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Meet Attorney Turned Financial Executive: Stephen Ewald, '94

Stephen EwaldStudies show that birth order can impact the personality of children. Some might say, though, being the youngest of six prepared ’94 College of Law graduate Stephen Ewald for being a highly successful businessman. He currently works as Chief Operating Officer for the Principal Capital Group, a proprietary investing group within Bank of America Securities, where he oversees enterprise business planning, expense control, business strategy and architecture, compliance, legal and infrastructure design encompassing trading support, and risk management systems.

Ewald’s promotion to his role in business management—about six months ago—came approximately a month after the Bear Stearns hedge funds failed cataclysmically and sent financial markets into a downward spiral. By all measures, however, Ewald is optimistic about his future and the company after his quick rise through corporate management positions. He views his legal background in part as providing many of the necessary tools to understand and weather the current unprecedented financial market turmoil.

It All Started in Findlay
Originally from Findlay, Ohio, Ewald spent one year of college at the University of Findlay where his father was an English professor before transferring to the University of Cincinnati to pursue a degree in political science. He also realized he wanted to pursue law and joined UC’s Phi Alpha Delta as a result. After three years at UC, he felt that UC Law would be the perfect fit for him. “It was my first choice school,” he said. “University of Michigan and Harvard were my stretch schools and I also applied to Boston University, Loyola in Chicago, Marquette, and Dayton as safety schools,” he added. “Once I was accepted at UC, though, I knew that’s where I was going.”

Ewald was a busy member of the student body during his time at the law school, participating as part of Law Review and as treasurer of the Student Bar Association. His law review article on interstate transportation of hazardous waste was, unfortunately, not published. “I like to attribute that to the fact that it was a hot topic in 1992 and there were 10 to 15 other articles written on the subject,” he said with a laugh.

As SBA treasurer, Ewald helped straighten out the group’s finances and worked on a highly successful fundraising effort at the law school. When asked to run for president of the SBA the following year, Ewald declined. “I wanted to focus on working my third year and felt I had accomplished what I set out to do for the SBA as treasurer,” he explained. Ewald proudly noted that although he was one of the last students to secure his summer clerkship job following his first year, he went into his second year with an offer to continue in that position for the next summer.

Success in School and Career
Ewald received the Katsanis scholarship in 1992 and the International Association of Trial Lawyers Award for his work in Trial Practice class during which he was the plaintiff’s counsel in a personal injury case. He still has the award in his office. “From what I was told, I received the highest grade in Trial Practice class,” he explained. “Something about a dry cleaner and the spontaneous combustion of chemicals…” he laughed.

So how did the youngest of six make it to the top so quickly? He started out strong and kept working hard. His first job following graduation was with Fifth Third Bank as Associate Counsel and Compliance Officer where he remained for three years. Interestingly, he had clerked at Fifth Third since the summer after his first year and his boss was also a UC Law graduate.  Ewald was responsible for transactional work, such as contracting for large companies and small merchant clients, and litigation. “I can probably say that I’ve never lost a case,” he said with a laugh. “Unfortunately, I’ve never really won a case either. I had three or four cases go through the beginning stages of the trial process but they were all eventually settled.”

In 1997, with a “perfect” litigation track record, Ewald moved from Cincinnati to Charlotte, North Carolina and began working for the large law firm Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft where he remained for the next two years. There, he worked mostly with corporate finance issues and syndicated lending, the purchase and sale of distressed debt, and bankruptcy. Then, he joined Bank of America.

Transition from Attorney to Business Executive
Ewald explained, “When I joined the bank, I joined as a lawyer and worked in that capacity for eight years.” In 2006, he moved from Charlotte to New York to take the position as a business executive at Bank of America Securities LLC. This is where he made his move from the legal side of the company to the business side. Today, most of his work is corporate. “I stop short of rendering true legal advice to the bank as that is the purview of the Legal Department, but I make sure if a question or recommendation needs to be submitted to our legal counsel that I’ve worked out foreseeable issues beforehand,” he noted.

It was only a short time before he was promoted to his current position as chief operating officer. He attributes his quick rise in management to the high quality and practical legal education he obtained at UC. “I have colleagues from just about every Ivy League law school you can think of and there are people who come out of those schools with terrific, but highly theoretical, legal educations. At UC, I got the opportunity to apply the law while in school. This enabled me to take a practical view on the application of the law which translates directly into business. Being a very pragmatic and commercial attorney,” he said. “I found solutions that were not only legally correct, but practical for the needs of the business as well,” he continued.

Fond Memories of UC Law
A member of the College’s Board of Visitors, Ewald has fond memories of his days at the law school. Naming Professor John Murphy and Professor Ken Aplin as a couple of his favorites, he was also in Professor Christo Lassiter’s first Criminal Law class. He also fondly remembers other professors, including Paul Caron, Ronna Schneider, and Bert Lockwood. “You can’t compare the faculty access and ability to have small classes that UC provides with other larger schools,” he said. “It’s absolutely true that we are the best small law school. You weren’t just a number in a class. You felt special.” Coming from an undergraduate regime where a class could have hundreds of students, Ewald says he felt like an individual at the law school and gives that credit to the outstanding faculty members.

Perhaps his fondest memory of law school was the first day of his first year in his first class—Civil Procedure. “I had the good fortune of being called on to brief the very first case, Pennoyer v. Neff. It was the only 8:00 a.m. class I took in undergraduate or law school.” Fortunately, Ewald was also a member of the first class to experience the Intro to Law week prior to starting classes so he knew how to brief cases beforehand. After that day, Ewald never briefed a single case in his entire time at law school. Instead, he book-briefed every case, highlighting and taking notes in the margins. “I’ve never crammed so much in my life,” he said. “I happened to be in a study group with the top ranked students and I think that was an incredibly valuable law school experience,” he added with a laugh, “It worked for me. I have a good short term memory.”

In his spare time, Ewald enjoys spending time with his wife, high school sweetheart Pamela, whom he married during his first year of law school. Today, she is a professional chef in New York, though she graduated with a pharmacy degree from UC. The two enjoy cooking, wine tasting, and dining out. Ewald is also an avid musician since picking up the guitar at age 10. After a hard week at work, they like to relax, he said, and “just enjoy the city.”

Stephen’s Tips for Professional Success

For students interested in entering the business field, Ewald gives this advice:

  • Market yourself. “A lot depends on opportunity but also on how well you market yourself. If you’ve gotten your legal degree, you need to tell people the value of that degree for what you will be doing for them."
  • Work at a firm. Unless you have the opportunity to go straight into the business field, Ewald strongly suggests spending time at a large law firm. “I learned more at the law firm where I worked for two years than I did in the previous three years at Fifth Third and since then in terms of being a lawyer,” he stated. While the large firm lifestyle can be challenging, he encourages the experience for its value.
  • Know your path. “Even if your ultimate objective is to work in a business capacity, you have two paths,” he said. “If you want your legal background to facilitate business functions, spend the time at a large firm and learn the practice of law. If you want to use your legal background to augment prior business skills, or have business expertise in a particular area, then going straight from law school into business makes sense,” he added.
  •  Get experience. Ewald strongly believes that some type of legal practice is necessary to get the most out of your legal education.

Story by Amanda Shoemaker, Staff Writer