Helping small businesses is what Emil Ovbiagele loves to do most within his legal practice. Small businesses are the reason he opened his own law firm less than two years after graduating from law school.
“They are the bread and butter of the economy,” he said. “But they tend to go the longest without legal help even though they need it the most.”
After spending law school and a little over his first year in practice in roles ranging from being an intern for a Wisconsin Supreme Court justice to working for a mid-size insurance and civil-litigation firm, Ovbiagele concluded that the standard way that law firms are organized does not fit small businesses.
So, he set out to come up with one that did.
“There’s a level of distrust between small businesses and law firms or lawyers in general, primarily built on billing practices – the fact that it’s so unpredictable,” Ovbiagele said. “They never really feel like they have a lawyer on their side. And most of the time, they have no incentive to reach out to a lawyer until things get real and things get bad.”
One way Ovbiagele’s firm, Ovb Law and Consulting, attempts to put lawyers and small business on the same page is by charging a flat fee for legal services. When cases go to ligitation, the firm makes use of a hybrid fee structure rather than just billing by the hour.
Two years in, the change is working well for Ovbiagele. His shift away from standard billing, for instance, has brought him business from the Milwaukee-based software development company RokkinCat. The deal was particularly satisfying since the very same company had declined to hire Ovbiagele when he had worked for a large firm.
One of RokkinCat’s founders, Nick Gartmann, said it was difficult to find a lawyer in the Midwest who could understand what he and his colleagues were trying to do and, at the same time, feel comfortable representing them.
Ovbiagele, with his new model of offering legal services, filled that need.
“He works very creatively in helping us run our business the way we want without getting in trouble,” said Gartmann.
The benefits run both ways – Ovbiagele, for his part, gains inspiration from the work done by Gartmann’s company and other innovative clients. They keep him on his toes and encourage him to find ways to improve his practice, he said.
“They really inspire me,” he said. “I always tell people I’m a dream poacher. I try to become part of other people’s dreams. That’s why I’ve become a business lawyer.”