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Editorial


Front Page - Friday, April 26, 2019

City’s outdoor vibe draws Pepperdine Law grad




Jake Brown, a corporate associate with Husch Blackwell in Chattanooga, is pictured at the Edney Innovation Center, where he spends a sizable portion of his workweek meeting with clients. - Photo by David Laprad | Hamilton County Herald

Jake Brown and wife Kelly were being selective as they searched for a new city to call home. After spending three years in Los Angeles while Brown was in law school, they were ready to move, but finding a town with good job prospects, an affordable cost of living and easy access to outdoor fun wasn’t easy.

Still, they pressed on, casting a net over a broad swath of the country as they looked for prospects. Chattanooga made the list after Kelly Googled “best outdoor town in America” and discovered the city had just won Outside’s Best Towns contest for the second time.

After narrowing their options to Austin, Nashville, Asheville and Chattanooga, they traveled to the Scenic City on an exploratory mission. They loved what they found.

Eager to move to their new home, they pulled the plug on L.A. after Brown graduated in the spring of 2016 and headed to Chattanooga with no job prospects or other apparent connections to the city.

Fortunately, they had chosen wisely. By weaving his way through several stages of separation, Brown was able to connect with Husch Blackwell attorney Samantha Lunn, who was in charge of recruiting for the firm.

Lunn had attended undergraduate school at Pepperdine University, where Brown had graduated from law school, giving him enough of an opening to say hello.

Although Husch Blackwell wasn’t planning on hiring anyone in the immediate future, a casual meeting between Brown and Lunn went well, and when the firm decided to expand its corporate practice sooner than it had anticipated, it offered Brown the job.

Brown was relieved, as his coffers were growing bare. “I started at Husch Dec. 5, and my first paycheck arrived in time for me to pay January’s rent,” he recalls.

As a newly minted attorney, Brown wanted to do more than earn a living; he hoped to impact the city in a tangible way. When he and Kelly had looked for a new hometown, they had intentionally searched for places smaller than L.A. because they wanted to help shape their new home.

Working as a corporate associate in a city teeming with startups and small businesses allows Brown, 29, to make a difference in Chattanooga. As he counsels entrepreneurs hoping to create companies from new products or services and then gets their businesses up and running, he’s ever aware that their livelihood is at least partially in his hands and strives to serve them accordingly.

“I’m outside inside legal counsel,” he says. “I’m outside counsel because I work for Husch Blackwell but I’m also inside counsel because I know how to best deliver what you need.”

To “best deliver” what a new business needs, Brown draws from his experience working on their side of the equation.

Before law school, Brown worked for a disruptive technology startup. The job provided him valuable insight into the business world.

“The founder of the company had connected with an inventor who’d created a machine that could pulverize matter down to its smallest natural state using the material itself,” Brown says. “Trying to convince someone who’s invested $10 million in an old ball mill that they need something better, faster and cheaper wasn’t easy. Having something innovative to sell doesn’t eliminate the tension of the status quo.”

“That was an insanely helpful lesson as I entered the legal environment and began to bridge the gap between the status quo and the innovators I work with.”

Brown continued to lay the foundation for his work with startups after graduating from law school and moving to Chattanooga. Even before he became a practicing attorney, he discovered a weekly entrepreneurial networking event called 1 Million Cups and began forming relationships with local businesses.

Every Wednesday at 9 a.m. on the fifth floor of the Edney Innovation Center, local entrepreneurs gather together, someone does a presentation about their small business and then there’s time for questions and answers and casual conversation.

“I enjoy interacting with like-minded people who have a shared perspective on life and businesses,” Brown says. “And now I have something to offer them that can improve their company.”

Brown is especially drawn to businesses that “question convention” and are focused on finding “new and better ways to get things done,” his biography on the Husch Blackwell website reads.

Here again, Brown’s DNA as an attorney appears to be similar to that of his clients, as his co-victory in a recent “Shark Tank”-style competition at Husch Blackwell suggests.

