Attorney at Law Magazine Cleveland Publisher Jim Shultz sat down with Howard Rabb to discuss the culture of his firm and mentors that helped him along the way.
AALM: What first drew you to your firm? Tell us about your role there.
Rabb: It was 1988, and the firm already had a great reputation as a talented aggressive group of attorneys, but for me, it was family. I started as an associate to assist the business and commercial attorneys and to head up the bankruptcy practice.
AALM: How would you describe the culture of the firm?
Rabb: I think it’s an easy place to work, whether you’re an attorney or not. And we stay versatile and relevant; growing practices that thrive, focusing less on those that don’t.
AALM: Tell us about your fellow attorneys at the firm? How do you work together?
Rabb: It’s a good group; good lawyers and good people. We call ourselves aggressive, creative and successful. And we are. Our attorneys genuinely want to help our clients. We help each other help our clients. Everyone’s door is open.
AALM: What case most defined or redefined your practice?
Rabb: I’m currently handling a large estate which really took me away from my estate planning and bankruptcy practices. I enjoy estate planning and probate work, but I have recently been hired to assist several small business clients who have legitimately run into significant business issues. These cases have allowed me to get back to what I love; helping people who are in a tough spot.
AALM: How do you balance handing bankruptcy matters versus estate planning matters? They seem in such opposition.
Rabb: They do seem completely different. They involve two different bodies of law and one helps those with money, while the other helps those without. But they both revolve around estates, a body of assets that define the scope of the project, and so we’re often thinking about similar concepts. Lastly, when one practice is busy, the other is slower, so it provides a certain time balance to the practice.
AALM: You must hear so many heartbreaking stories, how do you respond to the emotions in those meetings?
Rabb: It is tough to listen to the sad stories. Bankruptcy clients have may have medical problems, divorce issues, business failures or may have just lost their job. Estate planning clients are often driven to meet by an illness. These can be heartbreaking situations. Sometimes I can help to counsel in dealing with financial decisions so I try to do that, but the key for me is to focus on the job I’ve got to do for them. That job is to use my knowledge to put them in a better situation than they were when they came to the office. Usually, but not always, I can pull that off.
AALM: When did you first know you wanted to become an attorney? What drew you to this career?
Rabb: My father was an attorney. My entire life, he suggested I might want to look into it. After majoring in business administration at Ohio State, I decided my senior year that I would like to apply my business degree to a legal career by becoming an attorney.
I’d watched my dad for all those years and as a kid, worked in his office and got to know his attorney friends. The law touches everything and it seemed to me that the variety would be interesting and provide alternative career paths. I was also drawn to the art of running a law firm.
AALM: Do you have any mentors or professors that encouraged you along the way? What is the best lesson they taught you?
Rabb: So many. All of them are family. But more than any others, my father was a big force in the practicalities of lawyering. My father-in-law, who was also an attorney at our firm, taught me the value of hard work in the field. I also have an uncle that was an attorney and my wife has two of them. So I had plenty of exposure to mentors.
AALM:What experiences have taught you the most?
Rabb: Some situations and cases can get emotional and so can other attorneys. The two keys are (a) maintaining a level head and rising above it; and (b) understanding some battles aren’t worth fighting. Sometimes both are easier said than done.
AALM:What do you find particularly rewarding about your practice?
Rabb: I deal directly with clients that I help. I love my business clients. In several cases, they’re also my friends.
There’s nothing more rewarding in a career then the ability to meet people, understand their problems, and help them solve those problems. Even if I can’t help them solve the problems, usually I can help them understand them, which alone can provide clients peace of mind. In the end, making a difference in someone’s life is what it’s all about.
AALM: What do you find particularly challenging about your practice?
Rabb: Working with clients who refuse to accept their problems or come to me for my advice, but don’t take it. Also, some people believe that since they are good at their profession, they know more about our profession than they we do. I do my best to help them understand their problems and why I am advising them in a certain way. Often, I encourage them to obtain a second opinion.
AALM: What accomplishment are you most proud of achieving?
Rabb: Playing a part in the building of a very successful law firm. I’ve managed the firm for over 10 years myself and roughly 15 in conjunction with others. We’ve tripled in size since I’ve joined the firm.
I have enjoyed the business of running a law firm. Understanding the practice areas and the people within them is crucial to be successful. I enjoy working with partners, associates and staff to make them better at what they do, but for me, the most important thing is to take the time to discuss and work with those people, in order to get things done. It’s fulfilling to get to the end game, and see everyone swimming in the right direction.
I am very lucky to work with two bright professional hard-working assistants, as well as an outstanding office manager. Also, we are blessed with attorneys and staff that are as solid as any in our region.
AALM: What do you enjoy doing outside of work? Hobbies? Sports?
Rabb: Spending time with family and friends. For me, that’s my incredible wife, Elisa, who is my home and means everything to me, and my two wonderful kids, who are busy following their passions, making lives for themselves, and building their own careers. Also, a good beer with a good friend always puts me in a good mood.
I like to bike, explore when we travel, listen to music, watch movies, and check out museums. I’m a Cleveland junkie. I can’t get enough of our city and our teams. And that includes my alma mater, Ohio State.
It’s very important to me to provide a “hand up” to those that didn’t have strong leaders or opportunity in their lives. I’m on the boards of the Boys and Girls Club of Cleveland and Lakeland Community College.
AALM: What events are you most looking forward to in the coming year?
Rabb: Championships by the Indians and Cavs!
AALM: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Rabb: I lost my mom last year. I miss her very much. Above all, she was a caring, friendly and giving. That inspires me every day.