Solo Practitioners’ Perspectives: Odell Mitchell III

Interviewed by Kenny Matuszewski

This post is the first in a series featuring Odell and his practice.

Kenny: Where do you work?

Odell: My firm is called Thirdinline Legal. I also own a consulting company called Thirdinline Consulting.

Kenny: What do you practice?

Odell: At my law firm, I only practice transactional law. I don’t want to go to court, so I don’t touch litigation! Transactional law is dynamic, so while it may seem like just paper-pushing, I love it. Specifically, my transactional practice focuses on entertainment, small businesses, and anything creative, since my clients are artists and musicians. They’re people in creative spaces, and I enjoy working with them. While creatives are my umbrella focus, my practice also includes ancillary administrative services, such as LLC formation. But the thing I spend the most amount of time on, and what I am best at, is music. For example, I often prepare synchronization licenses for musicians; my expertise in this field has substantially grown as my clients have reached national prominence over the past year.

Kenny: Why did you decide to start your law firm?

Odell: I always knew I wanted to do my own thing. I went to law school after I focused my undergraduate studies in the music industry, specifically in music business and graphic design. After undergrad, I worked in recording production, and helped artists create. This helped me realize in law school that it was for me to focus on making my work as nimble and personal as possible. I was also entrepreneurial; I knew that I simply didn’t want to just go to law school and then a firm. But to do it right, I didn’t immediately go solo, I knew I needed to learn with other people. As a result, I focused my internships and jobs in law school, so I could develop my skills as quickly as possible. My major push to go solo was the Solo and Small Practice Incubator (“SSPI”) at Chicago-Kent. Before I entered that program, I had a 9-5 that was not in the legal industry, and only moonlighted as a lawyer. However, the SSPI gave me the resources and confidence to finally go solo. I love it!

Kenny: Why should solo practitioners think about using the SSPI?

Odell: I heard the program while I was in law school at Chicago-Kent. Then, around 2017, I received an email from Dawn Young, who runs the program, inviting alumni to apply. I met with her to see what was involved with the program. Throughout the whole process, she was nothing but supportive and encouraging. As a result, I joined the 2017-2018 cohort. My cohort was small, consisting of only 6 people. In other years, the cohorts have been larger. However, no matter the size, it comprises a small group of people that meet 1-2 times a month. We check-in with Dawn, and then have a candid lunch and learn about the realities of operating a solo practice. These presentations focus on things that law students or attorneys starting their practice in firms have no context for, such as malpractice insurance, ARDC proceedings, bookkeeping, and accounting. While I like working by myself, it’s helpful to have other people a few years out of school and practicing struggling with the same problems and who have the same energy as me as a resource. Due to the SSPI’s resources, I didn’t have to figure out everything on my own. The biggest resource they had was office space, which was sponsored by a company. I am a single dad of 2 small children, so I need a separate space outside my home to focus when I do my work.

Kenny: Do you recommend specializing in a particular practice area right away, or should solos start off as generalists?

Odell: The tension between specializing and being a generalist is real. For me, it was in paying the bills. I have found that the reason people have to do every type of legal work is that they wanted to focus on something specific or carve a particular niche in legal practice. But the reality is that you go where your work takes you, especially if it otherwise causes a financial burden. To ease that burden, it’s okay to do something else too, especially in today’s gig economy. It’s okay to have your own law firm and do something else, so you can make more money and eventually focus on your law firm.

Ultimately, it helps to be good at what you do. People’s needs are different, and your ability to solve those needs comes with experience. They come to me because they know my experience and passion for the creative field and entertainment law. Unless you specialize, your colleagues won’t know what they’re looking for you to do when they reach out. Ultimately, you need to find ways to support your truth, even financially.

Kenny: How do you balance your legal work with running two businesses?

Odell: I find it’s one of my greatest challenges. It feels like there are not enough hours in the day, which is a good problem to have. Luckily, one of my strengths is time management. One of the areas I focus on in my consulting business is productivity and time management. Building your skills around time management is crucial, whether you’re a manager at a company or work for yourself. Even with time management, it’s hard to balance everything, especially as a single parent. The nice thing about my legal work is that everything I do matters to the health and growth of the business which helps me prioritize. I spend 60-70% of my time on administrative matters, so the amount of time I spend on substantive legal work is not very high, but it is incredibly focused and efficient. You have to find the style that works best for you, which can be challenging.

Kenny: What do you do to generate business for your legal and consulting businesses?

Odell: On the legal side, it’s all referral based. People know I’m a music guy, so my best clients from creative folks I know or circles I run in. Other referrals come from lawyers who do not do the type of work I do. I have friends in other practice areas, who give me entertainment work. I also act as a liaison between organizations. For example, I may be negotiating with a record label on behalf of my client. If you conduct yourself a certain way, people appreciate it. Even if I advocate against someone on behalf of my client, the record label may still think I represented my client well, and a relationship is formed. As a result, they may be negotiating with me and then later want to have dinner which leads to other referrals. By doing good work, I present myself in the best possible manner to have others work with me.

For my consulting business, it is more directly relationship-based across industries. I work with a lot of different industries, and some of my best experience and presence is in law firms. I share a kindred experience with attorneys. Additionally, lawyers want to hear from other attorneys, find attorney consultants more persuasive, and are put at ease when I work with them. I can more directly find work due to my colleagues in law firms and help develop unique programs for their firms. We can candidly discuss employee engagement and build needed and helpful rapport to determine the firm’s pain points. Even when it’s difficult, I find that the people I work with are trying their hardest to engage their employees in their work and create a human environment. My work develops employees of all types into effective contributors and desirable coworkers.

About Odell:

Odell practices in the heart of Chicago, IL. He earned a BM in Music Business and an independent study in graphic design from Millikin University. He earned his JD from IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 

Prior to founding Thirdinline Legal, Odell operated as a manager, recording engineer, producer and creative director. As a musician and visual artist himself, he understands the needs of the creative entrepreneur firsthand. With over 10 years of experience in the arts and entertainment industries, Odell is pleased to unite his passions of creativity and the law to provide excellent legal services to other entertainment, business, and creative professionals.

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