Jennifer Wolfe’s business plan was a dud.

In 2003, the now-36-year-old owner of The Wolfe Practice, a Blue Ash law firm, dove into her strategy to establish a formidable practice by quickly hiring 10 or more staff attorneys who could offer bread-and-butter legal work in divorce, estate planning and litigation.

Problem was, Wolfe’s specialty was intellectual property and contract work — areas in rare combination with her expertise in marketing, public relations and communications, which she gained thanks to her previous work experience in the 1990s and a master’s degree in communications she earned in 1999. Instead of building her own client base when she began adding staff, Wolfe’s time was spent building the practices of staff attorneys whose success didn’t directly depend on bringing in more work.

“I was completely and totally wrong. It was not a bad assumption but a wrong assumption because what that meant was because all those people were on staff they didn’t have anything to gain or lose based on the success of our firm,” Wolfe says.

In the summer of 2007, she conceded her mistake, tore up the plan and began again. Eliminating attorneys from other practice areas, Wolfe resolved this time to stick to her niche and surround herself with like-minded colleagues.

“I had to take a step back and say it’s not about how many lawyers we have,” Wolfe says. “There is some basic overhead associated with buying a law firm and we have to cover those costs. But I decided to really stay focused on finance for a period of time if we needed to so that we get the work that we want.”

The gambit paid off. Since Wolfe revised her business plan, her firm has grown steadily to five attorneys who cater to emerging and Fortune 500 companies alike. She now uses the story of turning failure into success as proof to entrepreneurial clients that her firm knows what it’s like to be a start-up business and has gathered wisdom from its own trials and errors.

“Nobody builds a business without making mistakes. And it’s usually your failures and recognizing them I think that helps you the most,” she says.

Wolfe’s journey to success involved constant reevaluation of her goals and how to achieve them. After she graduated from Ball State University with a bachelor’s in journalism in 1993, she quickly rose to become marketing director of Reach Publishing, a company that produces magazines in 23 U.S. markets, and she started night classes at the University of Cincinnati toward a master’s in communication. In her mid-20s, she was moving up, but her eyes strayed to a different ladder.

“I looked at the company where I was working, and I thought I’d really like to own my own company. I liked the idea of having some control over your life but also to be able to create a really great environment for other people to work in,” she says.

So, she tore up the plan and enrolled in UC’s law school. The summer after her second year there, Wolfe picked up communications courses. That fall and for the rest of the academic year, she went on an education bender, taking 22 credit hours in law and communications.

“When I finished law school, I wrote my thesis, defended my thesis and took the bar exam in about a six-week time period. I was single, and that’s the time when you can really shut yourself down for a period, so that’s how I did that,” she says.

Today, Wolfe’s practice includes work with Fortune 500 clients such as Kroger and entrepreneurial start-ups like Fan Bash, a sports media company that is incubating in her Blue Ash office. Growing her clientele is challenging as a woman and as a lawyer under the age of 40, but she works to use both to her advantage.

While large companies often have stated goals of hiring minority- or female-owned firms, Wolf says it’s easy to get a meeting but harder to get work. Still, she says, persistence pays off, and the practice is growing.

“With smaller companies and privately held companies, yes, it does make it harder to get in because Cincinnati is very good-old-boy networked. I mean, literally, people are giving the legal work to their buddies from where they went to high school. It goes back that far and that deep. And that’s pretty hard to overcome no matter how good you are,” Wolfe says.

She has a plan for that, too: “It’s usually when their buddy goes off to do something else and they get passed off to someone else who they don’t like as much, they’re looking for a change. That’s usually where we find that opening.”

Wolfe usually learns about those openings through the network she has fostered among peers and clients since she opened her firm in 2000. Her stable of clients includes a formidable group who use her expertise in entertainment law. Clients include Scripps Networks and independent film producers such as Bruce Romans.

While a Cincinnati-based lawyer may not immediately come to mind when thinking of entertainment law, Wolfe has carved her niche. “Bruce Romans has other people in the entertainment industry out in California who are actually looking for a lawyer who’s not in the Los Angeles circle, primarily because they’re looking for someone they can trust a little more as their career is getting started. L.A. attorneys are not going to take care of you if you’re the little guy,” she says.

Wolfe’s business plan includes taking care of her family and her staff attorneys as well. Her formula for profitability begins with attorneys working 1,300 billable hours a year, compared to many firms who strive for 2,000.

“We anticipate people to have anywhere from five to six weeks off a year. And that’s how we built the economics of our firm. It’s just a different approach,” she says.

Wolfe and her husband, Bob “Wolfie” Wolfe, live just down the street from her Blue Ash office with their son. Jennifer Wolfe works hard at the office but carves out time for her family to maintain a balance. For example, she doesn’t schedule external meetings on Monadys and Fridays.

Jennifer Wolfe’s 5 TIPS for Entrepreneurs
1) Focus your business on one or two products or services that you can deliver better than any other company.

2) Dream big and think big. Present your business at all times as though you have achieved your dream. If you believe in it, so will others.

3) It is OK to make mistakes and to fail. Just learn from your mistakes and build a culture that allows others in your organization to do the same.

4) It will take two to three times as long and two to three times as much money as you previously thought to achieve the critical mass you need to be profitable.

5) Identify short-term critical success factors quarterly and long-range goals annually. Be diligent about this ongoing strategic planning, balancing short-term and long-term goals and priorities.Jennifer Wolfe (center) and the Greater Cincinnati Venture Association board.Jennifer Wolfe is the CEO of The Wolfe Practice, a law firm she built from the ground up.