From Wall Street to Y'alls Street
It's remarkable, but the result of privileges
It’s a pregnant Horatio Alger story--a minority woman who could not find a permanent job while pregnant during the recession in a small southern town built her own thriving intellectual property and start up law firm from nothing. But it’s misleading to leave the story there. This woman is me, and I had the privilege of good health, top-notch education from Jordan High School (Durham), Wellesley College, and UNC School of Law. I held prestigious and rigorous fellowships and positions at the National Institutes of Health and on Wall Street. I have stakeholder patent examiner training from the United States Patent and Trademark office and poke none other than master patent strategist Gene Quinn and Wellesley attorneys for intellectual property mentorship. The support of my family deserves its own saga.
you stop thinking of it as a small town
And I have Winston-Salem. I wasn't in some stereotypical tragic backwater southern town. Winston-Salem is a warm and welcoming place that is acknowledging the best and worst of its past, upping its brand of pay-it-forward, and embracing the future of entrepreneurial energy and Millennial talent. This town has excellent bones in terms of infrastructure, thriving biomedical industries, and design/artistic talent. It truly is the City of Arts and Innovation. As my colleague and Winston-Salem native Fay Horwitt says, when you realize how much Winston-Salem has to offer, you stop thinking of it as a small town.
I sure as heck didn't grow my firm alone and from nothing
The Winston-Salem story starts with a federal judicial clerkship under Chief Judge Catharine R. Aron where I was trained in critical legal analysis and drafted precedent-setting opinions that govern the federal district spanning from Forsyth County to Durham County. In the last months of my pregnancy I worked closely with the conscientious Winston-Salem Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Trustees Office, where I was mentored by the wonderful, thoughtful, ethical and hardworking attorney (and minister) Vern Cahoon and Trustee Kathryn Bringle. Though what I achieved in Winston-Salem was remarkable enough to be awarded the Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce's Winston <40 Leadership award, I sure as heck didn't grow my firm alone and from nothing. (I'm still looking for the person who nominated me for that. Please speak up, I have BIG hugs to give you.)
The Big, Local Announcement
To add more layers to the story--this town has innumerable resources for entrepreneurs. After securing childcare, I started getting out and attending free events; one of the most significant of which was the Winston <40 Internship Experience panel (operating under the Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce). There, leaders younger than 40 talked about why young people should stay in Winston-Salem. Someone on the panel mentioned that no one turns you down for lunch in Winston-Salem if you reach out to them. It was at that event that I first publicly (outside of my social network and attorney contacts) announced that I was opening a boutique IP law firm to Winston-Salem clients.
The Lunches & KTS
What was said about lunch was absolutely true. Over the course of the next year, I would cold call people and ask for lunch. Nobody turned me down, and I too often got a free lunch. It’s for that reason that I always try to pay for people’s meals the first time we meet. I have a special place in my heart always for Dr. Allison Dobson, a whip-smart and fun patent attorney at Kilpatrick Townsend (KTS) and fellow University of North Carolina School of Law alumna. She did all she could to mentor me, and we still have monthly lunches at Nawab. She was instrumental in getting me a final interview at KTS. Although that didn’t work out, it meant the world to me that a firm as excellent as KTS considered me for final interview, and that a good number of their associates saw me as a good fit. A few partners even intimated so, except the Atlanta headquarters made the final decision.
525 Vine Street: The Place to Be
Next was parking my public presence at Flywheel Coworking, which helped me get the local network that I was lacking as the primary parent who worked from home and relied heavily on internet social networks for clients. I traveled across the 525 Vine Street courtyard to the Forsyth Tech Small Business Center one day and met Allan Younger. Allan and I had instant chemistry; we share a vision for the future of Winston-Salem and our love for entrepreneurs and businesses. In that happenstance meeting, we spent well over two hours talking before he asked me to be a business counselor in IP and business law. Um, absolutely. It is a joy to volunteer there every week and help small business owners decide on what the next legal steps should be in establishing their businesses. It helps me keep my finger on pulse of entrepreneurial innovation outside of the innovation quarter. Allan is a prince of man. He stops time and gives his full attention to everyone, and that guy talks to 100 people a day! I have heard of people like that, but never met one until I met Allan. He has been my mentor through critical periods for my career and for Erdős. Our Small Business Center is under the leadership of someone who regularly and compassionately mentors those he meets.
Flywheel programming has been essential to my success. It was at an Idea Tap I metFay Horowitt, a genius at business operations who is passionate about the empowerment of women. That’s one of my core goals too, and over time I’d go to her for advice and counseling as a woman who works across many male-dominated industries. She is simply the best friend a woman entrepreneur could have--not only for what she’s done for me, but for what she’s done for my clients who have gone throughInnovateHER, a non-profit initiative founded by Fay. I don’t mean it lightly when I call her an Angel--I know whatever drives her is something that goes beyond what the rest of us mere mortals are born with. She is truly indefatigable in helping others achieve success.
