David Wertime: From BigLaw to Chinese Social Media Blogger

“You could just feel Chengdu’s immensity, its heaving, low-slung power. Around 10 million people lived there, in this city I’d never heard of back home. It was a revelation, coming face to face with just how massive China is.”

David Wertime had no definite career plans in mind on the sunny June day in 2011 when he left his position as a securities lawyer with Milbank’s Hong Kong office. What he did have was extensive knowledge of China, which he’d begun cultivating ten years earlier as a Peace Corps volunteer in Fuling, China and a bit of money squirreled away from his last four years as an associate at Cravath’s New York office and Milbank’s Hong Kong branch. “I felt that from a personal, financial and career perspective, I was staring at my last, best chance to create something meaningful and lasting,” says Wertime.

Still, it would be another five months before he and two classmates from law school came up with Tea Leaf Nation, a blog that specializes in synthesizing and spotting trends in the varied and passionate opinions of China’s increasingly outspoken netizens. In the meantime, Wertime engaged in a punishing, daily process of brainstorming, then shooting down, ideas.

“Until you create something real in the world, an idea isn’t worth much,” says Wertime. “By disposition and training, I can easily think of a dozen roadblocks to any idea or venture. It took a couple months to realize that I was not spending enough time filling out the positive half of the proverbial ledger, and I was not assigning those positives enough weight.

That first step down the right path doesn’t make a sound. The world remains as indifferent to you as it ever was.”

Wertime wandered the streets of Hong Kong until 3 a.m. on the night before he gave notice at Milbank. “I reflected on all that I was potentially gaining, which is never as immediate and concrete as what you’re giving up,” says Wertime. But by 3 a.m., after miles of walking, he knew that leaving the law was the right move.

Given the economic climate, “How can you leave a job that others really want?” became the common refrain of fellow attorneys. Wertime’s answer: “If something isn’t right for me right now, and it’s really right for someone else, and I pass it to them, aren’t we all better off?

I do vividly remember one partner telling me I was ‘crazy for jumping out of a plane without a parachute,'” Wertime recalls, though it wasn’t the first time Wertime had taken such a leap.

In 2001, Wertime committed to two years in China as a Peace Corps volunteer, though, at the time, he had no knowledge of Chinese history, language, or culture. “Perhaps because my brain couldn’t process all of the immense changes my life was undergoing, I tended to focus on the details,” says Wertime. “I kept noticing how different the fixtures in China were–street signs, lamps, doorknobs.”

While in Chengdu, China for his initial Peace Corps training, Wertime became fascinated with the city. “You could just feel Chengdu’s immensity, its heaving, low-slung power,” says Wertime. “Around 10 million people lived there, in this city I’d never heard of back home. It was a revelation, coming face to face with just how massive China is.”

He would return to that sentiment in November of 2011 when two law school classmates, now residing in China, visited Wertime, who had since relocated to Washington, DC. During a conversation on The Mall, talk turned to the need for an information source that combined close attention to China’s social media with serious efforts to connect that media to major issues and stories. Together, Wertime and his classmates concluded, they would use their combined knowledge of Chinese slang, history, culture, politics, and social media to sift through, synthesize, and translate the sentiments of China’s netizens each day. Soon thereafter,  Tea Leaf Nation went live.

Of his China-based co-founders (who have asked to remain anonymous due to the nature of their work), Wertime says, “It’s a great thing having brilliant colleagues who also value the same things as you.

We think we’ve seized on a tremendous opportunity. Western media often depicts China as monolithic, but there’s actually tremendous diversity of opinion, even if the government often doesn’t listen to all those voices. There’s censorship, but the censors can’t keep up. The level of candor is frankly shocking.”

Now, two months into its creation, Tea Leaf Nation is “focused on building something useful and lasting that we can all be proud of,” says Wertime. “I still can’t articulate exactly why I am doing what I am doing. But that’s the challenge–answering the rational doubts with all those words we learn to discount as attorneys: Confidence. Chutzpah. Fate. Faith.”

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Visit Tea Leaf Nation.

