Jay Ebelhar was recently elected shareholder of Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz PC.
The Owensboro, Ky., native attended Bellarmine University in Louisville where he studied English and secondary education. He went on to teach high school English, public speaking and journalism. Though he enjoyed his time in front of the classroom, Ebelhar said, “I just didn’t love it, I couldn’t see myself doing it for the rest of my career.”
Though he admits he had never even considered the legal profession as an option, it was this career that would find him back in the classroom, but on the other side of the lectern. He went about his search for a career in a methodical way, studying what it was he thought were his strengths and what he would enjoy in a job – writing, research, public speaking – and all roads led to one point.
“The legal profession just seemed to be tailor-made for it,” he said.
His wife, Christy, a registered nurse, is from Memphis and he’d always enjoyed visits here, so he applied to the Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law at the University of Memphis.
“I really enjoyed it,” he says of his time as a later-in-life student. “It wasn’t as intimidating as it might have been if I’d come straight through from undergrad.”
He looked at the endeavor as a job itself and planned on staying all day whether he had a full load of classes or not, spending the downtime studying and doing research.
“Having actually worked for a couple of years really changed how I approached school,” he said.
Upon graduation in 2003, he completed a judicial clerkship with Judge Holly M. Kirby of the Tennessee Court of Appeals, an experience he said was an advantageous transitional job between the academia-heavy law school and the nuts and bolts of the legal business. “The great thing about working in the Court of Appeals, it’s kind of like this perfect mix of theory and actual real-world application,” he said. “It was a really good opportunity to kind of hone my legal writing skills. Writing skills in the law profession are completely different than what I did as an English major and what I taught in high school, it’s just a whole different animal.”
Once his year was up, he said, he was ready to get into the trenches and begin practicing law. Those trenches were found on the corner of Third Street and Madison Avenue Downtown at Baker Donelson. Ebelhar’s practice is focused in the areas of the financial services industry and employment law, a specialty he became acquainted with during his time as an intern with the National Labor Relations Board while still in school.
Being named shareholder is “one goal achieved and now there’s a whole new set of goals and that’s to continue to give our clients the best service as we can.”
“It’s kind of nice to have two different areas,” he said. “I’m planning on continuing as long as I can working on both types of law.”
The move from high school education to practicing law at one of the largest firms in the state has been a challenging and rewarding one as he strives to apply the law for the best possible outcome for clients. He’s found that it’s about more than simply knowing the law, but that the law is as much a business as anything else and should be approached as such.
“It’s challenging in the sense that it’s not easy work but that’s kind of the fun of it, getting a problem and trying to figure out how to work your way through it,” he said.
When he first came to Memphis, Ebelhar says, he had no idea how he would do in law school or where he might end up practicing. From the beginning, though, Baker Donelson stood out as a place he wanted to be and the goal quickly became to be a part of the firm. It was a challenge not expected when he first left Bellarmine, but one that has paid off, and one of the rewards is being named shareholder of the firm.
“That’s one goal achieved and now there’s a whole new set of goals and that’s to continue to give our clients the best service as we can and help as many different types of clients as we can,” Ebelhar said. “In many ways it’s the culmination of a goal and the beginning of a brand new challenge.”