Ebony Holden is a Lawyer and Founder of Holden-Ellis & Associates LLC, which helps businesses startup and sets them up for success
One of my favorite quotes from our conversation with her is, “If it’s not there, then someone needs to create it.” These words set the tone for the bulk of her adult life, going all the way back to her college years. The stamina and fortitude with which she pursues and actualizes this motto in her life and the lives of those she surrounds herself with is noteworthy.
Growing up in a single-parent household with a working mom as her steadfast example and support, Ebony was raised to pursue a solid future for herself – one that could provide her a continually progressive quality of life and would ensure stability for her and her future family.
The majority of Ebony’s childhood was spent in the southside of inner city Chicago, where she lived with her mom and younger brother. Her mom worked tirelessly to support the three of them, single handedly building and maintaining a stable household and home. Did we mention that Ebony is an attorney who started her own law practice right out of law school (yep, you read that right) and her brother is former military, now in school to become a doctor. Their success is a nod to the success of their mother.
Love of learning and curiosity were qualities inherent in Ebony, manifesting themselves early on in school. So much so that she recalled a fifth-grade teacher who would willingly hand over the reins and allow her, at the ripe old age of ten, to teach the class social studies – on an ongoing basis. The art of teaching came naturally to her, and instructing her peers was a precursor to the direction her career would inevitably take.
Ebony’s College and Lawschool Years
As a young person, she knew she wanted to go into law or medicine. Ebony laughingly recalled that when she would tell people she wanted to be a pediatrician, they would say, “With your mouth, you should be a judge.” To ensure her children’s ability to provide for themselves, her mother established the expectation early on that post-high school life consisted of two options: college or the military. Ebony opted to attend college, and as the first person in her family to attend a four-year university, she wanted to excel and prove herself, and that she did, going big and declaring her major as pre-med. Eager to experience independence while fulfilling her mother’s requirement of attending college in-state, Ebony chose the school furthest from home – Southern Illinois University. She loved all things science but detested the subject of mathematics and had no idea how much math was involved in her pre-med track. During her second semester of freshman year, Ebony took a criminal justice class. Despite this being her first exposure to law, that and her hatred for math were powerful enough to alter the course of her education completely. Shortly after completing the class, she changed her major to pre-law.
She loved everything about her new major – the classes and curriculum, but not litigation, despite being good at it. This natural inclination for litigation led her to pursue it despite a lack of love for this part of practicing law. All that bureaucracy and red tape, the incessant back-and-forth of paperwork with the other side, never managed to provoke a love affair for Ebony. She liked the settlement stage of things because the focus was on actually dealing with the issue at hand and working it out.
Academics were always the focus while attending school, proven by her graduating with a 3.5 GPA, but Ebony always made time for some fun. While there, she danced and dabbled in other extracurriculars. Not having to work while in school was a gift Ebony never took for granted, especially when she found herself working two jobs while in law school. With mom paying the bulk of tuition out-of-pocket and a few student loans, Ebony kept her eye on the prize – attending a good law school. She graduated in 2005 and took a year off to help her mom care for her grandmother. This year off was also spent working for a law firm to test her passionate theory that law was indeed what she wanted to pursue. Ironically, the law firm’s focus was property tax which involved A LOT of math, remember that thing that dissuaded Ebony from becoming a doctor (!), but she stayed the course and worked as a law clerk. Always a multi-tasker, the year of being a caretaker and working her first full-time job was also spent preparing for the LSAT. Determined to take the test and pass it on the first try, Ebony was laser-focused, knowing that this one test would set the trajectory for her professional life.
She met her own stringent expectations and did well on the LSAT the first time. Ebony wasn’t thrilled with her scores, but they were good enough to appease her. She attended Thomas Cooley Law School at its newest location in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This was where her personal proverb of “If it’s not there, then someone needs to create it,” really took flight when she founded the campus’ chapter of the Black Law Student Association and volunteered as the curriculum director for the teen court program, working with and teaching non-violent teen offenders as an alternative to their being incarcerated. Her time spent working in this capacity reminded her of that inherent love for teaching that kept popping up. During her externship, one of the final steps towards completing law school, Ebony worked for an incredibly challenging individual, and this was when she realized she would never work for someone else again. One difficult issue with that is – starting one’s own law firm right out of law school was unheard of.
Ebony’s Lawfirm Years and Starting her own Firm
Ebony decided to take the Illinois BAR and passed the first time. She applied to a couple of law firms but didn’t participate in the interviews because her heart was telling her to venture out on her own. And so began the journey of marketing herself, taking on clients, and doing contracts and litigation. She ended up in family law, for which there was an insatiable need where she lived in the south suburbs of Chicago. There were so many litigants that didn’t have attorneys because they couldn’t afford them, and even if they could, attorneys were extremely hesitant to work in that particular courthouse with those clients because of the community dynamics. The environment there was toxic. Lawyers avoided practicing there, except for Ebony, that is. What she saw when she looked at that community was people in need. The neighborhood consisted primarily of low to middle-income people of color who needed representation. So Ebony stepped up and addressed that need, taking on the majority of those cases because she knew those people needed help, and by virtue of living there, too, they were part of her community. Always the teacher, she created self-help books for clients free of charge to educate and guide them through the legal process they were participating in.
One client, in particular, was dealing with a soon-to-be ex-husband who was the biggest bully Ebony had ever met, and so she began coaching this client on how to co-parent with him post-litigation. In turn, the first ebook she started to sell was about how to co-parent with toxic partners. This got her wheels turning about how she could help people and make a living at the same time.
In 2015 Ebony and her husband became parents, but getting there was no small feat. The pregnancy was incredibly high-risk, consisting of preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, enduring a bad fall and being on crutches, and finally, high blood pressure, which induced contractions at 24 weeks, putting Ebony on bed rest for the duration of her pregnancy – except for that one client whose case demanded she continues to show up to court in-person! Beyond that, the experience forced her to take her practice virtual, long before the days of COVID normalized doing everything via Zoom.
Back to that one case that Ebony continued to show up to the courthouse in-person for – during a high-risk pregnancy while on bed rest. The client was a female business owner who had created an amazing brand. During her divorce, figuring out who had what rights to the business was how Ebony got involved in intellectual property trademarks. She began handling the client’s online contracts, and when the case ended, and the client wanted to rebrand the business, Ebony helped her with that in the online space. This was her introduction to e-businesses.
Several years later, Ebony has married her talents and identities as a teacher, caregiver, and attorney as a legal brand strategist. She takes intellectual property, breaks it down, and teaches people how to do it themselves. She teaches online entrepreneurs how to build, brand, and bankroll their businesses through trademarks. It allows her to teach, practice law, help others and stay at home with her kids (there are two of them now).
After her first pregnancy, Ebony knew she didn’t want her kids to go to daycare before being school-aged. The plan was to have them home with her, and so her career needed to be conducive to this tip-top priority. And guess what? Yet again, her motto of “If it’s not there, then someone needs to create it” rang true, and Ebony made it happen.
If you haven’t noticed, one of our favorite questions to ask our interviewees is, “What would you tell your younger self about your future career?” It’s no surprise that Ebony’s answer rings wise and true. Looking back, taking into consideration all of the hard lessons learned and wisdom gained, she would tell her younger self, without hesitation, “You have to show up, no matter what. God has made you a trailblazer, and whether you want to or not, you are setting the bar for so many people. Always bet on yourself.”
All bets are on you, Ebony!