Brown recently competed alongside Denver-based attorney Meghan Brennan in Husch Blackwell’s first Legal Innovation Challenge, a firmwide internal tournament aimed at generating innovative ideas for products and services.

First place was awarded to Brown and Brennan’s Startup Diagnostic Tool team. The software program, which is in development, was designed to help attorneys assess early-stage companies and startups in order to address their legal needs more precisely.

The program would solve a major issue (the inefficiency of most initial legal startup consultations) while doing a better job of engaging early-level associates in more client interaction and business development,” Brown and his co-leader said.

For his participation, Brown received a cash award and billable-hour credits.

Brown notes that his passion for working with startups and innovators doesn’t consume all his time. As an associate, he’s available to work for other attorneys at the firm and he works with larger clients, advising them on contracts and governance as well as how to balance accelerating a business with the need to conform to the law.

Still, Brown would like the bulk of his practice to eventually be focused on startups and innovative companies. “I’d love to see that become a larger portion of my day-to-day work,” he says. “I’d also love to become more involved with the innovation side at Husch Blackwell.”

A native of the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Brown feels fortunate to be doing work that strikes a strong chord in him after initially studying accounting as an undergraduate at Harding University.

“I was an accounting major until I took intermediate accounting,” he says. “It didn’t fit my personality, so I transitioned to finance, which was more analytical.”

Although Brown was shaping up to be a numbers guy, a friend talked him into taking a constitutional law class, which he enjoyed. When he expressed his burgeoning interest in the law to his professor, she told him the law looked very different from what he was seeing in a classroom and encouraged him to speak with a few attorneys before changing career paths.

“When I went home for a break, I talked with as many attorneys from as many different backgrounds as I could, and most of them said to not do it,” Brown remembers. “But the things they were complaining about – not knowing what the industry was going to look like in the future and how the theory of law is different from the practice of law – excited me. I saw them as an opportunity.”

After graduation, Brown put his academic career on hold to work for the startup in Dallas. By the time he was headed to Pepperdine, he was married and committed to becoming an attorney.

Today, Brown is not just a lawyer, he’s also the proud father of 15-month-old Sawyer. Also, wife Kelly is pregnant with their second son. “I’m sleeping less but I’ve learned to function on less sleep, so that’s cool,” he says. “I used to need eight hours a night; now I get six and I’m rocking.”

When Brown is feeling rested, he and his wife take Sawyer on family hikes. The abundance of outdoor activities in Chattanooga was a big factor in drawing them to the city and they’re making time to enjoy the city’s beautiful trails.

“There’s excellent hiking in L.A., but you have to get in your car, and once you’re in your car, you’re in it for an hour,” he says. “Now we’re less than 15 minutes from hiking on Signal Mountain or Lookout Mountain. We love taking advantage of the simple, beautiful things in our backyard.”

When the Brown and his wife are finished hauling Sawyer along a woodsy path, they return to Highland Park, where they live in a recently remodeled century-old house. Brown says he grew up learning construction, but when they found out they were going to become first-time parents, they decided to buy a home that was ready for them.

Brown uses the time that’s left in his day to train for the Sunbelt Bakery Iron Man 70.3 taking place on Chattanooga May 19. He also squeezes in services at Relevant Church and roller hockey when it’s in season.

(The league in which he competes just wrapped up its spring season, but he’s more than happy to discuss the recent victory of the Dallas Stars over the Nashville Predators with anyone who’s up for a little hockey talk.)

It’s been a busy couple of years for Brown, but he’s taking the changes in stride and is looking forward to tomorrow.

“We were blessed – or lucky, if that’s how you look at life – to land here when we did given the people who are here,” he says. “Less than three years ago, we had no house or jobs, and now my wife teaches fitness, I have an amazing practice, we have a house in Highland Park and we have one kid with another one on the way. It’s crazy.”

It might be crazy, but good things can happen when one chooses wisely.