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Longtime labor law attorney elected managing shareholder for national firm

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Kim Ebert isn't afraid of hard work. While he's been practicing labor and employment law for more than three decades, the Indianapolis attorney has a work ethic formed long before his legal career began.

Before joining the white-collar legal world, Ebert made a blue-collar living to help pay his way through college and law school - several summers of construction jobs, one full summer of unhooking railcars in the middle of the night as a road brakeman, and 15 months as a laborer and machine operator at an Indianapolis engine plant.

Those years helped pave the way to what he'd eventually meld into a successful legal career that's included helping start an Indianapolis office for a national firm. Now he's taking the reins as managing shareholder for the nation's third-largest labor and employment law firm, Ogletree Deakins Nash Smoak & Stewart.

At the annual shareholders meeting in January, Ebert was named managing shareholder, responsible for the strategic growth of the overall firm. The promotion is historic for Ogletree, as Ebert is only the fourth managing shareholder for the firm founded in 1977 and the first who hasn't been a national founding member. He succeeds Gray Geddie in Atlanta, who'd served in that role since January 2001 and whose leadership tripled the number of offices, increased the number of attorneys by more than 300, and quadrupled annual revenues.

"There's a lot of history here, and I sincerely appreciate the hard work and tremendous efforts that have been made leading up to this point," Ebert said. "Like I said, I understand hard work and plan to keep it up. I look forward to the challenge ahead."

Growing up


In May 2000, Ebert was one of nine Hoosier attorneys who left what was then Locke Reynolds to open in Indianapolis Ogletree Deakins' 12th office. They made a strategic decision to leave and create an office with a specific focus on what they'd done at their previous firm.

Marking its 10-year anniversary this spring, the Indianapolis office now boasts 30 lawyers. The firm has 470 lawyers nationally in 37 offices; it expects to open more offices by the end of this year, Ebert said. Revenue grew by more than 5 percent last year and has passed the $200 million mark, he said.

Because of the legal market in Indiana, Ebert said that last year the firm's Indiana office had more than 300 cases and that has been doubling about every year. The focus used to be primarily on manufacturing clients, but that's shifted throughout the decade into other areas such as health care, retail, transportation, logistics, and universities. About 40 percent of the workload is employment and related litigation, 30 percent is traditional work like labor unions, and the rest is made up of growing areas such as immigration, employee benefits, and workplace safety, he said.

"We came here on the feeling that we needed a broader national platform for our practice," Ebert said. "The past decade validates our decision back then."

Chuck Baldwin, now managing shareholder for the Indianapolis office, said his colleague and mentor's leadership in the past 10 years has been a key reason for the Indianapolis office's success. The two have worked together for 22 years, he said.

"Kim works as hard now as the day I met him; it's in his DNA," Baldwin said. "He's a tremendous mentor and role model, and he sets high standards for himself and those around him, and achieves them. It's a real treat for the Indianapolis office to have the firm's managing shareholder based here and that it's Kim."

Stepping up


Ebert said his multiple leadership positions in the past decade helped prepare him for this new position. Aside from helping found and being managing shareholder for Indianapolis, he earned a spot in 2001 on the firm's five-person compensation committee that increased his management duties. Now, he oversees that committee, and the chief operating officer reports directly to him on administrative aspects. He also chairs the fourperson executive management board.

In his new role, Ebert said he's continuing what the firm has been doing for the past decade: capitalizing on the trend of large national companies consolidating labor and employment work in firms that have deep expertise and geographic reach outside of one particular location.

Because the broad goal is to make sure the firm and its attorneys are meeting clients' needs, Ebert said equally important is making sure each attorney has the ability to keep up the basics, such as returning telephone calls or e-mails the same day, or being available to help with emergencies at any hour.

"We strive to know our clients' business and to be a partner in achieving their goals," he said. "To fulfill this objective, I need to be clear in setting expectations for Ogletree lawyers and then give them the tools and systems they need to succeed as professionals here."

Aside from also meeting with Ogletree lawyers internally about alternative fee arrangements or other topical issues, Ebert said he's heavily involved in the exploration of lateral lawyers who might be interested in joining the firm.

"This is a constant process, and we almost always have some discussion going on with groups or single laterals in the field," he said, noting that at least six laterals are being voted on in the coming weeks. "The general practice firms have tended to price those labor employment lawyers out of the market, or they're viewed as being service lawyers within a firm, so we're having many lawyers come to us and finding that this firm's specific focus is very rewarding."

Keeping up

Ebert is maintaining his home base in Indianapolis; he will split his time there and traveling among various offices and client locations in order to handle management tasks and his own client duties. During his career at Ogletree, he's defended employers in virtually every area of labor and employment law, as well as representing employers in investigative and administrative proceedings before the National Labor Relations Board, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, U.S. Department of Labor, and other federal and state agencies. Although any given week could mean traveling, Ebert said the new job is teaching him he must be even more disciplined about the cases and matters he's personally handling.

He also plans to continue the philanthropic efforts he's personally been involved with and those he's spearheaded through the firm. Most recently, he directed the firm's Haitian relief effort and raised more than $50,000 in contributions. He also has run in more than 20 half-marathons throughout the country, and he ran the half-marathon with a group in the Rock 'n' Roll Marathon in San Diego to raise more than $30,000 for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

While there's a lot on his plate, Ebert remains confident that he'll be able to handle the tasks and continue the successful path that Ogletree has been on for many years.

It all goes back to his pre-law career days, he said.

"I've been a member of two unions for railroads and an engine plant, worked in unionized crowds, and so that gave me an understanding about the perspective of the working person," he said. "I've been there, and I understand hard work."

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  1. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  2. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

  3. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

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