Learn more about Tea Leaf Nation’s gang of three.

Connect to David Wertime on LinkedIn.

Ex-Lawyer Joey Coleman on Unemployed Lawyers

Is Ex-Lawyer Joey Coleman spot-on or not? You be the judge.

Ex-Lawyer Joey Coleman is the founder of Design Symphony, a DC-based marketing, design, and promotions firm. But by his own accounts, Coleman devotes about 30% of his workweek on the speakers’ circuit, talking sense into job seekers at universities and colleges across the country.

Coleman’s message to unemployed lawyers can be quite the bitter pill, but it’s one he stands behind without reservations. In Coleman’s own words: “If you think what I’m telling you is a line of shit and you don’t like hearing it, I’m sorry. But guess what? It’s going to be tough, and anyone who tells you differently—they’re the bad guys.”

In a recent interview with The Ex-Lawyers Club, Coleman shared his message to laid-off attorneys and jobless law graduates. Tough love or crock-of-shit? We’ll let you be the judge.

ExLC: Looking for work in this economy, even post-recession, can’t be easy.

JC: I get that, for most people, the economy is tougher now than it has been in any other time in their lives. But I still believe that there are jobs out there for go-getters and self-motivators.

ExLC: And yet I’ve seen some very motivated, credentialed, and talented people get passed over time and time again, sometimes for years. What do you have to say to people in that situation?

JC: If you’re waiting for the market, you’re going to lead a pretty miserable life. It’s not the market’s job to see to it that you’re not disqualified for jobs.

For the person who has been out of work for two or more years, my questions for them are: What are you trying to do? Are you trying to go back to the good old days when you were getting paid to sit in a room and write briefs for 18 hours a day?

ExLC: What about the many laid-off lawyers who do seek work outside the BigFirm model but have been told by potential employers that they are simply overqualified for the jobs they are applying for?

JC: To be honest, if somebody said to you that you’re overqualified, I think that’s like being in a relationship and the other person saying it’s not you, it’s me.

I’ve had the pleasure of hiring dozens of people in a variety of different jobs. I was always looking for the person who was ridiculously overqualified.

I think the real problem is that most lawyers are viewed as notoriously horrible communicators. They work in an industry that specializes in writing in an archaic language that no one understands. Mind you, these are sweeping generalizations that don’t apply to everyone.

ExLC: That’s a pretty tough message you’ve got.

JC: I find it fascinating, the number of people who have had the opportunity to be born in the U.S., receive the finest education in the world, go to a four-year university and a three-year law school, and graduate with degrees that puts them in top 1% of the job market. When they can’t get a job, they turn around and bitch. At what point do you want to take some ownership not only of the choices you’ve made, but also of the opportunities you’ve been given?

I truly believe that there are jobs available. I know of jobs. I have people come to me all the time. To tell you the truth, two came today and one came yesterday with jobs.

ExLC: If there’s work to be had, why are there still so many unemployed lawyers?

JC: For a lot of the lawyers, particularly mid-level associates who were let go, there are a couple of things at play. I don’t think they made themselves indispensible at their firm. There are others at their firm who are still there who made themselves indispensible. Those who were let go—they didn’t dig their well until they were thirsty. And by digging their well, I don’t mean just networking, going to a mixer, and having crappy Hors d’œuvre but building a network of peers who know and respect their work and with whom they share learning, advice, and referrals. If you’re willing to do that, the world is your oyster.

The other big problem that I see is that they aren’t willing to put in the time. They say, to hell with you, Coleman, I should be a partner by now. I would say to that, if that’s your belief system, well you’re going to lead a pretty disappointing existence for now.

ExLC: When you are asked to speak at law schools, what do you typically tell 3Ls who are about to graduate?

JC: The resume is dead. Light the resume on fire. It’s even less effective today than it was fifty years ago. I realize it’s still the modus operandi of every large company on the planet, but I think young lawyers or mid-level lawyers filling out resumes and sending them out is a crab shoot.

