This month Young&BosSHE #SHEspeaks host Hope Buckner talks leadership and creativity with Maria Spear Ollis, founder and owner of Spear IP. From early opera aspirations to the creation of Spear IP, Maria has managed to stay true to herself and her creative spirit while building a business that protects fellow creatives.
Maria grew up in Detroit, Michigan. She received her Bachelor’s of Music from University of Ann Arbor and her Juris Doctor degree from Pace University School of Law. She currently lives in East Nashville, TN, with her husband Matt, cat Poseidon, and dog Aria. Maria is also a member of the Nashville Fashion Alliance Advisory Committee, the Nashville Symphony Chorus, Vice Chair of the American Bar Association IP Law Practice Management Committee, and Advisor at the Nashville Entrepreneur Center. When she’s not making sure your intellectual property, brand, and copyrights are protected, Maria likes cooking (especially Greek food), calligraphy, barre, and singing.
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ICYMI, check out the article Maria wrote for Young&BosSHE last year on small business ownership!
Our podcasts are transcribed by humans and may contain errors. Please check with the podcast audio before publishing quotes, or, email us at youngbosSHE@gmail.com to check quotes.
Welcome to SHEspeaks, the Young&BosSHE podcast—an opportunity to hear from dynamic SHEs and celebrate their stories. I’m your host, Hope Cooper Buckner, one of the Young&BosSHE co-founders and a passionate advocate for all SHEs. This month we’re highlighting SHE creatives, their talent, and the journeys their art has inspired. Today I’m speaking with Maria Spear Ollis, owner and attorney at Spear IP, about her career in law, her own leadership theory and the wisdom she has for her fellow SHE creatives.
HBC: I am here with Maria Spear Ollis, owner and attorney at Spear IP, a law practice here in town, and we are so excited to have Maria on with us today to talk about her experiences as a SHE leader, her experience as an attorney here in Nashville, and some wisdom she has for women. So Maria, we’re so excited to have you with us.
MSO: Thank you, I’m very excited to be here.
HBC: Good, good. Tell us about Spear IP and the work that you do within your law practice.
MSO: Yeah! So Spear IP– I launched Spear IP in August of 2015 and initially was very broad in my offerings. I just– I had experience with IP law and entertainment law and kind of wanted to steer more into the IP direction and work with businesses as they, you know, as you have a new idea or a new project and have questions on how to protect it. That’s what I love. And so as time kind of went on I began to focus a little bit more on certain industries and now kind of do work in fashion, hospitality and what I call tech and new media, so, you know, your bloggers and podcasters and tech, of course, kind of web and app development. So that’s kind of the focus and my kind of– one of the reasons that I started Spear IP was because I kind of saw a pattern in the legal industry of the billable hour and how clients would get surprised and confused by the whole system. You know, you pay a retainer fee, but that’s just a retainer fee, that’s not everything, and then you get a bill at the end and you’re surprised at, you know, how many 16 minute phone calls there were [laughs] and it’s a lot more. So I– from the beginning I have offered flat rates for all of my packages and that so far has worked out well.
HBC: Interesting. So that is pretty unique within the industry?
MSO: It’s getting more and more traction, especially with younger attorneys, but, yeah, there are still a lot of—a lot of traditional law firms still stuck to the billable hour.
HBC: Yeah. Wow. What attracted you to law? What made you get involved or interested in law?
MSO: Oh gosh. So I was a voice major in college, and I thought I was going to be an opera singer, and then I thought I was going to be a musical theatre singer. And then it was right around the time that iTunes was really coming on the scene, and digital down– or like Napster and all of those platforms were big and I thought, I’m gonna stop the pirates, I’m gonna go to law school and crack down on the music pirates. And I had some friends that were in a band, like a mildly popular indie band, they were on the OC and that was kind of their big moment, and we went to see them, and I was talking to them about, you know, piracy and everything, and my friend said, “I mean, I really don’t care, as long as they’re listening to the music and they want to come see us that’s what’s important. And I thought, Well if you don’t care, then I don’t care. [laughs]
HBC: Right! Why should I care? Right, right.
