W. Scott Nehs had an idyllic childhood. He grew up in a log cabin along the Rock River in southern Wisconsin. He spent his winters playing hockey and focused on golf whenever the weather allowed. Both of his parents were teachers—so the family of five spent long relaxing summer breaks together playing sports, being active and traveling—often to Ohio to visit Nehs’ grandparents.
It was during those summer trips to Ohio—when Nehs spent as much time as he could with his grandfather, William C. Leonard—that shaped the career he would have later in life. Bill Leonard, a local attorney, was not only a well-respected pillar of his community, he was also an extremely proud and involved grandfather. He would let Nehs tag along with him to his law office, a gesture that made an enormous impression on his young grandson.
“In my mind, I thought I was helping him at work. I realize now, in his mind, it was more about showing off his grandson,” Nehs says. “But it was on those trips that I saw him interacting with his partners and clients. His approach was that law is a serious business, but it’s ultimately about helping people solve problems. He also felt it was important to keep a sense of humor.” More
If anyone fits the description of being “self-directed,” it’s Diana Chafey. She grew up in a military family with no lawyers around her, but decided in fifth grade that she would one day practice law. In her young mind, a legal degree was as versatile as they come—she could likely apply a legal education to any field she may decide to pursue.
During her senior year at Arizona State University, Chafey made another firm decision—she was going to live in Chicago. She had always wanted to move to a large metropolis and -after visiting the Windy City with a friend her senior year, she found the perfect new hometown.
Chafey took a year off after her college graduation to work as a paralegal at a big law firm in Phoenix, then headed to Valparaiso University Law School, about an hour outside of Chicago. Not surprisingly, her career flourished upon graduation. More
By the time Minneapolis-area native Jason Brown was in high school, he already knew he wanted to be a lawyer. During a civics class his sophomore year, Brown participated in a mock trial, in which he served as lead defense counsel. From preparing for trial and creating presentations to participating in deep strategic thinking and gaining skills that could serve to help those in need, Brown fell in love with the work and the idea he could actually make a living doing it.
Around that same time, Brown’s mother introduced him to an old childhood friend of hers who was a professor at Howard University in Washington, D.C. After the professor gave the 16-year-old a personal tour of the Howard campus, Brown fell in love again—this time with one of the country’s prestigious colleges.
Brown’s destiny was set. After high school, he attended Howard University—where he excelled as a student—and immediately upon graduation, went straight to Howard University School of Law. “Being an African American kid from the Twin Cities, it was a huge and strikingly sharp contrast to go from there to an historically black college that is so rich in history as Howard,” Brown says. “I jumped at the chance to do something that would be different and challenging.” More
As a young man growing up in Delaware, Jeff Carr was always hard at work. Whether he was fixing banged-up cars in his family’s body shop, refinishing beautiful pieces of furniture in his uncle’s artisan furniture store or preventing drownings as a lifeguard at the local pool, Carr was slowly and carefully developing skills that would become critical to his success as a legal department leader in the years to come.
Carr has a reputation among his GC peers as being a visionary in changing the way legal departments and law firms deliver legal services. “Innovators are only considered to be visionaries after they’re proven successful,” Carr says. “Before that, we were just thought of as crazy.”
In the early days, Carr’s out-of-the-box ideas may have seemed crazy, but before he retired after a long tenure in the GC seat of Fortune 500 company FMC Technologies, Carr worked for years with law associations and other forward thinkers to shape the way legal departments partnered with law firms and bought legal services—not only helping put the terms “alternative fee arrangement” and “fixed fee” on the legal services map, but also creating efficiencies within the legal department world that previously didn’t exist. More
Ever since she was a child, Talita Erickson has had a passion for culture, diversity and the global experience. She grew up in Brazil, near the border of Argentina and Paraguay near Iguazu Falls, a national park that attracts tourists from around the world. This unique childhood piqued her curiosity—and woke the world traveler inside of her.