There are people who hear what I’m saying and they say, ‘Oh my God, you’re crazy! Where do you get off saying this?’ I spend a lot of time working with big name companies. I meet with their heads of HR all the time, and they tell me, these people have no idea how to get a job. They also have no idea the number of people that run through our automated machines.

ExLC: In your view, what should unemployed lawyers be doing?

JC: Turning around and shaping the position you want, figuring out how to make the connections at the places you want to work, and getting your resume hand-delivered to the person in charge of making the decision. These are all much better techniques than firing off a resume.

The thing to do is get clear on what you want to do, not where you want to work. Give yourself permission to let that change over time. Realize that every choice you make has consequences.

ExLC: Do unemployed attorneys get pissed off with your message?

JC: I’m not saying people have to agree with me, but they will always know what I think.

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Attorney “PS” attended a top ten law school, was laid off by a BigLaw firm in New York in 2009, and subsequently spent two years searching for work before she was hired as a contract attorney by a bank. She recently read the Q&A between The Ex-Lawyers Club and Joey Coleman. Here’s what she had to say:

ExLC: Joey Coleman–full-of-shit or speaker-of-truth? What’s your take?

PS: Everything he said is true, but it really doesn’t help anyone to hear it.

ExLC: Why do you say that?

PS: I say that for a couple of reasons. First, because of the singular nature of how it feels to be unemployed, what that does to a person—particularly someone whose sense of identity and purpose is inextricably linked to achievement based on hard work—and how corrosive unemployment is to the individual and society as a whole. And second, because of the nature of the legal profession and its devotion to the idea of one’s success being merit-based, which breeds a tendency to overvalue intelligence and undervalue the very attributes that make modern companies successful.

ExLC: But what about Coleman’s message that lawyers and newly minted law school grads aren’t doing enough to create their own positions and be more proactive?

PS: It is cold comfort to tell a recent law school graduate that he or she needs to decide what course to take and create their own opportunities, particularly when law schools instill in their students the expectation of jobs being theirs for the taking. So it is partly the fault of the education they receive that these graduates complain of a lack of jobs.

We are talking about lawyers or law graduates who have already invested tens of thousands of dollars, and taken on a tremendous debt load, in many cases, and cannot find work in their chosen profession–a profession which has a built-in bias against their unemployed brethren and tends to perceive them as having been unqualified in the sense of not having been intelligent enough to find a job.

In that sense, the unemployed lawyer at graduation is hit with a double whammy: the unlikelihood of getting a chance to explore the kind of employment to which he or she may be best suited (thereby diminishing their chances of practicing or ever putting their very expensive degree to use, and in the process rendering them unlikely to earn the sort of income required to repay their loans), and the very personal shock of feeling unworthy to gain entrée into their chosen profession, which is devastating.

ExLC: What was it like to be an unemployed attorney for two years?

PS: Unemployment breaks the spirit in a way nothing else can because it is such an existential affront to our existence – the unemployed person is being told “you have no place, you have no value, you have nothing to contribute to society.” That is fact. The employed lawyer can’t fathom how that feels, and instead of thinking “there but for the grace of God go I,” thinks “I would never be in that position.” There is no empathy (or whatever empathy we had is eradicated in law school), and so we don’t extend a hand when we see a fellow lawyer in distress.

ExLC: What needs to be done about all these unemployed lawyers?

PS: We have a crop of talent that is languishing, and we need to take responsibility (just as Coleman urges the unemployed lawyers to do) to help the unemployed get back on their feet. Letting people fend for themselves isn’t just cold or an ideological position to take, it is dumb in every sense of the word. The more we invest in people, whether it is in personal relationships or professional ones, the more we get back, and the more we can create synergies that will lead to opportunities and new ideas, new paradigms and a greater likelihood of finding both personal and professional fulfillment. Going it alone is boring and stultifying. We need to make it a point to help each other, and help can’t just take the form of preaching. We need to actively seek to hire unemployed lawyers. That is the only prescription that will help cure what ails the direly ill legal profession.

