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Legal Training Critical to Business Success for Bruce Eichner '69

Ian Bruce Eichner ’69 had “fond memories” of his three years at the College of Law and, more than 40 years later, he decided to give back by creating a fellowship program.

This summer, two 3L students, Matt Mikhail and Yinan Zhang, gained hands on legal and business training at Eichner’s New York City real estate development business, The Continuum Company LLC. Their exploration of non-traditional career paths came as part of the Eichner Family Foundation Entrepreneurship Fellows Program started by the Continuum CEO.

“I looked at this and said, ‘we have this interesting little company and I’ve got a very smart and capable general counsel (Michael Merola) who is responsible for all kinds of different legal matters. And we’ve got this other side of the company that’s responsible for all kinds of interesting business opportunities and problems.  What an interesting opportunity for one or two young people to come spend a couple of months and get exposed to both,’” Eichner said.

Continuum, while based in New York, also has property in Miami. Eichner’s business, both Continuum and its predecessor, has developed more than 12 million square feet totaling over $6 billion in its 30 year history – an impressive feat in itself, but also when considering Eichner came to UC to pursue a career in criminal law.

After growing up in New York and graduating from the University of Buffalo, Eichner was set on pursuing a legal education away from the East Coast. His decision to enroll at UC was influenced by the fact that then-dean Claude Sowle had written a casebook on criminal law, he said.

Throughout school and after graduation, Eichner remained interested in criminal law. The summer after his second year, he worked for “then-legendary district attorney of New York County, Frank Hogan.” He later took a job out of law school as an assistant district attorney in Kings County (Brooklyn), though it took a bit of effort to jumpstart his legal career.

“I remember very vividly, when I graduated, that I wrote some 50 letters to 50 law firms and essentially – having graduated last in the class, needless to say – no one hurried to ask me for an interview,” Eichner said.

The first several years of Eichner’s working career were on the non-profit side, he said, first with the D.A. position in Kings County from 1969 to 1971, and thereafter with a gubernatorial agency, the New York State Division of Criminal Justice.

During his government career, Eichner noticed significant differences in pay between him and the others he knew from New York that attended law school.

“I decided I needed to something to support my government habit,” Eichner said of his attempts to go into the real estate business on the side. “The problem was I didn’t know anything about the real estate business. So I started walking in the neighborhoods and meeting real estate agents. Then, in 1973, I bought my first brownstone (in Brooklyn) and that’s how that started.”

With his name on the door, as Eichner Development Corp., the 1969 College of Law graduate did a “series of increasingly larger rehabs and started with brownstones, then small hotels and then slightly larger hotels.” He said it culminated at the end of the 1970s with a 13-story hotel. Not long after, an Australian company financially backed Eichner on a 40-story high rise project.

“That really changed my development horizon from being a relatively small, rehab-oriented residential developer, to heading a company that went on to build millions of square feet of residential and office property in New York between 1980 and 1992,” he said.

The market crashed in 1992, but after “digging (his) way out of a bunch of busted projects,” it was business as usual for Eichner by the mid-90s. Not too long after came an acquisition of a large piece of land in South Florida, which became known as The Continuum on South Beach, and this paved the way for The Continuum Company as it is known today.

Thus, Eichner went from working in criminal justice – both as a prosecutor and a gubernatorial employee – to working full-time in real estate for what is now more than three decades.

Eichner said his legal education and professional training as a lawyer have been beneficial as a business person – whether that involves reading a document or interacting with lenders, for example.

“The law is a prominent piece of virtually every element of the real estate development business,” Eichner said. “It’s certainly not unhelpful that I had exposure to that at one point in my life.”

Through all of these experiences, Eichner was able to bring two students on board this past summer as fellows, and open them up to a non-traditional career path. He recalled taking Yinan Zhang to Brooklyn and walking around for 45 minutes, talking to her about what he saw from the real estate development perspective.

“I think that her exposure to this very entrepreneurial way of looking at things made quite an impression, which I think was the whole purpose,” he said. “That is what I hoped more than anything. Particularly, the idea of taking people from Cincinnati that may or may not have had any exposure to a place like New York and giving them a couple looks (legal and development) at experience in the summer.”

During the summer of 2013, one student is expected to head to New York as an Entrepreneurial Fellow.

Eichner, who is married and has two daughters in their mid-20s, has been back in town twice in the last decade or so. Earlier this year, he was invited back to teach a couple classes, while 10-plus years ago he addressed College of Law students at graduation. Eichner also gets together with one of his classmates every few years in New York or Florida, he said.

In his free time, Eichner enjoys playing tennis and on an annual basis enjoys going on safaris in Africa.

By Jordan Cohen, ‘13