By Steve Schuster
Ovbiagele came to Milwaukee from Nigeria when he was 16 years old and has since earned three degrees from Marquette University (Undergraduate, MBA, and JD).
Ovbiagele said he lost his father at age 13 and was raised by a widow who had three children and was jobless at the time of her husband’s death.
“She gave me everything and sacrificed a lot to send me and my sisters to Marquette for schooling,” Ovbiagele said, noting that his mother eventually became an entrepreneur and real estate mogul in Nigeria.
“She’s the hero to my life story, ” he said.
“When I think about my life, losing father at 13, being raised by widow and seeing where I am today, in a city that made my dreams come true, gave me hope,” said Ovbiagele during an interview with the Wisconsin Law Journal.
“Seeing where I am today in a city that made my dreams come true, it’s pretty spectacular,” he added.
“Milwaukee is a city that has made my dreams come true. It is a city and a place that has embraced me. It’s a profession and a community that at times have let me stand on their shoulders and so despite everything, I am incredibly blessed to be a part of the MBA, State Bar, a part of the city, and the county,” Ovbiagele said.
In addition to serving as President of the MBA and his law practice, Ovbiagele also teaches law as an Adjunct Assistant Professor at the Marquette University Law School. He also leads several professional and civic boards.
Prior to being elected President, Ovbiagele said he spent nearly 5 years on the MBA’s board in various other roles, including as a director and Vice President.
According to MBA’s Executive Director Sarah Martis, president candidacy is always unopposed and terms last one year.
Traditionally, a MBA President leads the board of directors governing arm of the organization as, whole and is in charge of setting internal agendas, and making sure the organization is meeting the overarching mission and goals set forth by the respective Board, according to Ovbiagele.
Ovbiagele said his primary focus as President will be on funding and good stewardship of membership dollars.
According to Ovbiagele, he is the youngest person to ever serve as MBA President.
As President, Ovbiagele said he will continue the trend of increasing membership diversity.
He said MBA recently added attorneys from the Milwaukee County District Attorneys’ Office, public defenders, and Legal Aid Society to their new membership list.
“I am encouraged by our strong and diverse membership,” Ovbiagele said.
A second goal Ovbiagele stressed was improving on the value propositions of membership and making MBA an entrepreneurial hub.
“Our value proposition is already pretty solid. (Membership to MBA) gives you access to 2500 lawyers and some of the brightest legal minds in diverse fields of law,” he added.
Martis noted MBA’s community focus and how it’s one of the oldest voluntary bar organizations in the country, whereas the State Bar of Wisconsin membership is mandatory for any attorney wishing to practice law in the Badger State.
“It’s pretty unique when you think about it,” Ovbiagele said, noting that MBA has about 2500 members in comparison to the State Bar of Wisconsin which has 125,000 members.
Martis noted that MBA is the 5th oldest Bar Association in the nation.
“You have 2500 lawyers choosing to be a part of organization,” he added.
That benefits all members, Ovbiagele said.
The Milwaukee Justice Center, “a fixture” of the Milwaukee County Courthouse, helps thousands of clients, he said.
“Most people don’t realize that center is funded by our charitable arm,” Ovbiagele added.
Ovbiagele praised the work of Executive Director Maris and Past-President, Judge Ellen R. Brostrom, Milwaukee County Circuit Court, who he said help make a notable dent in solving Wisconsin’s Constitutional crisis — reducing the backlog of cases in Milwaukee County.
“Sarah worked tirelessly in reducing criminal backlogs at the Milwaukee County Courthouse,” he said.
“Due to COVID, you had folks charged with felonies and not having preliminary hearings for months and months,” Ovbiagele said.
“Sarah (Martis) was able to galvanize our base with the help of our past-President (Judge Brostrom) and draw from the talent pool we have of members to try resolve this issue. We had civil attorneys take on limited-term (criminal law) engagements, and it made a significant dent into the issue.” Ovbiagele said.
Ovbiagele said as President he wants to not only focus on members, but also on the communities we live in.
According to Martis, attorneys licensed by the State Bar of Wisconsin who live outside of Milwaukee County are also welcome to join the MBA, noting that MBA has members in Waukesha and Ozaukee Counties.
Martis also noted that MBA’s building allows solo practitioners who work out of their homes to hold depositions and mediation at their downtown office. The Office of Law Regulation (OLR) also uses the MBA’s facilities to hold hearings.
As previously reported by the Wisconsin Law Journal, Ovbiagele participated on an ethics panel during the third day of the State Bar of Wisconsin’s Annual Meeting and Conference in Milwaukee.
This story has been updated.