MSO: So, and at that point I was in law school, but, yeah, kind of the creative side is kind of what drew me to law school.
HBC: Interesting, interesting. And so what is it about helping folks protect what’s important to them, what they’ve worked for, that– you said you really loved that, so what about that do you love?
MSO: Well, because, it’s such a– I mean, I don’t have children, but I imagine that it’s something that you work towards and envision and just– you know, people refer to their artwork or, you know, their business as their baby for a reason because it’s such a– like there’s such a visceral connection to something that you have built that I just love, you know, hearing about new businesses, new ideas, and helping people to be proactive and protecting that so they can feel confident that they, you know, are doing everything quote on quote “right” and they’re in a good position.
HBC: Hm. So there really is a real desire to help people protect what it is they’ve created for you then. It’s more than just about the law.
MSO: Mhm. Yeah.
HBC: Huh. That’s really interesting. I imagine your clients see that, too. It probably comes out in your day-to-day interactions, I would guess.
MSO: Yeah, maybe. I think on the enneagram personality quiz I am a helper, so—
HBC: Interesting. Which wing?
MSO: Uh, shoot. I don’t remember my wing. Maybe 8?
Maria. I think helper is 2.
HBC: Helper– helper is 2 and perfect, or, achiever is 3. That’s it.
MSO: Mhm. Oh, okay. [laughs]
HBC: I’m also a 2. I’m a 2, Wing 3.
HBC: I’m newly into the enneagram, though. Have you been into the enneagram for a while?
MSO: I haven’t read it in a long time, it’s probably been three years or so, but, yeah.
HBC: I think it’s a very interesting assessment. I find it more interesting than most of the other popular ones.
HBC: You can really, like, dive deep into thinking through motivations and things. Okay, that’s really interesting. Well– well tell us about your career. What are some of the highlights from Spear IP so far?
MSO: I mean, I– let’s see, I’ve been practicing law for 8 years and when I started I was doing contract work for other attorneys, looking for a full-time gig, and then got an opportunity at CMT, here in Downtown Nashville, and worked in their legal department on awards shows and then was offered a full-time position by my former employer and worked there. It was a boutique IP and entertainment practice and we did litigation as well.
MSO: And then after about 5 and ½ years I left there. And I guess I should mention that one of the things I discovered aside from the fact that I wanted to move away from entertainment law was that I wanted to also move away from litigation.
HBC: Interesting. Okay.
MSO: Which is– if you talk to another attorney and tell them that you don’t do litigation anymore, they talk to you as if, as if you’ve, I don’t know, gone sober or something. Like, Good for you. Way to go. [laughs]
HBC: Okay. Wow, wow.
MSO: So I don’t know what that says.
HBC: That should tell us something maybe. [laughs] Okay. So then what was it that finally prompted you to say I’m ready to go out on my own? Because that’s a big step.
MSO: Yeah. And it wasn’t something that I ever, you know, set out to do when I was in law school or even at the beginning of my career. But I was unmarried at the time, you know, no dependents—
HBC: Right. You had some risk ability there. You could take some risks.
MSO: Yes. Exactly. And– and, you know, certain things just lined up and it seemed like– it seemed like the best option at the time and so I thought, Let’s do this and if it doesn’t work out I can get a job, apply, you know, at a firm or in-house somewhere. And so far it’s been– it’s worked out.
HBC: Great. Well, let’s talk about your experience as a SHE leader. Tell us your personal leadership theory, maybe some mantras of leadership that you live by. What does leadership look like in your life?
MSO: Leadership to me is kind of about two things. It’s listening and it’s kind of getting personal, because different styles don’t work for– or not every style works for everyone, so depending on the personality of who you’re collaborating with or who you’re leading or being led by, you know, I think it can vary. I once had a, I will call her a mentor, during an internship during law school. And she was, you know, an awesome female attorney working in the music industry and on our last day, there were two other interns, they were also female– and on our last day she said, “My one piece of advice to all of you is to help each other.” And it reminded me a little bit of the scene in Mean Girls where she said—what’s the line—If we call each other, you know, bitches and hoes, that just allows men to do it.
