`

Lawyers branch out as business execs, entrepreneurs

October 8, 2014

In New York on a business trip, attorney Kate Drury decided to find out why cupcakes had become the latest craze.

She went to a special bakery, stood in a crowded line, ordered, paid and took a bite. Her first thought was she could make a better cupcake.

Returning home, she leased a storefront in Indianapolis and began baking and selling cupcakes. Since she opened that first store in 2007, The Flying Cupcake has grown to five locations and two food trucks, painted pink and adorned with cupcakes.

Drury said once she started running a business, “I realized how much I liked it.”

Flying cupcake Drury 15colThe Flying Cupcake founder Kate Bova Drury keeps her law license even though she no longer practices. (IL Photo/Eric Learned)

Her step from practicing the law to running a successful business is one that a number of attorneys have taken. Sometimes they turn a hobby into a storefront. Other times they join a family business. Most of the time, they discover a love for being an employer and providing a product or service.

Whether they juggle being a lawyer with being an entrepreneur or they change careers and become full-time business owners, many say their legal training continues to help them. They have the ability not only to understand the legal aspects of operating a business but also to organize and manage the enterprise itself.

Perhaps one of Indiana’s most famous lawyer-entrepreneurs is the late William Oliver who founded Oliver Winery in Bloomington and forged the path that many Hoosier vintners have since followed.

Where there’s a will, there’s wine

For nearly 40 years, Oliver taught tax law at Indiana University Maurer School of Law. Winemaking was a hobby that filled his spare time and filled the cabinets in the family home with bottles of wine, his son Bill Oliver remembered.

The younger Oliver said many times his dad would hook a “junky trailer” to the family DeSoto, drive to Ohio and buy 2,000 pounds of grapes. Back home, the grapes were loaded into the basement where they were squished by a hand crank or by Bill Oliver stomping on them.

Initially, William Oliver gave the bottled fruit of his labor away. But while working as a visiting professor at Cornell University Law School, he became intrigued with the wineries that dotted the Finger Lakes in northern New York.

Before he could open a winery in Indiana, state law had to change to enable commercial wineries to sell directly to customers and open tasting rooms. So William Oliver, whom his son described as a friendly and likeable guy, went to the Statehouse, shook hands with the politicians, drafted a bill and convinced legislators that changing the statute would be good for Indiana’s economy. The Indiana Small Winery Act passed in 1971.

Oliver Winery opened in 1972. Bill Oliver joined the business in 1983, shepherding production from 10,000 cases of wine per year to 300,000 cases with annual revenue topping $20 million.

Ironically, William Oliver lost interest in the winery over time. As his son explained, William Oliver’s hobby had become a job and was no longer fun.

Trading briefs for baking

Drury’s baking has become her full-time occupation. Although she maintains her license and completes the continuing legal education requirements each year, she no longer practices law.

She practiced and ran the bakery for a while, starting her 15-hour days by getting into the business early with her three children in tow and making batches of cupcakes. But she soon discovered her passion was flour and icing rather than briefs and arguments.

While practicing, Drury did not view herself as being an outstanding attorney. She was nervous in depositions and did not like being in the courtroom. Still, she uses her legal skills everyday. The Flying Cupcake is represented by an attorney, but Drury reads through contracts, negotiates leases and can calculate the legal implications of potential business decisions she may make.

Going to law school, Drury said, is something she would do again.

“I couldn’t do this work if I hadn’t,” she said of law school. “It really finished me off.”

A foundation for opportunity

In 1999, Thomas Fara left his legal practice to join the family business, House of Fara in LaPorte. After graduating from Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law, Fara stayed in Indianapolis and practiced domestic relations law for 20 years.

He loved the work and enjoyed his colleagues in the bar, but the stress, the demands and always having to perform at a high level got him to thinking that at mid-career, he did not want to put in another 20 years.

Fara said he felt he had done all he could do as an attorney so he switched to overseeing a manufacturing facility that makes hardwood moldings and accessories. The products are then sold at stores like Lowes and Do-it-Best.

Leaving the suit and tie at home, Fara, vice president of operations, arrives at the plant at 6:30 every morning. His job now is completely different from practicing law, although, like Drury, he said he draws upon his legal skills everyday. The day-to-day management of people, knowing how to organize and prioritize, logically thinking through a project, and paying attention to the economics are all things he learned from running a law firm.

Robert Weddle opened a business for a very basic reason – he had a need for shoes. The now-retired medical malpractice defense attorney has been an avid runner since the 1970s but, in the early days, he had a hard time finding a good pair of running sneakers.

To solve that problem, he and the late Nelson Steele opened the Athletic Annex Running Centre in Indianapolis in 1983. Today, he and his business partner, Thom Burleson, own the store which stocks running and walking shoes along with apparel, and offers some coaching.

Weddle continued an active legal practice until he retired from Bose McKinney & Evans LLP in 2012. He believes the store actually made him a better lawyer, because selling running shoes provided a complete break from practicing the law.

“I enjoyed being a lawyer,” he said, “but I was always looking for something else to do.”

He devoted 10 to 15 hours each week tallying the store’s finances on his home computer, and most Saturdays he was in the store measuring customers’ feet and finding them the right pair of shoes.

Indeed, the store made retiring easier, he said, because he knew he had something to occupy his time. He was excited about being able to spend more days at the Athletic Annex.

The business has been fulfilling, Weddle said, “more than I ever dreamed it could be.”

Family influence and a hobby fueled Andy Hedinger’s decision to join forces with southwestern Indiana newspaper editor Vince Luecke and open a brewery.

Even though Hedinger is in the early years of his legal career, having graduated from IU Maurer in 2008 and now working as an associate at Ippoliti Law Office LLC in Ferdinand, he has business experience helping his family run their business, Monkey Hollow Winery. And his hobby of home brewing has taught him how to make beer.

The brewery already is drawing attention because it will be based at the Immaculate Conception Monastery in Dubois County. Hedinger believes this will be the only operational brewery on nuns’ property in the world.

Hedinger has no plans to quit practicing law. He became a lawyer to help people, and with his business he hopes to help bring attention to the nuns and to the area’s rich German and agricultural heritage. Most important, he wants to create a business that he and Luecke can be proud of and that people will enjoy.

Drury has the same goal for her bakery. She works to create a unique place that is fun, lighthearted and that fosters special memories.

“I want everybody to come in and enjoy,” she said.•
 

ADVERTISEMENT

Recent Articles by Marilyn Odendahl

Comments powered by Disqus