A Note from Your Founder

Dear Readers,

I recently went back to my first Ex-Lawyers Club post, dated October 11, 2009.

Life has changed a lot since October 11, 2009.

In fact, I must come clean about this: I returned to the law in January of 2011, whereas the rest of the founding members of The Ex-Lawyers Club have remained staunchly Ex.

Does that make me no longer an Ex-Lawyer? Do I have any right to continue to collect the stories of Ex-Lawyers under the banner of The Ex-Lawyers Club? Why am I such a happy lawyer now? Why was I so unhappy with the law then? I’ve been thinking about all of the above for the last year or so.

When I decided to return to the law after several years doing the New York writing/publishing thing, I talked to a lot of attorneys from the firm I’d left in 2008, including some of the partners. They had long been some of my greatest supporters and are just wonderful people all around. When I told them I was thinking about taking up lawyering again, they all said this: “But you were so unhappy, Vivian. Don’t you remember?” I did.

But in the last several years, I had missed the law. At first, I thought it was the way you miss someone you’ve broken up with. Of course, you still think about that person and care about them, but you’re relieved that relationship is over. This feeling of missing the law wasn’t something that ever went away. And I must add (because I’d be making a material omission here if I didn’t) that I missed the steady paycheck. Being a writer is a hand-to-mouth kind of existence, which is no fun!

So, in 2011, I went back. And now, I am a thoroughly happy lawyer with the federal government. I’m as surprised as you are, especially when I look back on that October 2009 post about the genesis of The Ex-Lawyers Club.

So, what gives?

Well, when I started working as a lawyer again in 2011, I returned with an armful of projects that I wasn’t willing to just give up. I had my education nonprofit 4th and 1, which I’d launched with founder and Ex-Lawyer Daron Roberts. I continued on as an editor for SMITH Mag in New York. And I sure as hell wasn’t going to give up writing just because I now had a legal career to foster. Also, as a practical matter, just because I was returning to the law didn’t mean I could flake out on this book project I had committed to at SMITH Mag. I mean, the book was due out with Harper in 2012, and that obligation wasn’t going to go away on account of my little career change.

In 2011, I was determined to hide from my coworkers the fact that I had all these other projects going on. I didn’t want any of them to think I wasn’t fully committed to my legal career. But then, during that first welcome lunch on day one, my coworkers started asking me questions, and I found myself talking nonstop about my education nonprofit, 4th and 1. Once I get started talking about this nonprofit, it’s hard to stop. I just get so excited about it. At the end of that lunch, I felt like I’d totally blown it. I was still coming off like an Ex-Lawyer! I had to come off as a Lawyer-Lawyer, or else they might find me out!

But then, a funny thing happened. A couple days in at my new law job, I was meeting with an attorney, Nikki. She was going to give me an orientation about the legal research tools at my disposal. I went over to her desk and what did I see but a Post-It note stuck to her computer with a quote from SMITH Mag editor-in-chief Larry. I was so astonished that I said, “How do you know Larry?” And Nikki told me she doesn’t, but she’d heard this guy Larry talk on NPR and really liked this thing he’d said, so she wrote it down on a Post-It. Of course, I had to tell her a couple funny anecdotes about Larry right then and there. I was pretty excited that she was into my magazine, even though in the back of my mind I was thinking here I go again about my life outside the law.

As I became friends with more of my fellow attorneys at my new job, I eventually just gave up the (exhausting) ruse that all I think about day in and day out is the law. I even decorated my office with a photo of my students from 4th and 1 and a SMITH Mag sticker. And I’ve discovered, to my surprise, that I actually enjoy my work as a lawyer. Ironically, I work more hours as a federal government attorney than I ever did at the firm. And yeah, that’s without billables! I recently noticed that after a hard day’s work of practicing law, I’m not completely worn out and dead to the world like I used to be. Instead, I often feel the way one does after a good, hard workout. Yep. I’m as surprised as you are!

So what gives? I’ve pondered this for a bit, and here’s what I think happened:

The second time around, I’ve brought all of myself to lawyering, not just the pieces of me that I think exudes who and what a lawyer should be. Instead of striving to be a better lawyer, I’m working each day on becoming a better person. And you know what? No one in my office has questioned my commitment to my caseload.