And then there’s Wake Forest School of Law--I didn’t care to explore or like it since I thought my loyalties were set as a rival Carolina Law alumna, but WFU Law’s students and graduates are so compelling that I'm stoked to have the school so close by. I first crossed paths with Wake Forest School of Law when I solicited the school for summer interns in spring 2016. I had three summer interns from Wake Forest School of Law--Jason Chung, Josh Maley, and Mark Clare. Jason and Josh were to work on a key trademark project for a major New York City startup. They both are already successful entrepreneurs. They would work with the most quick-study diligent law student I know,Alexis McGeefrom Carolina Law. The work was tedious and research-oriented, but they nailed it. Josh took on a management role that was absolutely outside of the realm of what is typically expected for law students, and he executed as a pro. Mark was called on to be an intern for a patent application project that would make use of his extensive mechanical engineering background. I had him work closely with Ali Portaro, a brilliant, energetic UNC law student whose background is in fashion design. They knocked it out of the park; my client was thrilled with the insights they brought to the invention. Mark will be taking the patent bar exam sometime this year, and anyone would be lucky to hire him as her or his patent attorney. He is diligent, thoughtful, and so respectful. I’d be honored to have him if he ever wanted to join a small, entrepreneurial law firm. I’m hoping these students will be back at Erdős in the not too distant future.
Flywheel programming and the Wake Forest School of Law Business and Community Clinic brought Jon Mayhugh to my attention. After a presentation led by Jon on the recent changes in the law of crowd-financing, we got to talking. His passion for small business clients showed through in how he approached me not for any small talk, but for guidance for a clinic client of his who had been given questionable advice regarding patent strategy. Jon was going beyond the call of what was under his purview for this clinic client, he acted out of sincere concern for the client’s business’ future. In Jon, I saw the ideal attorney--a bright, diligent and thoughtful advocate who looks out for the future of their client's business, not just at the immediate service she or he is tasked to provide. An attorney is worthless if he lacks foresight and the humility to learn more.
The Analysis from Wall Street Warriors
From the moment we met, Jon and I would trade ideas and explore what it truly meant to serve client’s long-term business goals, whether it be for income or for exit. While I have the extensive and broad technical and project management background honed on Wall Street, Jon has a well of experience in the financial services industries and rose to a senior client-facing position on Wall Street because of his acumen and client service. (We were working on Wall Street around the same time; I am sure we literally crossed paths back then without even knowing it.) We did an analysis of traditional law firm operations models, and found them not well adapted to this economy and the latest technology-driven changes in the law. We were on the ground at the epicenter of the financial crisis in New York, and we watched it reverberate out, forever impacting our family and friends and their futures. Our conclusion is that the economy has fundamentally changed since the start of the recession in 2008--it's not going to go back to how it was. Law firms must be nimble and agile, yet committed; they must offer high quality services and act as partners of clients to help clients face true, new, and unprecedented realities of the economy and technologies that are shaping it. They must be upfront with clients and be honest about which services won't give the client a ROI--otherwise they're expensive versions of the scammy disastrous advice found on the internet.
Erdos Grows a Start Up Law Arm
Jon and I got to know each other very well, and are delighted to find that though our temperaments are very different (I am the hyper advocate, while he is the pensive counsel), we balance each other rather well and have the deepest respect for each other’s principles, training, and intelligence. I was ready to show Jon how set up his own firm when he asked if he could instead join Erdős and develop its Startup Law arm. As much as we’ve done together already, we will do so much better by aligning our services and working together regularly on cases. It is for all these reasons that Jon is now joining Erdős Intellectual Property Law to launch the Erdős Startup Legal arm. Though he just started private practice (but he's been and continues to be an Attorney clinical fellow at Wake Forest Law), he already has his own book of clients, and when you meet him, you'll understand why people want him. He will continue to launch and counsel startups, non-profits, and many other ventures. I could not imagine a better person to be Of Counsel for Erdős Intellectual Property Law!
Some Good Experiences are not Pleasant
There are many other episodes and characters in the story of Erdős Intellectual Property Law in Winston-Salem, and over time and a meal I’ll tell you all about it. Not all episodes are peachy. On the other hand, some of the people who helped me the most are not mentioned at all in this very abbreviated account because I can't do them justice in a couple of paragraphs. All of my experiences have been valuable learning experiences. Jon and I will continue engaging and learning from our communities; we will continue splitting our presence between the Small Business Center and Flywheel Coworking in Wake Forest Innovation Quarter.
The Announcement and Grateful Invitation
And Erdős has found a new home. We've spun out of coworking! We've secured a permanent office in the Arts District at 801 N. Trade Street which we will be moving into in October (its interior design is the work of local and loved interior designer and Erdős client Mona King). Come visit us at the office-warming party in October; if you’re local, you are part of this history and we welcome you warmly. (It just happens to be that Jon and I are fairly decent cooks, so we may be cooking for you!) At Erdős, our core value is gratitude--gratitude for our fantastic community that has a promising future.