When native New Yorker Erin Olshever moved from the Big Apple to Chattanooga in January, she thought she was simply trading the harsh northern winters she’d come to despise for the milder December-March stretch for which the South is known. But Olshever and her fiancé quickly learned that the weather isn’t the only thing that’s friendlier in Tennessee.
“New Yorkers have a shell. But here, people would wave at us and said ‘hi,’” Olshever says. “I wondered why. It took me a while to adjust to how friendly people are.”
Olshever eventually became accustomed to the congeniality of her Southern neighbors and started waving back. “It’s a nice change from New York City, where being courteous is a challenge for many people.’’
Apart from that, adjusting to life in the Scenic City has been easy for the 33-year-old Olshever. Instead of experiencing culture shock as she downsized from a teeming metropolis to a more laidback setting, she simply exchanged one small community for another.
“Even though there are a lot of people in New York, I wound up going to many of the same places,” she says. “I’m starting to do that here, so it’s not too different from living in New York.”
Olshever’s small community within the larger city she now calls home is partly made up of her colleagues at Husch Blackwell, the law firm that hired her before she moved to the South.
Although Husch Blackwell’s Chattanooga office is part of a large firm with 18 locations across the U.S., locally, it has the feel of a small, intimate practice (albeit one with the resources of a monolithic organization). This suited Olshever who previously practiced with her father at his small firm.
As Olshever settled in at Husch Blackwell, she found the attorneys and staff to be as welcoming and friendly as the strangers she passed on the sidewalks outside.
“This was the change I needed,” she says of moving to Chattanooga. “In New York, everyone is trying to one-up each other. Here, it seems people want to support one another. It feels like a healthier environment.”
The positively charged atmosphere at Husch Blackwell has helped Olshever quickly find her place at the firm and pick up steam.
A member of the manufacturing transportation group and corporate subgroup at Husch Blackwell, Olshever specializes in commercial contracting. This focus allows her to become involved in many different practice areas.
Since starting with Husch Blackwell in January, Olshever has worked with Ron Feldman on various real estate projects, Alan Cates on a number of operating agreements and other contracts for his estate clients and Katie Giannasi on commercial contracting (among other work).
Olshever is enjoying the exposure to a wide range of clients, as she says it provides a steady stream of varied and interesting work.
It also keeps her feet planted in a transactional practice, which has been her preference since she became an attorney in 2010.
“I can fight when I have to but it’s not what I enjoy,” she adds of trial work, which she dabbled in while practicing in Manhattan. “The beauty of a transaction is, in theory, both sides are working toward the same result.”
Olshever also likes being able to achieve those results faster than litigation is commonly resolved. “I’m still a New Yorker, which means I’m impatient,” she acknowledges. “I enjoy watching a deal start and end.”
As Olshever discusses her work, she speaks at a rapid-fire clip. She maintains this pace at all times, as though she’s in a hurry to reach the end of each statement, or is simply processing the world faster than most people.
“I’m still working on relaxing. I’ve never been good at it,” she admits. “Even my clients in New York asked me to talk slower. In my head, I hear it slower and sometimes forget it’s coming across as fast as it is.”
Perhaps Olshever’s brisk speech was common in Lake Success, the Long Island village in which she grew up. The daughter of a hard-working attorney, she saw the long hours her father worked and the extreme stress he was always under and developed an aversion to the law.
So, when Olshever landed at the University of Maryland after high school, she pursued a business degree instead. “I studied marketing and operations management,” she says. “I’ve always enjoyed trying to figure out what makes people tick and why they do what they do.”
None of the jobs that were available to Olshever after college interested her, so she attended law school to gain a better understanding of where she wanted to be in the business world.
But as Olshever took classes at New York Law School in Manhattan, she enjoyed the intellectual challenge the law presented and saw that it would allow her to experience a varied career.
“Being able to interact with clients and pursue transactional law allows every day to be unique since even a similar agreement takes on a wildly different challenge when working with different groups of people,” she says.
Olshever went from the classroom to working for a large Manhattan law firm. As she learned how to structure a deal and communicate with clients and adversaries, her understanding of the business and practice of law grew.
Two years after Olshever started practicing, she transitioned to working for her father. Because he owned a small practice, there was no period of ramping up from simple tasks to more complex work; instead, Olshever was immediately thrown into working directly with clients and developing those relationships.
