wisconsin.
Ovbiagele represents the spirit of this year’s Wisconsin Solo & Small Firm Conference – hosted by the Solo, Small Firm & General Practice Section: different generations in the workplace, says Nancy Trueblood, chair of the award committee. “Emil has made it a focus of his practice to reach out to and encourage both law students and young lawyers who contemplate going out on their own.”
Receiving the award is “a reflection of a journey I embarked on right after law school,” Ovbiagele said. “Establishing my firm just two years post-graduation, I’ve intimately grasped the highs and lows of being in a solo or small firm. This award crystallizes the values of tenacity, innovation, and dedicated service that John Lederer exemplified.”
A Mentor and Guide
Ovbiagele has made it a focus of his practice to reach out to and encourage both law students and young lawyers.
Shannon Green is communications writer for the State Bar of Wisconsin, Madison. She can be reached by
email or by phone at (608) 250-6135.
“In today's diverse workplace, where multiple generations intersect, my aim has consistently been to bridge the gap between experienced wisdom and fresh perspectives,” he said.
“Over the years, my roles within the State Bar and now as the president of the Milwaukee Bar Association have been steered by a purpose: to advocate for the entrepreneurial lawyer. I’ve striven to keep the concerns of solo practitioners, newer lawyers, and attorneys of color at the forefront of our legal conversations. My vision is not just to have their voices heard but echoed powerfully within the legal fraternity.”
Receiving the Lederer award “not only validates these endeavors but also casts a light on the road ahead, emphasizing the need to continue championing solo and small-firm attorneys. It is both an honor and a renewed call to action, reinforcing my commitment to uplift and empower the next wave of innovative lawyers in Wisconsin.”
Ovbiagele is a former president of the State Bar's Young Lawyers Division (YLD). While president, much of his time on the board involved reaching out to attorneys across the state to develop referral networks and a sense of community among young lawyers.
He is also a longtime member of the State Bar Solo, Small Firm & General Practice Section (SSFGP), which, he said, “are two of the most important groups within the State Bar. Solo and small firms are the backbone upon which our entire industry and bar association is built upon.”
Reaching out to young lawyers and law students isn’t just about imparting technical knowledge, he said. “It's about nurturing confidence, debunking myths, and painting a realistic yet inspiring picture of the entrepreneurial legal journey. What fuels my passion is witnessing the transformation mentorship can ignite: seeing a tentative law student evolve into a confident, impactful attorney,” he said.
This commitment comes from his own lived experience. “Early in my career, I grappled with the challenges of establishing my firm and quickly recognized the gap between academic knowledge and the practicalities of running a practice. This realization became my driving force to mentor and guide the next generation,” Ovbiagele said.
Bottom Up:’ Supporting Our Community of Young Lawyers
Past Recipients of the John F. Lederer Service Award
Ovbiagele is co-host of the
State Bar’s Bottom Up podcast, which began in June 2022.
The podcast, Ovbiagele says, is a “significant touchstone” for him. “Its inception is a testament to the forward-thinking vision of the State Bar of Wisconsin. The brainchild of Joe Forward, our State Bar communications director and editor of
Wisconsin Lawyer magazine, the podcast was conceived to give younger voices in the legal community a platform to share and seek practical advice. I felt privileged when Joe approached me with the idea and immediately knew the potential this platform could hold.”
“Co-hosted by myself and attorney Kristen Hardy, each episode goes beyond just surface-level discussions. We delve deep into the myriad challenges and opportunities that young attorneys encounter, consistently highlighting a plethora of diverse legal voices from across the Bar. Our goal is to illuminate real issues, foster a sense of camaraderie, and of course, have a good time while doing so,” he said.
Bottom Up is more than just a podcast to Ovbiagele. “It stands as a powerful medium that not only offers invaluable insights to new attorneys but also celebrates the unique journeys and stories within the legal profession. Every episode is a reminder of our collective mission to carve out distinct paths in the realm of law and amplify voices that truly matter,” he said.
Numerous attorneys have reached out to Ovbiagele since the podcast started to tell him how impactful the podcast has been on their career, said Trueblood. “Many of these attorneys are solo or work with small firms and often don’t have the support system that attorneys at mid to large-size firms may have.”
“This podcast gives solo and small firm attorneys a sense of camaraderie and community, reassurance that they’re not alone in the struggles or obstacles they face in their day-to-day practice,” said Trueblood.
His Advice: Be In Tune With Yourself
Ovbiagele grew up in Benin City, Nigeria, and came to the U.S. at a young age after he lost his father. His mother, he says, taught him gratitude and never to give in to misfortune.
His upbringing also instilled in him the entrepreneurial mindset – which doesn’t have to mean starting your own firm. “It means taking charge of your career very early on and treating it like it is a corporate entity,” he said.
“Be intentional, don’t just let things happen to you all the time. Dare to affect your circumstances. Be relentless about chasing experiences. Try out new things. Adjust. Be your biggest critic and biggest fan.”
Figure out what guides you, he advises. Learn your core values and your vision. Then “put mind to purpose.” He says it doesn’t matter if you don’t have everything figured out – just be in tune with yourself, lock into the journey, and embrace possibilities.
Read more from Ovbiagele
in the November 2021 Wisconsin Lawyer magazine.
Join the Celebration
Ovbiagele will receive the Lederer Award Friday, Oct. 20, at the 2023 Wisconsin Solo & Small Firm Conference at the Kalahari Resort in Wisconsin Dells.
Find out more about the conference by visiting the conference’s website,
Celebrate with Emil Ovbiagele at WSSFC
Ovbiagele will receive the award on Friday, Oct. 20, 2023, at the Wisconsin Solo & Small Firm Conference.
Wisconsin Solo & Small Firm Conference (WSSFC) is returning to the Kalahari Resort, Oct. 19-21, 2023, in Wisconsin Dells.
WSSFC is designed specifically to address the challenges that small firms and solo practice attorneys face and gives you the space to learn, network, and troubleshoot among peers. It’s where you get tips on what to do as your practice grows and is a great place to meet colleagues and expand your connections.
Registration is open –
visit wssfc.org for more information, or
head to Wisbar’s Marketplace to register.