Jeffrey Gitchel, Pittsburgh resident and seasoned attorney with over 20 years of experience in corporate governance and corporate matters, litigation, commercial matters, and intellectual property. He attended Oberlin College for his undergraduate studies where he majored in Religion and minored in Government. After some time away from school in New Jersey, he attended law school at the University of Michigan.
He returned to Pittsburgh after graduating from law school and began to practice law at K&L Gates. While there, he broke legal ground, filing the world’s first case under the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP). He joined Bayer Corporation in 2004, serving at times as the head of its Trademark Department, chair of its Policy Committee, lead of its Compliance Working Group, counsel for its Procurement Department, and numerous other roles. He left Bayer in January 2018 to attend to a variety of personal matters and mourned the loss of his mother in July of that year. He currently maintains a solo practice.
Where did the idea for your career come from?
Opening a law practice is a pretty obvious thing for a lawyer to do. I did consider returning to my former employer, but it had been about two years since I was with them and no matter how skillful and insightful an attorney I am, no matter how wonderful a person I am, they undoubtedly moved on. It made sense at this point in my career to go in a different direction.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
The law doesn’t really lend itself to a typical day. The best that I can say is that most days involve three types of tasks: Standing projects, responses to requests and inquiries, and putting out fires.
A standing project can be anything from analysis of an issue facing a company or a person to reviewing a brief or a major contract, preparing training, or work on a longstanding matter; anything that is out there that’s a pending matter.
The line between responses to requests and putting out fires is how urgent the matter is. Colleagues and clients regularly and reasonably have questions and concerns. I respond to those as quickly as I can, aiming for the same day but sometimes things take a day or two to get my full attention. For any number of reasons, some of the questions I get are going to require immediate attention, and those are the fires that have to be put out.
If I could try to summarize a typical day in a different way, it’s a constant struggle to balance the important and the urgent.
How do you bring ideas to life?
That’s a challenging question. Although at its root, law is a profession of ideas, in its simplest form, it is merely a tool. For litigation, for a contract, for a defense, for something. Businesses use the law to get something done, and lawyers can be just service providers. In that sense, we live in a world of ideas brought to life and yet, don’t ever bring ideas to life in the same way as a more traditional business.
At our best, though, lawyers are more than mere service providers. We are informed influencers and guides. In that role, we can lead an organization to a new way of doing things, but it takes a village to give birth to an idea in my area.
My job is to help guide a project in a successful, sustainable direction, and that means steering my client through the rough waters of the law. If a company needs a new policy or wants to pursue a particular strategy, it’s not enough for me as the lawyer to say, “Here’s what the law requires, now go do it” and then expect everyone to comply. If it’s a policy, I need to involve the right company leaders and experts so that the policy has the greatest relevance to the employees and that it is communicated from people that they’ll listen to. If it’s a new strategy, I need to explain the law’s requirements in a meaningful way, and provide options that would keep the business in compliance. In short, whatever the project, I need to do more than just “lay down the law”; I need to involve and persuade the team.
What’s one trend that excites you?
Excites might not be the right word, but the outsourcing of the legal practice intrigues me. There is a trend to get some legal services done via outsourcing like we do sending tech jobs to India or other countries. It will be interesting to me to see how this plays out. I think there’s a limited way in which this can be used. The thing you pay an attorney for more than anything else is judgment, and I don’t know how effective the outsourcing will be in that regard. It will be interesting to find out.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Keeping in touch with people for the sake of keeping in touch with them – not for work and not for networking, but to value them as the people that they are. They are your network, but if you value them just as a network, your life is poorer. Plus, if that’s the only value you place on them, that’s something they realize and they will value you less.
What advice would you give your younger self?
