Greg Stone is making me coffee in his beautiful Victorian home on a small hill. As we discuss his path from Rutgers Law School to Stone Communications, his media consulting company, he tells me about turning down an attractive law firm offer right out of school to pursue journalism instead.
Greg’s father had been a lawyer, and his family expected him to follow suit. So, a year after graduating from Harvard College, Greg started law school. He hated it from the first day, but worked with a number of lawyers while he finished school. His summer associate experiences led to a full time job offer. That terrified him. “It seemed like too much money,” he tells me. “I didn’t want to be tied down to a job I might hate.” So, in his last year of law school, he applied to Columbia Journalism School, and got in.
Greg’s first job out of journalism school, as an apprentice writer for Time, paid $15,000. That job led to promotions at Money and at Time Video. At some point in his media career, an employer offered to pay for an executive business education at Columbia and Greg got his master’s by going to school on Fridays. Eventually, Greg worked for television stations, and then moved into video production as an independent producer, starting his own business at the age of 36.
If he had it to do over again, would he have gone to law school? No, he tells me. “You should only go to law school for one reason: that you want to be a lawyer.” He advises his teenage kids that they should do what they love and work hard at it, even if they are not sure they will be good at it. “A law degree is not something to ‘fall back on’ – especially these days.”
So many lawyers feel trapped by their degrees: by the amount of time they put into their J.D., by the amount of money they and their families invested, and by the sense that they would disappoint their families if they chose a different path. But building a succesful career, as Greg has done, takes time – and we all have finite time. As he says, “We shouldn’t be shackled by our credentials.”
Do you feel bound by your law degree? What could you do if you weren’t?