Imagine a lawyer and you probably think of pinstripe suits and wingtips. Buttoned down. Regimented.
Think of a professional musician, on the other hand, and you might envision a creative free spirit who eschews the by-the-book approach to life. Mash them both together – and throw in a splash of entrepreneurial spirit – and you wind up with Tyler Dunham, L’08. “I’ve been a musician pretty much my whole life, “ said Dunham, founder and drummer of the Columbus-based band Capital Sound and an attorney with the Dublin, Ohio, law firm Standley Law Group LLP. “Both of my parents were musicians. We had music going in our house, nonstop. It was always part of my life.” So, when it came time to consider college, his first thought was music. His parents convinced him otherwise. “My parents thought, ‘You need to have a 9 to 5,’” Dunham recalled. “Music is not a real moneymaker. It’s not a solid career. I saw a lot of my friends trying to make a go in music, and it was a struggle.” After getting his mechanical engineering degree from The Ohio State University, he began law school at Capital University – and found a way to dovetail a professional career with his artistic side. “When I got to law school, I knew right when I hit the starting line I wanted to be an intellectual property attorney,” Dunham said. “With my background in music and technology, I wanted to protect people who were creating things, whether they were inventing something or writing a book or writing a song.” So, he took as many IP classes as he could, focusing on patents, trademarks, copyrights, and related legal issues. “I was so convinced I wanted to be a patent attorney that I actually studied for and passed the patent bar exam while I was still in law school just to show potential employers I was very serious about this,” he said. Today, much of his legal work focuses on IP issues. Thanks to his own musical side, Dunham understands the specific needs of artists and other creative types in ways more traditional attorneys can’t.“I speak their language. I can sit and talk with them about all the different steps in music,” Dunham said. “I understand what they want to do with their music. I understand all the different ways they can make money from it and still protect it. I think my clients really appreciate that insight.”Creative clients want creative approaches from their lawyers, too, he said.“There are a lot of clients who want you to bring something to the table that’s different and unique,” he said. “If all you’re doing is citing law to them, you’re not really thinking about what it’s like to be a recording engineer or what’s it like to be a writer and a producer. I understand where they’re coming from, and I think that benefits them a lot.”Dunham said being a performer makes him a better lawyer, and vice versa. “Being comfortable in front of people and on stage can translate very well in a corporate setting, and even more so in larger meetings and when meeting people,” he said. “You’re not panicking when you have people’s eyes on you and you are the center of attention. You’re comfortable and you can speak clearly. Being on stage over and over and over makes those eyeballs less penetrating to you and less nerve-racking. It lets you just sort of relax and think and speak.”Dunham started his band in 2005 to reflect his love of larger-than-life Motown, soul and funk bands from the 1950s to 1970s. He played drums, guitar and piano – but always loved the sound of a band with a powerful horn section. The result was Capital Sound, a nine-piece band that plays gigs ranging from bars and private parties to festivals and concerts.There are the obvious benefits for the band thanks to his legal background. He prepares all the band’s contracts, filed the business organization papers and manages the taxes. His legal training helps him protect the band’s interests.“There are a lot of musicians who might work on a handshake basis or maybe on a couple of emails. I’m sure there are some of our clients who get our contract and say, ‘Holy cow! Where is this thing coming from?’”For those people who think being both an attorney and musician would leave Dunham little time for anything else, they might be surprised by his latest venture. He is the owner of Wakeopolis, a water sports park located on a private lake in Marysville, Ohio, equipped with an electric overhead cable that pulls riders across the water on wakeboards without the need for a boat. The result is a hybrid of waterskiing, snowboarding and controlled insanity that just happens to be much more friendly to the environment than water sports requiring motorboats.“I’ve never been a person who was content doing just one thing. I just get bored too easily. I have to have a lot of different things going on,” he said. “But I’ve never travelled the normal route. I’ve never done things the way you were supposed to. My parents taught me that if there wasn’t a path, and you really felt that was the way to go, then you should just make your own path.”
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