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."
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."
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."
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."