HBC: Right. Why would they not, if we’re calling ourselves that?
MSO: Yes. Yes. And it reminded me a little bit of that and, you know, we’ve all experienced different type of quote on quote “leaders”, but I so prefer and kind of stand by, you know, building each other up and helping other women as opposed to the kind of mindset of, “Well, I had to pay my dues and climb the ladder, so you should too” type of thing.
HBC: Mhm. Right. So more of an idea of, there’s room for multiple women, all people, but certainly all SHEs, versus the mentality of, there’s one Queen Bee, and you all can remain princess bees because I have to remain queen.
MSO: Yes. Yes. Exactly. Yeah, I love that.
HBC: Yeah, I think there’s a lot of value in that and I can imagine being in– I’m not in the law industry, but my perception would be a more male-dominated industry, is that correct?
HBC: So tell us a little bit about what it’s like to be a female working in a male-dominated industry.
MSO: Yeah. I feel like my experience hinges on being female and also being young-ish. I mean I’m 33, I guess I’m not a recent college grad or anything, but still. It’s so hard, especially when you’re a helper, when you’re trying to help someone and put them in a good position, when number one they just hear what you’re saying and want to do what they want to do anyway, or– and each time that that happens I can kind of get, you know, a Spidey sense of, okay, it’s because I’m young or I’m like the daughter or something—
HBC: Hm. And you mean when you’re working with clients? Or specifically—
MSO: Yes. Working with clients, yes.
HBC: Okay, okay.
MSO: And I mean in terms of other attorneys, I definitely think there is a different tone that certain attorneys have, both because I’m female and young-ish, so yeah, it’s definitely something I’m cognizant of and have had to deal with, but usually when that happens and there’s opposing counsel that kind of has that tone or that air about them the client is like, “Oh, we know that you can kick some butt so don’t even worry about it.”
HBC: Okay. Do you find yourself coming up with ways to adapt, with ways to cope with that, or is it more of just, you do what you gotta do and you move on?
MSO: I mean, I do what I’ve gotta do, and the best way to adapt and cope is to win with words and the law and the facts [laughs]—
HBC: And your skill!
MSO: Yeah, yeah.
HBC: What advice do you have for women who are interested in moving into the legal realm?
MSO: That’s a great question. I think my best piece of advice is don’t lose your personality just because you think this is a serious profession.
MSO: It is a serious profession but people work with– at least in my experience, people want to work with you because of you, and if you don’t– if you’re, you know, in a suit and very professional and hands in your lap and all of that, you know, it’s hard for your personality to shine through and I think it’s okay to– I mean, maybe you’re not Elle Woods with your scented resume–
HBC: Sure Sure. Or maybe you are. [laughs]
MSO: Maybe you are! Maybe that’s you! And if that’s you, go for it, girl.
HBC: I love it.
MSO: That’s my best piece of advice. Don’t lose your personality and embrace it. It might be a strength.
HBC: Because people join people, people follow people.
HBC: I think there’s so much beauty in individuality and humanity and when we all try to fit in the same size box, the same– each same pattern, then we lose I think some of, all of the beauty of what makes community value.
HBC: What are some of ways that you’ve ensured that Maria has stayed in Spear IP, that you latch onto and that’s who you are, and you’re wanting that to be seen?
MSO: Yeah. It’s funny because I did, I don’t know, maybe six months ago, this whole rewrite of my about me page on my website.
Hope. Ooh. Interesting.
MSO: And it used to be very against what I just said about personality. It was, you know, Maria went to law school at blah blah blah blah blah and is involved in such and such organization and blah blah blah blah blah, very boring. So I completely deleted it and started with one sentence which was, “I don’t like to wear suits.” And kind of went from here. And it kind of works because I work in the fashion industry so I got to pull that in, but also, just, you know, this is me. I’m not going to carry a briefcase and wear a suit. If that’s you, you go for it. But that’s not me.