So, now back to this pressing question: What to do about The Ex-Lawyers Club?

On January 17, 2011 when my story on Corwin Levi posted, I was actually starting my first day at my first legal position since 2008. As I watched the hits to the Levi story come in from my law office, I felt distinctly that I was pulling the wool over my readers’ eyes. Not a good feeling.

So do I have any right to be posting these interviews? Was I misrepresenting myself to the Ex-Lawyer community by continuing to put up these stories? Should the site be shut down?

After about a year of silence and uncertainty about what to do with The Ex-Lawyers Club, I wrote a new Ex-Lawyers Club post about my friend David Wertime, who had left his firm job to start Tea Leaf Nation with a couple of friends. The reason I wrote the story was simple. I was really inspired by what Dave was doing, and I hoped that the Ex-Lawyer community would be, too. I felt that new stories shouldn’t stop getting posted on account of my career change.

So yes, readers, you’ve now got a lawyer at the helm of The Ex-Lawyers Club. Maybe for some of you, this matters a lot. As always, I’m happy to hear your comments. But in my view, at the end of the day, these posts on The Ex-Lawyers Club aren’t about me (with the exclusion of this one!). The stories are about you. I just happen to be the person writing them down.

Love,

Vivian
Lawyer & Founding Member of The Ex-Lawyers Club

The Art of Law School Note-Taking: Spotlight on Ex-Lawyer Turned Visual Artist Corwin Levi

“In response to carrying my Blackberry around 24-7, I will now go for extended periods of time with a dead phone in my pocket.”

Before Corwin Levi left an associate position at WilmerHale to become a full-time visual artist in March of 2009, he was turning law school note-taking into an art form at the University  of Virginia School of Law (don’t take our word for it, take a look at his 1L Property Notes here).

In fact, based on the artistic merits of his law school notes, Second Street Gallery, a Charlottesville-based gallery located just three miles east of UVA Law, invited Corwin to display his work last September in a solo show entitled “Marks and Remarks.  The show is one of dozens of exhibitions he has had in the last year, and Corwin kicks off 2011 with four shows including exhibitions at the Contemporary Art Center of Virginia in Virginia Beach, VA and UNC Asheville in Asheville, NC.

Though Corwin’s law school notes may look nontraditional (to say the least), they not only caught the attention of the art world but were key to his rise to an executive editor on law review, too.  “I took my notes with me to the interview,” says Corwin, “and apparently the attention to detail in the notes went a long way toward landing me that position.”

DOING THE LAW THING
Corwin began law school shortly after graduating with an MFA from the Tyler School of Art at 22.  Like most people at 22, he had no idea what the hell he was doing.  “When I graduated, there were so many possibilities and so many things to explore,” says Levi with a laugh.   “I could have been traveling around the world, investigating the mysteries of synaesthesia, looking at the stars, and so I decided to go to law school.”

But even before Corwin began his 1L year, he was warned that law school would suck the creativity out of him.  “But I think that wasn’t really the case,” says Corwin.  In fact, to this day, legal terms make guest appearances in his paintings.  “To the extent that legal terms show up,” Corwin says, “it’s that the law and that way of thinking has become an intrinsic part of who I am, so I still think in those terms.”

Though Corwin kept hours at Wilmer that allowed for little time for art (or anything else for that matter), he continued to generate new ideas for art projects during his time as an attorney.  “I had a pad of sticky notes by my computer,” recalls Corwin, “and as I was running through doc review or something and suddenly these artistic ideas would flash into my head, I would write them down on my sticky notes and put them in a jar.”  When that jar filled up, Corwin knew it was time to give notice.