“I quickly became the primary source of contact for clients, which accelerated my career,” she recalls.
While productive, the transition from daughter to associate was rough for Olshever. “Most people thought my dad would treat me with more patience, but it was the opposite,” she explains. “He had higher expectations for me than he had for any other associate. I was expected to produce more, bill more and have better relationships with clients.”
Olshever learned the fine points of commercial real estate while working for her father, who marketed his firm as a specialized boutique that handled complicated leasing work and difficult tenants, among other complex cases.
Olshever and her father worked hard to earn the trust of their clients, many of whom expanded their relationship with the firm to include general corporate contracting and advice on operations. “It was a good general exposure to the law,” Olshever says.
Although it took Olshever and her father about six months to learn how to work together, in the end, practicing law under the same roof brought them closer together. “We learned we have the same sense of humor and got to know each other as people instead of just father and daughter,” Olshever adds.
Eventually, Olshever and her fiancé, a Mississippi native she met through an online dating service, grew weary of New York and felt pulled southward, toward warmer winters and less congestion.
After visiting about a dozen cities, they chose Chattanooga. “It was the first place that felt like it could be our home,” she says.
Olshever was thrilled when Husch Blackwell hired her as senior counsel. Since her arrival, she’s not the only one who’s pleased she’s there.
“Erin has been a wonderful addition to our office,” Cates says. “In the short time she’s been here, she’s become a valued colleague in part by the extraordinarily high quality of her work but mostly by the manner in which she relates to clients and co-workers.
“She’s smart and professional but also warm and engaging in conveying her genuine interest in the client’s matter and in the well-being of the client through the process.
“She’s already established an excellent rapport with specific people I serve and whose relationships, professionally and personally, are important to me. I have confidence in Erin and expect she will distinguish herself in this community.”
Samantha Lunn, the person in charge of recruiting for Husch Blackwell in Chattanooga, says a single meeting convinced her Olshever would be a natural fit for the firm.
“Erin has seamlessly joined deal teams, working with clients and partners across our national platform,” Lunn says. “I’m excited to see Erin become a transactional force in the Chattanooga legal market and to expand her role as a trusted adviser for clients on significant commercial and real estate deals.”
Finally, Giannasi says Olshever’s “work ethic and enthusiasm for her practice have brought great energy to the office.”
As Olshever reflects on this new chapter in her life, her speech actually slows a notch. As she’s settled into a more relaxed environment, she’s learned there are things about herself she wants to change. One of those is the workhorse mentality she inherited from her father.
“While I consider myself a workaholic and I do take it home with me whether I want to or not, I’m hoping to have a more well-rounded life in the South,” she continues. “What I like about Husch Blackwell is they allow you to pursue other opportunities, such as pro bono work, so you can be well rounded and personable.”
Perhaps having a little elbow room at home will help. Olshever is renting a townhouse in Cameron Harbor, where her neighbors live 3 feet away. While this narrow separation might feel constrictive to some in the South, to Olshever, it’s an expanse.
“We lived in a condo in New York, and there were people above, below and next to us,” she says. “Our biggest priority when we moved here was a house where none of our neighbors touched our walls. It’s nice.”
Olshever has also increased her personal mobility since moving to Chattanooga. After relying on walking and public transportation in Manhattan, she’s the proud owner of a Honda CRV. When she purchased the vehicle, she hadn’t driven in 10 years.
“We didn’t have a car in New York. Now we have two. It was easy to stop driving but it’s been a bit of a process to get back into it,” she says.
Although Olshever has yet to feel fully relaxed behind the wheel, she says driving beats public transportation. “The sights, sounds and smells of the subway can steal your joy,” she adds.
The Honda will be perfect for transporting her 3-year-old labradoodle, Hurley, to local trail heads. “On the weekends, he encourages us to get outside. Now that the weather is improving, we’re going to start hiking and taking advantage of the outdoor opportunities that exist here.”
Perhaps the people Olshever passes on the trails will wave and say hello. Having left the Big Apple behind and made her home in the Scenic City, she’s ready to return the greeting with a quick smile.
“From what everyone has told me, Chattanooga has expanded and changed dramatically, and it’s exciting to come here at a time when that’s happened. But like any good city, there’s always room for improvement, and I’m looking forward to being a part of what’s next,” she says.
“I take that as a personal challenge, too, as I’m always learning and hoping to improve myself.”