HBC: And that’s okay.
MSO: And that’s who I am and that’s my practice and if you want to meet, we’ll have coffee and I’ll be wearing jeans and I will just as diligent as, and maybe more, diligent and comfortable than if I, you know, were wearing a suit.
HBC: Trying to be something that you weren’t.
MSO: Yes, exactly.
HBC: Yeah. And so have you found any freedom in actually naming yourself as you are on your website instead of trying to frame it in a way that you think it has to be?
MSO: Absolutely, because at the beginning– you know, IP, at least copyright and trademark, is a little more casual—
HBC: Is it now? Because it feels terrifying to me. [laughs]
MSO: Does it? [laughs] Well, I mean, when you’re working with creativity and creativity brands, you know, the client is not necessarily a–your typical white collar suit and tie.
HBC: Sure. So they themselves are probably expressing themselves in some unique, creative ways.
MSO: Yes. So I always had this assumption of, you know, clients and maybe my ideal client and so whenever I would go into a client meeting I thought– I would kind of second guess and think, Okay, is it okay that I’m wearing jeans? Is it okay that I’m not wearing— well, we’ll just see. And now it’s just– I don’t second guess myself because, you know, I have put out there what I am and who I am and so that kind of sets the expectation almost.
HBC: What prompted that shift? It seems like a pretty significant shift.
MSO: I don’t know, I have a friend that does marketing and she suggested that I kind of rethink my about me page, and so I was thinking about, you know, kind of, what makes me different and what, you know, I would say if I didn’t feel like I had to be formal, and it just kind of came out.
HBC: I think there’s probably a lot of freedom in that for a lot of young professionals especially, because I think, you know, we are all trying to be the best that we can be and trying to create names for ourselves and trying to build a career, and so sometimes that feels like fitting into what is expected when in reality maybe we are missing out on some things by cramming ourselves into that box. I think that’s some valuable information to share, for sure. Tell us a little about some of your own SHEroes. Women who have helped form who you are.
MSO: Hm. I would definitely say my mom is one. She just– she’s very patient, she’s hardworking, she doesn’t take herself too seriously, and she’s a great mom and friend and she’s definitely shaped my life. There are a lot of women in my life. I have lots of aunts and both my grandmothers are still living—
HBC: Oh, wow, what a blessing.
MSO: Yeah, definitely. And so it’s amazing to have all of this family and to have all of these kind of strong women to look up to and pull strength from. So yeah, I would say, you know, the female relatives in my life have definitely been an influence.
HBC: Yeah. And do you– are you able to spend time with these people? Are they local?
MSO: Yeah, my sister is local. She lives here in Nashville, she’s lived here for about a year. But otherwise all of my female SHEroes live elsewhere. My grandmother is in Alabama, she’s not too far away, but pretty much everyone else is up in Michigan.
HBC: Okay. So, a little bit of a distance.
MSO: Yes, but everyone’s good at Facetime and texting. [laughs]
HBC: Makes a big difference doesn’t it?
HBC: What is it like– well first I should ask, are you the only employee of Spear IP?
MSO: I am. We had an intern for the fall semester of 2017—
HBC: Okay. A law intern?
MSO: Yes. Well, she’s pre-law.
HBC: Okay, okay, great.
MSO: And she was a huge help.
HBC: Yeah. So what is it like working by yourself? Are there challenges associated with that? Are there pieces that are super helpful associated with that? What’s that like?
MSO: I would say the challenges are the same as the kind of benefits because freedom is the number one benefit, right? If I want to go to Alabama and see grandma I can go and work from her kitchen table and it’s totally fine. But there’s also, you know, some drawbacks to freedom which is structure, and, you know, you don’t have a– someone waiting at a desk making sure you’re coming into the office. And so, you know, I’ve kind of embraced systems and processes and that’s kind of one of my themes of this year is getting systems and processes in place so that I have, you know– if/when I ever do bring someone in, whether it’s a virtual assistant or somebody, here’s how it goes, you know, from the moment I have a first client meeting to sending them an invoice. And so, yeah, that is how, I guess, freedom is both a blessing and a curse.
