After leaving his first job, Kevin McLaughlin spent six months on a backpacking trip, traveling through Asian and European countries. Courtesy Laura House, House Photography
Kevin McLaughlin started his law career in an unorthodox way.
McLaughlin founded Crafted Law in Grand Rapids two years ago. He works alongside other entrepreneurs in an office space that is operated by Start Garden, an organization that provides an array of services to new startups.
At times, he works remotely, and although he doesn’t have a permanent office space to call his own, McLaughlin’s legal career has garnered the attention of the state. He was named by Michigan Lawyers Weekly, a statewide legal publication, to its 2019 Up & Coming Lawyers class.
McLaughlin focuses on trademarks, copyright and other business-related issues. According to McLaughlin, he was elected president of the Young Lawyers Section of the Grand Rapids Bar Association. He will begin his term in January.
He also has made a name for himself on the international stage. McLaughlin will be starting a two-year term on the Commercialization of Brands Committee for the International Trademark Association in January. The committee “develops resources including educational programs and best practice guidelines relating to the in-market commercialization of brand offerings. This committee will consider such issues as marketing and advertising regulatory issues, agreements including licenses, distribution, supply and agency agreements, tax, brand valuation, brand evaluation and related issues to support the commercial success of product and service offerings."
McLaughlin’s decision to start his practice was born out of pure frustration regarding where he was in his career, which was comprised of job roles he wasn’t genuinely happy doing and unfortunate events.
The precursor to the Kalamazoo native’s legal career began when he decided to attend Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego after transferring from Taylor University in Indiana. He contemplated studying international business but settled on business administration, yet not entirely sure what exactly he wanted to do.
After graduating, he began working as a claims adjustor at a car insurance company in San Diego, but after eight months, he left.
“I really did not enjoy it,” he said. “As a kid coming out of college, it paid OK, but I knew it wasn’t going to be a super long-term job.”
After leaving, he spent about six months on a backpacking trip, traveling through Beijing, Hong Kong, Thailand, Tanzania, Zanzibar and some European countries.
Around the time he returned to the United States, he was convinced by a childhood friend, who already was in law school, to do the same.
“Part of it was the fact I didn’t have anything super interesting career-wise and with the recession, which I didn’t really know how bad it was going to be,” he said. “I was interested in how law intersects with many industries. I was basically thinking I still want to work on business but from the legal side of things. I was also interested in how society operates and why things are the way they are and how the law impacts that.”
McLaughlin attended Indiana University Maurer School of Law, where he graduated in 2012. After graduation, he immediately felt the impact of what the recession left behind. He said attorneys who had experience but were laid off were able to find employment faster because of their experience, leaving those who just graduated at a disadvantage.
He found a job at a medical malpractice defense firm. Although he found a job, McLaughlin said it wasn’t the type of law he wanted to practice because the cases he worked on were “depressing issues,” not to mention he also was living with a roommate in a one-bedroom residence.
“I met my amazing now-wife in California and bless her heart for continuing to date me despite the fact that I was living on a twin mattress on the floor of my friend’s living room,” he said. “In the morning, I’d roll off the bed, go to the corner where my clothes were, put on my suit and head to work. During that time, I had some really hard conversations with myself. I wondered for the first time if maybe I wasn’t as smart or capable as I thought I was. I wondered if I’d ever be able to provide my wife and myself and our future kids with the security and other things I wanted for them.
“That hurt, but it ultimately strengthened my resolve, my determination and my faith. I also realized at some point in my meandering career path that I was never going to be happy working in a firm for someone else, on issues I wasn’t passionate about, building something that wasn’t mine.”
He moved to Chicago where he got a job at a law firm focusing on consumer protection issues such as defending individuals who were at odds with debt collectors, among other things. Although he was working, he still didn’t feel content in his career even though he liked the people he was working with. So, with the encouragement of a friend, he moved back to Michigan to his parents’ home to work at his friend’s family real estate development business in the area. He was helping to negotiate the terms of contracts and leases, among other things.
Ultimately, McLaughlin was laid off.
“The years since I’ve graduated from law school have been the most challenging but also the most rewarding of my life,” he said. “In some ways, I think growing up the way I did made it harder to adjust to the reality of life after higher education since I hadn’t faced serious hardship or adversity up to that point. I assumed I would get a steady job that paid well after graduation, aggressively pay off my student loans and then just decide what I wanted to do from there.
“Instead, I went jobless for almost a year after graduation. Then, I found myself living at home just to get by, doing work I didn’t enjoy or care about, making just enough, and sometimes not enough money, to get by. I didn’t see any clear path forward. I took a litigation job out of school because that was what I was able to get. I moved from Michigan to California to Illinois and collected law licenses at each stop hoping to find greener pastures. I kept telling myself at each stop that if I could just get a little more experience here, I could work toward my dream of doing what I actually wanted to do, which, again, was something business-ish.”
McLaughlin took a leap of faith when he decided to start his practice. He said he didn’t find joy in litigation cases because it was a “you win, I lose” situation. He preferred a “win, win” solution on both sides, and focusing on copyright, trademark and other business cases allowed him to do that.
Starting a solo practice wasn’t foreign to McLaughlin, however. His father started his own dental practice. Nevertheless, he had to go through some growing pains on how to market himself as an independent attorney without his own office space, as well as find clients. Many of his clients are a result of referrals, networking and creating a web presence.
Although it took him a while to settle into a career he is satisfied with, McLaughlin said he is using his own experience to help others.
“When it came right down to it, I had been wanting and wishing for a certain life for myself, but I hadn’t been willing to take the steps necessary to start going down that path,” he said. “I vowed to myself that I would start a firm that would help people like myself — people with an entrepreneurial spirit who wanted to see what kind of a future they could create for themselves, how much of their natural potential they could unleash.”