Rochelle Friedman Walk is a skilled, methodical, and strategic lawyer, executive, and impartial mediator. She is a participant in the FINRA arbitration and mediation panels and has been appointed by the court as a receiver and mediator. She is renowned for her talent in conflict resolution and for bringing parties together to find innovative, win-win solutions. She advocates for a pragmatic and business-focused approach to legal practice. Her business background gives her the ability to relate to clients well and define the work and potential solutions quickly.
She has more than thirty years of experience in business and law, during which time she has held the positions of Business Unit Manager, Chief Administrative Officer, Chief Legal Officer, and Chief Restructuring Officer for various domestic and international business organizations. She has acted as a client’s advocate in a variety of legal matters, including complicated business, e-commerce, technology, real estate, financial restructuring, and employment cases. She has worked with various international unions to address issues and has served as an ombudsman in the employment, elder care, NAACP, creditor, and shareholder sectors. Most recently, she has been hired as a neutral mediator or arbitrator to assist business partners and owners in resolving conflicts and disagreements so that their companies can run more efficiently. Her work for LLCs, partnerships, and corporations includes mediating and negotiating buy-sell agreements, partner or member buy-outs, and new partner or member admissions.
For lawyers, the beginning starts with passing the bar. Rochelle worked at a great mid-sized firm in Cleveland, Ohio and still has close friends there. She then went in-house to The Sherwin Williams Company, where she was in the legal department, handling corporate and M&A transactions. The real turning point in her career came when she left the legal department and worked in operations, primarily marketing and brand management. She shares, “Running a business unit gave me the insight I needed to understand business at a level that is not apparent to most lawyers.”
Rochelle left Sherwin Williams left and joined Oglebay Norton, where she soon began serving as General Counsel in addition to her other corporate responsibilities. Because of the bankruptcy of that company, she gained extensive knowledge of public company restructuring.
Rochelle relocated to Tampa, Florida as general counsel for Anchor Glass Container Corporation from 2007 until her appointment as chief administrative officer in 2008. It had three bankruptcies in about ten years and faced numerous operational and financial difficulties. She had both corporate and functional responsibilities at each of these businesses’ legal departments. Rochelle gained first-hand knowledge of managing both large and small businesses, managing human resource issues, navigating IP, technology, environmental, health, and safety issues, budget, shareholders; and the variety of things that go right and wrong every day as a result of the balance. These are lessons that can only be learned through experience and cannot be taught in a classroom.
The Tikun Olam award Rochelle received this past spring from the Tampa JCCs and Federation in appreciation of my service to the Tampa Jewish Community was the best leadership honor Rochelle has ever received. The honor she received as a surprise had little to do with her legal career and much more to do with how she defined success and personal achievement.
Rochelle asserts, “Giving back to the community, your time, your know-how, and your funds in a way that is meaningful to you is the best feeling and the ultimate success. It is not about the recognition but all about knowing I made a difference.”
Rochelle asserts she can’t take full credit for AEGIS LAW’s expansion because, in reality, she combined her own firm, Walk Law Firm, with AEGIS in July 2018. When she left her final corporate CAO/GC position in 2010, she started her own business. She had no private clients and resided in Tampa, Florida. The Florida Bar Exam was another requirement.
Over the course of the following few years, Rochelle worked to create a vision and a following for her idea. She initially offered corporate legal services for a set fee through the website FlatFeeLawyer.com. Over time, it changed to emphasize her expertise as a finance and mergers and acquisitions lawyer, particularly her work with consumer goods and technology companies. She shares, “The growth of online direct-to-consumer (d2c) sellers was incredible, especially on Amazon. As a firm, we cornered the market on general counsel work and M&A for these types of businesses. We learned about Amazon, eBay, Shopify, Big Commerce, Jet.com, Walmart.com and many other marketplaces.” By 2018, the practice had 5 attorneys and a paralegal, and Rochelle started to think about succession. She shares, “I knew I needed a strong succession plan for myself, my team, and my clients.”
When Rochelle discovered AEGIS Law, she saw an opportunity to grow the firm, take advantage of their expertise in technology and venture capital, profit from their real estate group, and have them gain from her specialized M&A and finance practice. She was confident that her attorneys would continue to receive fair compensation for their work because their compensation model was somewhat similar to mine. Rochelle considers, “It’s been a great merger and together we have been able to grow the overall practice.” AEGIS has added more boutique practices like Rochelle’s, including in healthcare and tax, and together she and the firm have been able to attract more clients and more attorneys who like AEGIS model.
At AEGIS, Rochelle is responsible for leading the M&A activities, mentoring and developing attorneys, originating new business and working closely with the other managing partners on strategy.
Growing as a mom and Leader
Rochelle has been a devoted mother and wife for the past 37 years of her marriage, has two adult children who are now in their thirties, and has always worked full-time. To achieve balance, this entails assigning some tasks, such as laundry and housework, shopping, and determining the activities that you must, should, and want to do. She asked a friend to serve as her co-room mother because she wanted to be a room mother and go on field trips. Rochelle shares, “She did not work outside the house and did a lot of the school visits for 10-minute parties, but she did not always have the ability to go on all day field trips due to responsibilities at home, so I did those infrequent trips that took full days.”