HBC: Yeah, yeah. Does it ever get lonely, or do you enjoy working by yourself?
Maria; You know, I do enjoy it. And I’m a member at a coworking spot, so that gives me some kind of interaction. And if I don’t feel like going in I’m perfectly fine, you know, hanging at home and working from home.
HBC: So you allow yourself to work from various spaces depending on what the day might hold or what your schedule looks like?
HBC: Okay. And do you find that there are, you know, different days have different priorities, or there are different days where, you know, you to be in the coworking space or days where it’s better to have the flexibility of home?
MSO: Yeah. Definitely. And it’s not, at the beginning of the week I might not know. I might– I will usually make a rough plan of, you know, blocking out certain time to do work and certain time to return phone calls and things like that, but you know, one old client calls out of the blue and has an emergency and then everything shifts.
HBC: Sure. Yeah.
MSO: Which is fine. I feel like I build enough margin into my days that I can accommodate that kind of thing, that’s kind of something that– I have to expect the unexpected, almost.
HBC: Yeah. So what does the future of Spear IP look like?
MSO: Well, in about a month Spear IP will be expanding to Detroit—
HBC: Well, that’s big news! Congratulations! That’s fantastic.
MSO: Yeah! So I’ll kind of commuting between Nashville and Detroit a little bit—
HBC: So then you will see Michigan family, I would think.
MSO: Yes. So that will be exciting. I feel like Detroit is in a spot where Nashville was maybe twelve-ish years ago. They’ve got a kind of a little buzzy tech scene and an independent fashion scene as well so I’m excited to go up there and dive into it.
HBC: That’s fantastic for you to be experiencing that much growth. I mean, good grief, you haven’t been around all that long so congratulation. That’s fantastic. That’s fantastic. How did you choose the industries that you work within?
MSO: You know, it was almost accidental. When I first launched it was close to Fashion Week, and I started blogging a lot about fashion topics just because of the timing. And then, I want to say maybe a year ago, I started using a CRM system to keep track of where my clients were coming from but also where they were in the terms of the work that they did. And those industries were kind of the heavy industries for the clients that were coming to me.
HBC: Do you yourself have an interest in fashion?
MSO: I do, yeah.
HBC: Okay, because that is, I would imagine, or at least I would say as an outsider definitely not in the fashion industry myself, seems like an industry that’s pretty challenging to break into.
MSO: It is, but Nashville’s fashion industry is really interesting. The statistic is that outside of New York and Los Angeles, Nashville is the number one place for fashion designers—
MSO: –it has the most independent fashion designers.
HBC: And talk about IP, and the need to protect the things that you’ve created. I mean, certainly there’s a lot there.
HBC: Wow, how interesting. Well, Maria, if someone wanted to follow up with you how– where could they find you?
MSO: They can find me online at spear-ip.com. I’m also on Instagram at @lawandlocallogos.
HBC: I like that.
MSO: Let’s see, I’m on Pinterest and in about a month or so I’ll be launching a Youtube channel with little short informational videos on different IP topics and legal topics and dissecting things in two or three minutes or less.
HBC: How fascinating. So yet another way for folks to gain legal knowledge at the— really right there from their computers.
HBC: That’s great. Well thank you so much Maria, it’s been so great to chat with you, I really appreciate your time.
MSO: Thank you!
HBC: SHEs everywhere, this one’s for you.
Thanks for listening to SHEspeaks, the Young&BosSHE podcast. We’d love to hear from you. Connect with us on our website, youngbosshe.org. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram or send us an email at youngbosSHE@gmail.com. We want to engage with you, hear your voice, pull up a seat beside you, and have important conversations. SHEs everywhere, this one’s for you.