ADIOS BIGLAW
By the time Corwin left WilmerHale, he had squirreled away some savings and paid off his private loans, too.  But amongst his biglaw friends, his career change automatically made him the de facto poorest kid on the block. “As a firm attorney, I was not conscious of how much everything costs,” says Corwin. “My ability to participate in a night out these days is really dependent on what venue my friends choose.”  However, Corwin adds, “for me personally, it has been a good thing.  Before, whenever I wanted to experience something, I would just go do it, but now because money’s tight, I have to think about what I want to do and choose my experiences, and it makes those experiences much more valuable.”

Realistically, Corwin could not sustain himself on savings and occasional contract work alone.  So he changed zip codes to save dough, first relocating into a basement in the suburbs of DC where he “lived with a nice lady and her poodles” and then back in with his parents, where he lives in the short periods between artist residencies.

“I was excited about making art when I left the firm,” says Corwin, “but I couldn’t make very much art in the first six months because there was so much business of being an artist to take care of.”

The loss of his co-workers was isolating as well.  “I missed working with so many very smart people who are doing the same thing I am doing, and getting the chance to interact with them every day,” says Corwin.  “I knew almost no one in the field that I was going into.  Plus, after being very excited at being a full time artist instead of an attorney and getting to introduce myself as such, I’m still surprised when I hear things like “I’m sorry, but I’m a scientist. I don’t date artists.  It just wouldn’t work.””

Despite being a major blow to his game, Corwin has no regrets.  “After I quit working at the firm,” Corwin says, “I ran into some people I hadn’t seen in a while who didn’t know I was no longer with the firm, and they would inevitably say ‘There’s something different about you or you’re kind of glowing today,’ and I think it was from all this creative energy that I had bottled up that was now pouring out.

Before, I could say that I had a beautiful apartment, an interesting job, worked with brilliant people, and make more than enough money and that my life was pretty good. Now I can say that I am 31 years old, live with my parents, don’t have a steady job, and my life is amazing.”

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View Corwin’s work at Radio Sebastian.

See a video on Corwin produced by the University of Virginia Magazine Onine.

Join Corwin’s mailing list.

Like Corwin on Facebook.

Check out Clarity Law Group, where Corwin practices from time-to-time
in an of counsel role.

From BofA Attorney to Yoga Instructor, Stuart Dean

Even if the economic consequences are horrendous, so what? If there’s any regret that I have in the last 40 years of my life, it is not doing what I truly love.

After seven years at Kay Hill, Stuart Dean scored the wet dream of law jobs: an in-house position.  On his in-house salary at Bank of America, he’d bought a beautiful house and raised two beautiful daughters and had an overall beautiful life.  In fact, with relatively regular hours at BofA, Stuart could take off at six to catch an hour of two of something he truly enjoyed—yoga.

But nineteen months ago, Stuart lost his job.  He responded by becoming a yoga instructor. WTF Stuart?

“All I can tell you is that when you get older there are certain things that start coming to your mind that you can’t possibly explain or understand when you’re younger,” says Stuart. “It’s like trying to explain puberty to a five-year-old.  The concept of now or never really does begin to hit you, and you realize: Well, wait a second if I don’t this now, I’m never going to do it.  It’s not like oh geez I’ll do this when I retire.  I’m 55. A lot of people retire at 55.”

Stuart’s five cents on the transition from lawyer to yoga instructor at 55:

1.  Life for a lawyer who leaves the law is…better.

2.  The hardest thing about being an ex-lawyer is…loneliness.

3.  The best thing about being an ex-lawyer is…the freedom to think differently than a lawyer.  There’s a tendency for lawyers to always think in terms of rules, and once you’re not in that box anymore, you can almost start ridiculing legal thinking in a way that when you’re playing that game you can’t.  It gives you a distance from legal thinking and you can start analyzing legal thinking as an outsider.  It gives you power over the law that you didn’t have before.

4.  The primary misconception about ex-lawyers is…that they’re failures.  That’s one thing that I’m grappling with.  The biggest misconception is that something went wrong whereas I would say something went right.

5.  The main difference between my life now and my life as a lawyer is… [he laughs] lack of stress!  Time!  Good God as you probably well know, a lawyer at a law firm or corporation or even for that matter a private practice lawyer—they are slaves to time.