As she graduated high school, as is custom in Brazil, Erickson had to decide her life’s profession before entering college. She was only 17 years old and unsure what she wanted to do, but she knew she wanted to be able to direct—and, if necessary redirect—her career any way that might make sense to her. Following in her older brother’s footsteps, Erickson chose a career in law.
“A law degree is very flexible,” she says. “If you’re passionate about sports, you can be a sports attorney. Or in my case, if you love food, you can go to work in the food industry. A law degree gives you the flexibility to work in any industry you want.” More
Born in Evanston, Ill., raised in downstate Indiana and Illinois, then back up to the Chicago area—Matt Revord is a Midwesterner through and through. So it seems fitting that he would be the general counsel of one of the most respected and recognized brands to come out of Chicago. But it took hard work and a few twists and turns before Revord landed at the helm of the legal department of Potbelly Sandwich Works.
In fact, Revord didn’t grow up knowing that one day he would be a lawyer. In high school, a friend’s father—noting Revord’s cunning argumentative skills—mentioned on several occasions that he should consider a career in law. The idea was appealing to Revord, but after graduating from Notre Dame, he couldn’t quite commit. Revord decided to take a year to work, think about his next move and save some money. His job opportunities were diverse, to say the least: a large insurance company, the CIA or a General Motor’s (GM) factory. More
Karen Shaff may not have known at an early age that she was destined to be a lawyer, but her family and friends did.
Shaff grew up in Clinton, Iowa, where she attended elementary and high school. Shaff decided to head to Northwestern University for her undergraduate degree and majored in political science. “We used to travel to Chicago a lot when I was a kid, and I loved the city. Being in the area along with being a top tier school, made Northwestern an easy choice,” she says of her decision to attend the prestigious Evanston, Ill.-based university.
But even by her senior year of college, Shaff was unsure what she wanted as a career, so she decided to take the LSAT. Possibly influenced by her lawyer father, she applied to and was accepted into Drake University Law School in Des Moines, Iowa. “At the time, I really hadn’t thought about going to law school,” she says. “But when I told my friends and family, they all just knew that would be my next step.” More
As the SVP of human resources, general counsel and secretary of Jockey International, Mark Jaeger is right where he wants to be in his career. Growing up in the Chicago suburbs, Jaeger was a good student with an interest in business and law. As an undergrad at University of Iowa, Jaeger focused his studies on economics, but he knew he wanted to become a lawyer. So after completing his undergraduate studies, Jaeger headed straight to law school—attending Southern Illinois University.
But from there, Jaeger’s career path didn’t follow that of today’s typical general counsel. Unlike most GCs, who typically spend a few years in a law firm before crossing over to the business side, Jaeger landed an in-house gig right out of law school, at manufacturing company Roper Corp. in Kankakee, Ill.
“I wasn’t targeting in-house positions at that point,” Jaeger explains. “I was just looking for opportunities to practice law close to my hometown of Chicago.” More
For F. Willis (Bill) Caruso Jr., law was in his blood. Both of his parents, his mother’s parents, and several siblings and extended family members were all lawyers he admired as he grew up in the west suburbs of Chicago. It seemed he was destined to be a lawyer, but Caruso had his sights set on a different career—medicine.
However, once he entered the University of Wisconsin for undergrad and started pursuing the classes that would lead him to medical school, his affinity for the field waned. Despite the fact that he had always excelled in math and science, organic chemistry—a requirement for any pre-med program—just wasn’t working out for him. So he shifted his focus to the obvious one: law. And it just clicked. More
Growing up in small town Morrilton, Arkansas, Alan Bryan always thought he’d be a doctor. It was a clear path—and one that made sense for Bryan, who excelled academically in middle school and high school, and loved the idea of spending his life helping people.
But when Bryan landed at University of Arkansas and started defining his skill set, becoming a doctor seemed less appealing. “I came to the realization that I was not thrilled about working in hospitals — and that can be pretty important in the medical field — so I changed course,” he says. “It hit me that I was really better-suited to help people and businesses through persuasiveness and problem-solving, and not so much in the medical context.” More