Ben Calkins entered the world of business earlier than most. With both a penchant for developing businesses and participating in local politics, Ben’s introduction to business started in childhood. Ben competed from a young age in 4-H, a global youth group that, among other things, teaches farming and animal husbandry skills. Using these skills, and while still in junior high, Ben decided to make his sheep operation self-sustaining. Instead of relying on his parents to fund his enterprise, he started his first two businesses: a sheep farming supply company and a local farming newspaper. Then, in high school, Ben became active in both student government—taking on the role of student body president his senior year—and various business ventures, such as running the concession stand at sporting events (at a profit!)
Ben carried that dual passion for business and politics with him to Harvard where he was an honors student in Economics. Appointed to a much coveted position on the Student Advisory Committee of the John F. Kennedy Institute of Politics, Ben helped organize seminars and discussion groups with experienced politicians, academics, and business people. Widening his influence on the student body, he also became an editor of The Harvard Crimson, the school’s paper. Ben used his business skills to improve the paper’s financial viability, tending to daily practicalities such as selling ad space so they could afford to keep it operating.
While at Harvard, a course on dispute resolution taught by one of the Harvard Law School professors made a profound impact on Ben and furthered his interest in Law. In that class, Ben learned how a wide variety of cultures resolve conflicts. Learning about different approaches to conflict resolution helped Ben see “conflict” as a starting point for negotiations aimed at getting each party what they want. As part of his Harvard education, Ben was also given the opportunity to explore business law further by spend the summer with W R Grace & Company where he worked on business acquisitions and gained his first experience performing aspects of due diligence.
Ben’s interest in Law lead him to the University of Michigan Law school. Prior to attending Law school however, Ben followed his other passion: politics. Proving himself against other candidates, Ben was awarded first-hand experience in big-league politics as a Lyndon B. Johnson Congressional Intern for Congressman Jack F. Kemp.
After finishing his internship, Ben returned to pursuing his career in business law. While still in law school, Ben taught first year law students and got his first jobs working in large law firms. Ben’s successes continued to grow as he was appointed to the Order of the Coif and took on another role as editor, this time with The Michigan Law Review.
After graduating from law school, Ben served as law clerk to Julian Abele Cook, Jr.—United States District Court Judge. While clerking for Judge Cook, Ben learned about the inner workings of the court system and how to pursue, and ultimately resolve, issues that go to litigation. This was also where Ben learned many skills for effectively representing clients in court.
In the early years of his career, Ben worked in large, old-style law firms in Chicago, Boston, Buffalo, and Cleveland. His clients were Fortune 100 companies doing “big deals.” Although, grateful for the experience, Ben came to see that when executives and lawyers are playing with other people’s money, there isn’t a sense of urgency or focus on getting deals done. Large, old-style law firms were built around the billable hour. They also tend to have multiple lawyers assigned to a single client, often with a senior lawyer supervising junior lawyers who in turn supervise interns—all of whom are billing by the hour.
Ben could see that if he put his head down—billing as many hours as possible—he could do pretty nicely for himself but the idea of working that way just didn’t appeal to him. He was more interested in helping clients make deals, connecting entrepreneurs with capital, and watching businesses grow. So, dissatisfied with the large firms, Ben decided to head out on his own.
Building a New Kind of Law Firm
Early in his career, a client told Ben: “You are the first lawyer I’ve ever met who did what he said, when he said, and for how much he said.” It shocked Ben that a client who had dealt with many attorneys would say that. From that point on, he felt just little bit embarrassed about being part of the law community—that maybe lawyers had earned all those lawyer jokes and negative comments. Ben vowed to be a lawyer who did for clients what he would want done for himself; a lawyer who did what he said, when he said, and for how much he said.
As a result, The Calkins Law Firm is different in three ways:
- Calkins Law Firm only has well educated, top-rated, and highly experience attorneys. Unless needed, our firm do not assign multiple lawyers to a client and our clients don’t pay for on the job training.
- Calkins Law Firm staffs as leanly as possible and utilizes technology to maximize efficiency.
- Calkins Law Firm is cost effective, affordable and accountable which means that where possible, we will give you an estimate and honor it. Our lawyers discuss with clients the factors that influence legal fees and what they can do to manage cost.
When your motivation is to get things done, it leads to efficiency.
Ben is in his element when connecting entrepreneurs with investors and guiding people through the buying/selling process. Ben has a particular affinity for entrepreneurs because they expect speed, results, and value for their money. Entrepreneurs have little patience for repeating themselves or explaining their situation to yet another new attorney. Entrepreneurs expect their lawyer to write or review a contract quickly. Like him, they are focused on getting things done.
A Trusted Advisor on Your Side
Many lawyers are simply technicians. They can draw up a contract but they can’t anticipate potential problems let alone advise clients on strategies to avoid them in the first place. Ben sees it as his job to guide clients through the minefield of buying or selling a business. Over the years, Ben has helped hundreds of clients with hundreds of matters. In that time he’s seen pretty much everything that can go wrong so he knows what to look out for. He considers it his job to help clients anticipate and then avoid problems.
Ben Knows People, Lots of People
Ben has been networking and making connections his whole life and over the years he has collected an impressive list of contacts. Ben knows who in Cleveland and Northeastern Ohio is looking to buy a business and who is looking to sell. Ben knows investors from private funds to venture capitalists. He has also built relationships with experts who can help with specific aspects of running, valuing and selling a business.
While Ben can be a fierce negotiator, he’d much rather work with people to build something than get into the mud slinging that is litigation. To Ben, the real art of business law is getting all involved parties on the same page. Ben describes this as “lion taming” and a lifetime of experience has made him an excellent lion tamer. When it comes to business law, lion-taming is a matter of understanding all of the interests of each party and then finding a way to “get to yes” by convincing each party of what matters and what can reasonably be expected in a transaction. In its essence, it is a matter of informed and principled compromise.
It All Gets Memorialized in a Contract
Once the lions have been tamed, it’s time to thoroughly document the agreement so in the future there cannot be a difference of opinion on what’s in the contract. Contracts have always been a specialty for Ben. The key in drafting a contract is to anticipate all of what can happen between the parties, to the contract in the future, and then to draft the contract so that, come what may, the client’s interests are well served. Writing such business contracts requires tremendous vision, experience, and creativity.
Continuing his interest in creating dialogue and learning, Ben teamed up with a similarly-minded friend to launch the Center for Free Enterprise in 2015. The Center for Free Enterprise provides a social network and platform for business people to share ideas and learn about middle market mergers and acquisitions, business formation, and factors in business growth. Since launch, they have hosted more than 20 sold out programs in the greater Cleveland area.
Ben’s other community involvement:
- Former President of the Harvard Club of Northeast Ohio.
- Former President of Ohio Venture Association.
- Co-founder of the North Coast Angel Fund, one of largest angel funds in America.
- Ben is also active with his church, a 4-H leader, and contributes in numerous other ways throughout the community.
- Ben maintains a perfect 10 “Superb” rating from Avvo.com
- He was presented the Client Distinction Award by Martindale Hubbell which is awarded to less than 1% of the country’s attorneys.
- Ben has repeatedly been named a Super Lawyer.
- He has been featured in both Who’s Who in America and Who’s Who in American Law.
Ben is a 2017 Marquis Who’s Who winner of the Albert Nelson Marquis Lifetime Achievement Award for exemplary service.
University of Michigan Law School where he edited the Law Review.