Learn more about Stuart and his yoga practice by checking out his blog: http://hsiuhsin.blogspot.com/.

 

Bob the Retired Lawyer on Being an Ex

“I am half way through a series of 600 page books which are at least three times too long, although they are doing very well in sales.”

Bob Simntrpriz isn’t an ex-lawyer in the traditional sense.  He retired from the law after a self-described “Methuselan career.”  However, Bob gets a post on Ex-Lawyers Club, because he’s the kind of guy I would (and have) walked ten extra New York blocks for just to listen to him talk.  Even at [age redacted], Bob regularly displays more moxie than, well, everyone.

Incidentally, Bob’s long legal career included a stint as a staff member for CBS soaps in the ’50’s and ’60’s, where, from time-to-time, he was cast in roles.  “But as a performer,” says Bob. “I was always a lawyer!”

As a retired attorney, Bob remains involved in various legal organizations.  “Big deal with me these days: censorship,” says Bob.  “I loathe it.  But incidentally, I devote most of my remaining time and energy to promoting the Right to Die, particularly practical at my age!”

On a lighter note, Bob also reports: “I am half way through a series of 600-page books which are at least three times too long, although they are doing very well in sales.”

In fewer than 600 pages (in fact, in fewer than 600 words), Bob gives us his thoughts on being an ex-lawyer, from the retiree’s perspective:

1.  Life for a lawyer who leaves the law is…. interesting.  Seeing the same picture from “the other side” can be fascinating.

2.  The hardest thing about being an ex-lawyer is…realizing that you are an ex.

3.  The best thing about being an ex-lawyer is…less stress; less $$.

4.  The primary misconception about ex-lawyers is…that they’re a bunch of liars and thieves.

5.  The main difference between my life now and my life as a lawyer is…more sleep, more boredom (though I still serve as an arbitrator in a nearby court and as a public member of the NYS BD for Podiatry and as a pro bono advisor to friends and not for profit corps).

Lawyer Turned Full-Time Mom on the Post-Law Life

“[M]y current boss (age 2) rivals any partner at a big law firm – he is demanding, prone to melodramatic outbursts, is not always reasonable, and gets crazy if lunch is late.”

Elizabeth S. (Cornell Law ’00) from San Gabriel, CA left the law in 2009 to become a full-time mom.  “In general, I am using this time to figure out my next career,” says Elizabeth.  “More specifically, I play with fire trucks, garbage trucks, dump trucks, crayons, more fire trucks, and building blocks, and enforce nap time and bedtime routines.”

Here’s what Elizabeth had to say about life after the law:

1. Life for a lawyer who leaves the law is…wide open.  I left legal practice by degrees.  After a public interest fellowship right out of law school, I worked for an internet company that provided legal services (such as 50-state surveys), and then did legal compliance work for several start-ups.

2. The hardest thing about being an ex-lawyer is…letting go of the career you prepared for.  Although I do not wish to practice again, law school was a challenging and rewarding experience that is hard to dismiss.

3. The best thing about being an ex-lawyer is…the relief at leaving a profession that was never a good fit.  I have many compassionate and peaceful friends who are successful lawyers, but what stood out for me when I worked as a lawyer was the antagonistic nature of legal work which was simply not for me.

4. The primary misconception about ex-lawyers is…working as a lawyer was a total mistake.  I don’t regret law school – I feel like it was a second round of college with interesting professors, a great reading list (sometimes) and an incredible opportunity to collaborate with fellow students (which I did not get out of college).  There were positives about my legal career, but the negatives far outweighed them.

5. The main different between my life now and my life as a lawyer is….  I worked part-time for about a year after having my son, and it was during that time I decided to leave the legal profession altogether.  My start-up employer worked with me to make part-time work possible, which was great, but switching gears between home and work gave me the perspective I needed to see that my career wasn’t adding anything other than a paycheck.  As a full-time mom, my current boss (age 2) rivals any partner at a big law firm – he is demanding, prone to melodramatic outbursts, is not always reasonable, and gets crazy if lunch is late.