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Zupkus & Angell: Disrupting Convention from Z to A

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Sturm College of Law

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When it comes to Zupkus & Angell (“Z&A”), it makes sense to start at the end. 

What is the end? What is their goal? For employees to be the best versions of themselves. For clients to benefit from working with happy, valued people who genuinely enjoy what they do. At the end, this is what Owner and Managing Partner Muliha Khan, JD’07, values most about her practice.

“The culture of this firm is that we as the employer will do everything we can to accommodate who the team members are outside of the firm.”

Muliha Khan and family
Muliha Khan and family

In other words, How can I support you in being who you are? is a question that deeply informs Khan’s approach to owning and managing Z&A. 

“I think it’s important that I acknowledge who people are outside of the office. What are their obligations outside of the office? What are their interests? What are they passionate about? Who are they? I want to know who they are. And I want to know, what can I do to support that. Is there a way for us to balance these two things so that you can be both?”

It’s an unconventional approach to owning and managing a law firm, but one that aligns with Khan’s foundational belief:  “If you give me the best version of yourself, the work will be better.”

From Z&A to K

Khan’s approach to managing Z&A carries on the legacy of its founding partners, Bob Zupkus, JD’72, and Rick Angell.

As described on Z&A’s website, “More than 30 years ago, at his former large firm, founding partner Bob Zupkus was the first partner to hire a female associate.” 

Later, when it came time for Zupkus and Angell to find new lawyers to take over Z&A, Khan recalls that they “were very invested in the idea of passing the baton to a group of women. They really wanted that to be their legacy.”

As for Khan, she claims to have been in the right place at the right time.

“I had been a contract worker for the two of them – not even an employee” when they asked if Khan and a few others would be interested in taking over the firm.

Khan quote

Her first reaction?

“I thought, oh, this is just one more challenge.”

It’s now been more than 10 years since Khan first became a partial owner of Z&A and five years since becoming sole owner. 

“Now I look back and think, ‘Wow, that was hard.’”

But in speaking with Khan, it’s clear that the benefits of owning a firm outweigh the challenges.

“The benefit is pride. Just the pride that I derive from being part of something that Bob and Rick built and continuing that legacy.”

That legacy runs contrary to the conventional law firm, and it’s one that Khan wholeheartedly embraces. 

Khan works hard at tending to personal relationships which, in turn, fuels her professional accomplishments. In fact, when asked about her definition of success, Khan shared: “To me, success is that if my kids needed something, I would be their first phone call. That makes me feel like I’m doing things right.”

Khan also prioritizes this for her team.

“I feel pride that I am creating a workspace that is supportive. I expect a lot of the team, and I think it has to be a two-way street in that I’m expecting a lot but I’m supporting them in return.”

More than Name

In speaking with Khan about her firm, one thing stands out. Or, rather, one thing does not stand out. Her name.

“I meet up with Bob and Rick once every few months. They’re still mentors and huge cheerleaders of the firm and they have asked, ‘When are you going to add your name?’”

They’re not the only ones who have inquired.

But for Khan, “I feel as though the firm is much bigger than me. This is an idea that’s bigger than any one person. Z&A is a brand, and we are doing great work. We happen to be diverse. I happen to own the firm. But people only know that if they ask.”

And, in the end, “it’s not about one person.”

Instead, Khan believes that Z&A is about the team. It’s about the clients. It’s about providing space for lawyers with diverse backgrounds and different passions to come together in their vocation. It’s about paving the way for “more firms like ours, that look like ours, that run like ours.”

Though some may say that lawyering is lawyering, Khan feels differently. 

“It’s so gratifying to be in a collaborative space and incorporate all those different viewpoints into the defense of the case. It’s so gratifying to see that. The collaboration is moving to me because it truly elevates the practice of law.”

So while Z&A may not become ZA&K, Khan will continue to center her firm and her practice on the legacy that she inherited and the legacy she continues to create.

Muliha Khan

Muliha Khan, JD’07