Rochelle also handled the mailing list and call list because she was good on a computer, and her friend handled the mom meetings. She had to tell her boss that she needed a day to be a room mother, and she never got pushback because she always got all of the work done on time. Rochelle asserts, “I do a lot of community volunteer work. When I was younger, I did less and focused on activities related to my kids at school or temple. I think the community work helps with balance.” She further adds, “I would never and have never taken on community work for which I did/do not have a passion. If you are not passionate about it, you will meet no one and you will not engage. I get lots of clients from my volunteer work, but only because I am truly engaged.”
Facing Challenges and Overcoming Them
In daily life and pursuits, there are obstacles of all sizes, but some are greater and more difficult to overcome. Rochelle is aware that success frequently requires a team effort and that going it alone will typically lead to a longer struggle and less success. She discovers that even a successful athlete in a single sport has coaches, mentors, and other people who help them succeed. She says, “I am at my strongest when my team is aligned, working in the same direction and feeling the rewards and appreciation for the effort.”
As a woman in corporate law, especially early on when every board room was made up of very senior white male executives, Rochelle had to navigate the room and conversation. The casual conversation was the hardest. Being “one of the boys” at the time was an important aspect of corporate culture. She was left out of social outings like golf games and hunting outings because she didn’t share many of the same interests as the men in the room. She recalls, “These men sometimes just didn’t know what to make of me and landed somewhere between treating me like their daughter or just ignoring me. Business conversation was never an issue because I could easily keep up and contribute in a meaningful way.” She shares that her husband helped with the social conversation. She expresses, “He gave me pointers and talking points about the latest and greatest in sports. He helped me identify when it was best to walk away before I was offended by the inappropriate conversation and how to say to the men, “Hey, let’s not go there and then I won’t have to report you to GC,” with a smile and in a way that everyone stopped without offense. Of course, they all understood that I was the GC.”
Aligning Personal and Professional Life
Rochelle takes time to exercise multiple times a week. She has standing appointments with her trainer for Pilates twice a week at 7:30 am. It was earlier, but as she has chosen to slow down a bit, she accommodated a later start. She also walks, reads, and spends time with her non-profit activities, her family, and her friends. She shares, “I watch my diet and choose to eat at home with my husband over going out to dinner. I enjoy entertaining and inviting friends and family to join us at our home for dinner is a great way to relax.”
According to Rochelle, at work, motivation is different for everyone. Rochelle tries to meet her team where they are and motivates them with those things that are most meaningful to each of them. She does not think one size fits all. She shares, “Some of my team work hard to make more money, others to make a difference, others because they have not developed hobbies or found what else interests them most.” She also tries to align work with skills, interests, and capacity. She recalls, “Our workload was well over our capacity last fall and winter but has normalized a bit since the economy has slowed down.” Rochelle is using this time to offer more mentorship to her associates: talking about ways to find new work; taking vacations that have been put on hold since COVID; creating more time for her volunteer work and family and developing new skills.
When others are focused on the uncertainty, Rochelle is networking and paying attention to what clients want and need. The challenging economy is actually an opportunity. The team is as busy as ever, she says, just shifting their focus to accommodate client needs. She is also teaching the team new skills, which is very inspiring, especially when they succeed.
New Day, New Goal
Every day, Rochelle sets new objectives. She is now concentrating on the next Act. In order for younger attorneys to successfully represent her clients and come up with their own cases, she is slowing down at the firm and concentrating on strategy and mentoring. Rochelle is collaborating with several firm attorneys to achieve her goal of long-term firm and individual attorney success.
Rochelle is still working on her volunteer social welfare agenda. She opines, “Greatness is when we recognize diversity matters, improves our businesses, work product, and overall, society. We need to respect each other and each other’s personal rights, and I will likely continue to work toward those goals through mentorship and other efforts that improve community relations.”
A Unique Perspective on Success
It is not just every leader that has a unique view of success, but every person. Rochelle feels fortunate because she has been very well supported by her family and friends in achieving her goals over a 37-year career as a lawyer, executivie and community volunteer. Rochelle asserts, “I have learned that my definition of success aligns with my current goals, and goals change and move as time passes and success is achieved.”
For Rochelle, success is personal. It is not achieved when someone recognizes her accomplishments or when she recognizes someone else’s accomplishment, but rather when she determines that she has achieved her goal or has done as much as reasonably possible toward improving an imperfect situation. She says, “It took me some time before I realized that not all situations can be made perfect, but most can be made better.”
A Vision for the Future of AEGIS LAW
Being a lawyer is challenging, and Rochelle thinks that if one attends law school, one should take the time to develop new ways of thinking and be ready to learn how to practice law in the first five or more years after graduating. She says it’s important to comprehend the fundamentals of the law, including why and how contracts and laws are created. Rochelle recalls, “A very smart mentor of mine repeatedly said, we were given two eyes, two ears, and only one mouth. Speak about half the time you look and half of the time you listen. You can learn more and be more effective by paying attention with your ears and eyes.”
Rochelle believes that AEGIS has a promising future. According to her, AEGIS is a unique kind of law firm that allows attorneys to practice from any state or location they choose. The team already had a flexible compensation structure and a work from anywhere model that allowed the firm to value both business creators and attorneys who prioritize production before COVID. She adds that AEGIS is innovating and that it is the way that law firms will operate in the future. “We are growing rapidly and would welcome conversations from boutique firms, individual or groups of attorneys who might like a flexible structure,” says Rochelle. She further adds that her only caveat is, the work still needs to be done so plan on working hard but in a happier environment.