Interviewed by Kenny Matuszewski
This article is the second in a series that focuses on Odell Mitchell’s practice as an attorney and a consultant.
Kenny: You are involved with organizations such as Lawyers for the Creative Arts (“LCA”). What drew you to these organizations, and have they helped you with your work as an attorney?
Odell: I heard about LCA my 1L year. One of the people at the Career Center told me that I should reach out to Marci Walker, the Director of Education at Lawyers for the Creative Arts. When I met her, I was able to learn about a previously unknown organization. I was drawn to it right away because it was what I would have needed if I did not go to law school. Before law school, when I worked with fellow creatives, we knew we needed to protect our work somehow. However, we didn’t know how to protect those works, needed a lawyer, and felt no one could help. Finding a place where volunteers could demystify the legal process, without breaking the bank, was a perfect fit for me.
When I began practicing, LCA board members served as contacts and mentors. Jeff Becker, a member of the Board and a partner at Swanson, Martin & Bell, told me that getting involved, particularly on the Associate Board, would create a more engaging legal practice. When I joined the Associate Board, I was not heavily focused on my legal work. The Associate Board served as a great outlet and helped me keep engaged with the type of work I wanted to do. As an attorney, it helps to have a network of contacts in the scene and industry to keep you going.
Kenny: In addition to your legal work, you are also a consultant for diversity and inclusion. What inspired you to set up your consulting practice?
Odell: I mentioned that I’m entrepreneurial and want to build something special that helps others be the employees, friends, partners, parents, and people they want to be. I first began my career in leadership development at Apple. Through various experiences there, I got to develop skills at a premier level for an elite company, all to help people realize their goals. I enjoyed this type of educational work and serving as a teacher until I left Apple to attend law school.
After I graduated law school, I was looking for jobs in just about every industry, when one opened up at one of the world’s largest airlines. It was a leadership development job that was not legal in nature. I wanted to get back into this industry since it was a 9-5 job that allowed me to support my family while preparing myself to go solo. I stayed at the airline for a few years, working in leadership development at a world-class level and traveling the world. There, I refined my skills and gained the bevy of certifications I now hold that make my consulting firm a premier choice for any organization in need of our services.
Even as a solo entrepreneur, I know that I am only as strong as the people around me. At the airline, I met my now business partner, and we started our consulting firm together. Between us, we have over 30 years of experience as well as a unique approach that brings excitement to the field. Watching our consulting business grow has been nothing short of rewarding.
Kenny: What do you advise companies about as a consultant?
Odell: The core of my consulting business deals with behavioral styles and values people share in the workplace. I discuss diversity and inclusion, how to make workplaces more inclusive across all segments of race, gender, orientation, age, and neurodiversity. Firms and companies that understand the value of equity are much more apt to attract and retain promising talent that affects organizational culture and the bottom line. Over time, I’ve found that many attorneys at law firms went straight from undergrad to a firm after law school. As a result, they didn’t get the chance to learn how to simply be good employees or lead people. By and large, partners are not given the right resources or opportunities to help their employees develop the skills needed to thrive beyond their technical acumen. They learned how to be good lawyers, not managers. I come in and help them develop the behaviors and skills necessary to be a good person in the workplace, to lead teams in a way that substantively productive and personally rewarding. By doing so, the firm is able to promote good business practices and retain talent, especially young, promising talent that often has a different perspective of the world of work.
Kenny: What is one thing you wish you knew before you started your own law firm?
Odell: That it’s doable! While lawyers are known to be risk-averse, I was even more slow-paced, because I had the extra risk of a family to support. In retrospect, the timing was right for me to go solo. While some parts of me wish I could have done it sooner, I needed to have the confidence to actually do it.
For the challenging parts of solo practice, there are always ways to get the answers found behind the curtain. Not everyone needs to start at an incubator to get those answers, but if you graduated from Chicago-Kent, I would highly recommend the SSPI. Otherwise, meet people to demystify the process. While I felt comfortable running a business from my previous experience, it is much different running a law firm. You have to know the scope of advertising, law firm trust accounts, and everything to do with malpractice. These looming questions in my mind were soon resolved by the incubator. If I had known these concerns were relatively simple to address, I might have started preparing my solo practice earlier.
Kenny: Why should young attorneys start their own law firms?
Odell: Running your own law firm and business is an unparalleled opportunity for you to grow and develop. It not only allows you to face hardships and know your own strengths, but it also gives you a lot of options down the road. Some say that your career options are limited when you open your own practice. I personally find that line of reasoning inaccurate, since I have seen people open their own firms, do it for a few years, and then move into a law firm or another space. These attorneys were able to move into that other space with confidence and knew their value was significantly greater than when they started.
By running their own business, attorneys learn skills they can apply to any situation, which others may not have done before. Some senior leaders, for example, may not have ever had to deal with a trust account, because they’ve been able to hand that task off to staff. After 3-4 years, solo practitioners know how to not only do substantive legal work but also understand the business of law. This sets them up to succeed in just about any setting.
Kenny: Do you have any last pieces of advice?
Odell: There’s opportunity everywhere, even if doesn’t always look like an opportunity. In order to understand what those opportunities look like; you need to know yourself. The more you do, the more you know what’s before you, and what should either be done or avoided. I knew I didn’t want to be a litigator because I knew myself. I also knew that running my own practice would be beneficial because I am not a stranger to running my own business.
The important thing to note is that self-awareness comes in many forms. It is a continuous journey, not a destination. Further, when you see things as opportunities rather than obstacles, you have more resources to capitalize on them.
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.