This is part of the ongoing Teen Career Advice series. I’ve reached out to leaders in a wide array of fields, from big animal veterinarians who care for lions, giraffes and more, to an actress and writer, marketing director, tech guru and more. If you would like to be a part of the series or have a request for a specific industry or career, please email me at email@example.com.
He didn’t set out to be one of the best lawyers to serve locals in his hometown, but a series of fateful events and knowing mentors guided Rory Vohwinkel to find a calling helping people in difficult situations.
“I didn’t think I wanted to be a litigator, they deal with a lot of conflict,” said Vohwinkel, Founder and Managing Attorney of Vohwinkel Law. The local law firm looks to educate clients with a hands-on approach to eliminating debt and financial distress. “But I found, as a lawyer, whether real estate, corporate, bankruptcy, you have an opportunity to help people at one of the worst times of their lives get beyond it and even prosper.”
It was a long and successful road from a working-class family in Las Vegas to stellar law student and founder of a thriving business.
“I was the first generation in my family to go to college,” said Vohwinkel, a Las Vegas native. “I couldn’t wait to get out of Vegas after high school and see what else was out there.”
His mostly affluent high school friends were applying to Ivy League colleges and interning at law firms and corporate offices around Las Vegas in preparation for their long-planned higher education pursuits.
“They were exposed to professions during the summers in high school while I was working to make money,” Vohwinkel said. “I didn’t realize we weren’t on the same playing field until I started to apply to college.”
While many of his friends had computers in high school, he felt grateful for the computer he received in college, somewhat of an anomaly more than 20 years ago.
“I worked hard, but I didn’t get my first computer until I went to college,” he said. “At the time, I didn’t realize how much those resources helped my friends get ahead early.”
This difference in economic backgrounds would stay with him as he rose the corporate ladder in the burgeoning technology industry, and later law. This difference in opportunity and resources would inspire his extensive community work and contributions from a young age.
While working at a tech company in Silicon Valley, he was moved by an iconic film of the time.
“I watched ‘Office Space’ and I knew I didn’t want to grind my life out in a cubicle working for this big company for the rest of my life,” he said. A mentor gave him advice that would change his life – Get as much education as you can and go to law school.
“He said, ‘even if you don’t use the law degree, you can use it for leverage in the future to get ahead,’” Vohwinkel said.
Turning Advice Into Action
He applied to law schools. His former stellar transcripts and proven work ethic got the attention of quite a few premier law schools, including Loyola Marymount, Santa Clara and the University of San Diego. But then a letter arrived from the James E. Rogers College of Law at the University of Arizona.
“They liked that I was a Las Vegas native,” Vohwinkel said. “The cost of living is low, and the tuition. They also waived my out-of-state tuition. And I could come back to my family that still lived here.”
The move would be beneficial to Vohwinkel and his growing family as well as the city. He began practicing law in 2003 and worked as general counsel for a commercial real estate firm and one of Nevada’s oldest law firms that represented large companies and mortgage lenders. He and his wife Liz are active in numerous charities, including the Federal Club Members of the Human Rights Campaign, United Way of Southern Nevada, PBS, Nevada Public Radio and more.
“I’ve gained so much from mentors, I wanted to give back to the community,” he said.
TURNING POINT OPENED DOORS
Vohwinkel is unconventional when it comes to being a lawyer. Past client’s missteps have made him reevaluate his own path more than once. A particularly grueling and emotionally painful case involved a prominent family that tore each other apart after the passing of the patriarch, who had built the company.
“It came down to a fight over one piece of property,” V said. “They were already really wealthy, and they would continue to be wealthy, but they got into a lawsuit over this one-piece land. They were all going to make money anyways. It didn’t make sense.”
The end result was a family in tatters and no longer on speaking terms.
“They lost their family over…stuff,” Vohwinkel said. “It always stuck with me that the family was so wrapped up in money that they couldn’t work things out. My family is very important to me. I couldn’t see the point of this just to have more money.”
After working with a few prominent firms, he decided to start his own firm in 2009. The transition wasn’t as smooth as he had hoped.
“When you open your own business, you transfer from being a lawyer to being a business owner,” he said. “Leases, marketing, your website. It seems 80% of the time is spent as more of a business owner than as a lawyer.”
But the work, helping struggling families find a way out of difficult and overwhelming financial situations and back on track, was rewarding.
“I really liked helping people stay in homes, help them get rid of debt,” he said. “With the financial hardships caused by Covid-19 becoming more prevalent, I know there’s a lot of families that are going to need help. And I’m grateful to be someone who can do that.”