Though Virginia “GiGi” Benjamin, senior counsel at Calfee, Halter & Griswold LLP, has had the same job for 42 years, she can remember when she decided a legal career was right up her alley.
“When I was in high school and college, I found myself very interested in government and politics,” she recalled. “Also, all the people I admired and respected were lawyers, so I thought that was a good place for me to start in my career.”
The reason she’s stayed in the field so long is tangible results inspire her, she said.
“I believe that I can see positive results in things that I’ve done,” she explained. “I worked on the Pinecrest project (the mixed-use project in Orange) and I can go there and see it. It’s tangible. Most times, people think of lawyers as arguing all the time, but in my field, everyone is working toward the same goal. It’s not a zero-sum situation. Everyone can feel good in the end.”
One example of Benjamin’s tangible work is her involvement in Spice For Life, a social enterprise and spice shop.
Benjamin runs the shop with Penny Harris, a professor, and Debbie Fitzgerald, an entrepreneur and businesswoman. All profits support human trafficking victims. Throughout 2019, Spice for Life proceeds benefit the Renee Jones Empowerment Center.
Benjamin said Harris asked her if she was interested in becoming involved with Spice for Life at their gourmet group.
“I knew I wanted to step down from my legal career and do something different and good with my free time,” she said. “Penny came up with the idea, but I endorse it wholeheartedly. Ohio is an epicenter for human trafficking. We thought that if we could do something to help women, we would do it. We have all been so lucky in our careers that we wanted to do something for those that aren’t as lucky. It’s all right in our neighborhood, so we need to give back.”
Benjamin said it’s been interesting incorporating her legal and business prowess into something she loves, like food.
“Both of the businesses are people- oriented,” she noted. “You’re dealing with people. But in a lot of ways, it’s different. I’m dealing with a tangible product instead of in my knowledge and judgment. I’m also learning a whole lot more about spices and food generally. Food has already been important to me.”
Growing up Jewish had an impact on Benjamin’s career.
“The values of dealing ethically and fairly with people and giving back to the community has always been part of my work ethic in my legal career as well as my spice career,” she said.
But the most important thing to Benjamin in either career is finding humor and happiness in it.
“For anything you do, having a sense of humor is really important,” she explained. “There are a lot of things we can all be angry about or things that make us sad. There are also a lot of things that make us happy or make us laugh. If you can find the humor and the good in what you’re doing, it makes it a whole lot better.”