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Zepnick’s leap of faith, passion for innovation reap rewards

Nicholas Zepnick - Foley & Lardner

Nicholas Zepnick –
Foley & Lardner

Nicholas Zepnick’s whole plan was to become a mechanical engineer. But then, during a product-development internship with what would later be Oshkosh Corp., he got to work with an intellectual-property lawyer from Foley & Lardner.

“I thought the job was just awesome,” he said. “You got to do all the cool stuff without the mundane stuff – like how big does the bolt have to be or how much sheet metal do we need. Some engineers thrive on that stuff – and I’m glad we have them. But at the end of the day, I just couldn’t see myself doing that forever.”

Zepnick eventually took the LSAT and applied to law school after his two-year internship was up. It was a big decision for Zepnick, who comes from a working-class family in Green Bay.

“The idea of turning down a job offer to spend $160,000 to go to law school, after which there was no guarantee for a job was a huge jump for me,” he said.

Looking back, Zepnick said his career choice was quite the gamble given that he knew nothing about law schools and knew no lawyers at the time. But, that leap of faith worked out in the end.

During law school at Marquette, Zepnick ended up taking an internship again at Oshkosh Corp., this time in its legal department. There, he made connections at Foley that would later prove beneficial.

He is now an associate at the firm, where he provides advice to clients about protecting their innovations. In just five years of practice, Zepnick has risen to be one of the firm’s top performers and handles some of the firm’s most prominent clients.

“Whatever it is I’m working on, this person has this creative vein where they see a problem and come up with the solution,” Zepnick said. “It is awesome to be able to work with them and translate their solution into a legal right.”

Linda Benfield, a managing partner, says Zepnick’s success at the firm comes not just from his being a good attorney and bright but also his commitment to pro bono work. Zepnick coordinates Foley’s involvement with the Milwaukee Justice Center, a project meant to help the county’s underrepresented litigants. One of his many responsibilities is training new volunteer attorneys.

“He is just really engaged and passionate about that,” Benfield said. “The responsibility to coordinate what we do there is just extraordinary … It’s a lot of work and really extraordinary that he took that on as an associate.”

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