My advice would be an odd combination of listening and seeking out help. Learning to listen to myself and hear what I didn’t know and then seeking out guidance would have helped me in so many ways. My first instinct was always to recreate the wheel instead of having someone show me the wheel is already there and rolling along.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Everybody thinks that the tragedy in “The Cat’s in the Cradle” by Harry Chapin is that the boy grows up just like his father. My view is that it’s a song about a father who is self-obsessed and never makes time for his son. When his son doesn’t have time to talk to him at the end of the song, it’s not because he’s self-centered like his father. Just the opposite. It’s because he is involved in his child’s life in a way that the father never was. The father, however, is so self-centered that he neither realizes that it’s chickens coming home to roost nor recognizes all that his son accomplished despite his father’s neglect and bad role modeling. The father doesn’t see any of this because he never grows beyond his own wants and needs, never sees outside himself. And that is a true tragedy, much worse than a grown son simply not having time for a father who never had time for him.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Just maintain contact with people. It doesn’t need to be about business. And if a conversation does turn to business , listen to them, hear their needs and then respond in a way that is practical and useful, regardless of whether it immediately benefits you.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Pretty much all the work I’ve received has come as a result of being seen as a trustworthy, caring, and decent person. I think it’s knowing yourself and being yourself, understanding your skills and abilities and letting people see that. That’s what has allowed me to grow.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Surprisingly, it grew from one of my early successes. I actually pioneered an area of law. I was the first person to file and win a suit under the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP). Our firm issued a press release and the success received other coverage in the press. It was all positive, for both the firm and the client. Before any of this had happened, I had sought guidance from several attorneys at the firm and cleared the release through all appropriate channels. Nonetheless, the attorney who had the client relationship was not happy. He never explained the reasons why he was angry, but he took me off the client, not allowing me to work for them anymore.
I was a young attorney at the time, and for a moment, it seemed like my career had been derailed. However, I was able to use the knowledge that I had gained to develop an expertise, and use that to build a new career along a slightly different path than what I had expected. It required perseverance, faith in myself, and flexibility. I needed to know where I wanted to get to and adjust my path to getting there. That low point ultimately morphed into a launching pad for the next phase of my career.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Better valuation of intangible property, especially in regard to something like a brand, would be a helpful business. I was listening to Freakonomics Radio and a recent episode was centered around advertising. Their hypothesis was that companies overspend on advertising relative to the value that they receive from it.
That said, there’s no question that a powerful brand can be very effective in selling a product. Compare any house brand and any competitive branded product. House brands are, by their nature, less expensive and often virtually indistinguishable from their branded competition. Why haven’t house brands, or other less expensive brands driven brand leaders out of business? The only explanation that makes sense is the brand. Whether it’s loyalty, trust, distrust of the house brand, or something else, every branded generic’s success depends on its brand.
But how do you build a brand without advertising? There’s some disconnect between their hypothesis and that reality.
If someone could figure out how to value that intangible property in a way that explains that disconnect, I imagine a lot of companies would value that insight and pay to use it in their brand development and house brand owners might want to use that information to achieve better market penetration.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I recently spent $100 on the fixings for dinner. It’s all about spending moments with someone you care about and doing things with people you enjoy.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
My email and calendar software helps me to be productive. For me, organization is critical, and so much of my work day is organized by those two tools. Email helps me identify the tasks I need to get done, and a calendar lets me know what I need to do and when I need to do it on a day-to-day basis.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I and Thou by Martin Buber is a book that has echoed throughout my life. It’s a book that is about the importance of connections between people. There have been times that I have viewed my life as trying to take that understanding of the power of interpersonal connections and convert it into a moral imperative in day-to-day life.
In terms of a business book, I’d say Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point. It focuses on how little changes can make big differences.
What is your favorite quote?
The one that I refer to the most is from Wayne Gretzky who said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” In negotiations, if you don’t ask for something, you’re never going to get it. Or, the context I like to put it in: If you don’t ask, you know the answer. That’s relevant to many aspects of business life.
A quote that a colleague and I came up together is “The key to spontaneity is preparation.” I appreciate the paradox inherent in that. When curveballs get thrown at you, the way that you’re able to effectively respond is to try to be prepared, broadly speaking, for a curveball. There are a few more famous quotes in a similar vein. Thomas Jefferson said, “The harder I work, the more luck I seem to have,” and Colin Powell said, “There are no secrets to success; it is the result of preparation, hard work and learning from failure.” They’re all getting at the same idea.
• Know something, do something, be something.
• Value people – not for what they can or can’t do for you, but for who they are.
• Understand that there is more to life than work, and more to work than the projects. There’s always a humanistic side to things.
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.