Monthly Archives: November 2012

The Law-Health Connection

In writing Life After Law, I’ve met more ex-lawyers who have gone into the healing professions than I ever expected.   Some are practicing Western medicine, and many have more holistic practices.  No two of them found their new professions in the same way or for the same reasons – yet all of them draw on some aspect of their former law careers in their new and happier lives.

For one ex-lawyer, the most rewarding part of her legal work was serving as an advocate for her clients.  Several years into her legal career, she decided to become a nurse instead.  After taking the required science classes at a community college, and some nursing classes at night, she transferred to a full time program to complete her nursing degree.  She now prides herself on being an advocate for her patients.  Her ultimate goal is to advocate for health issues where she can make the most difference: on health policy nationwide.

Another ex-lawyer left a practice in the trusts and estates section of one of her cities’ most prestigious firms, but had no interest in becoming a partner.  After some years at home, and some transformative personal experiences with the effects of nutritional counseling, she became a health coach and a Reiki practitioner.  She gets more personal satisfaction out of helping her clients control their health than she ever did helping her firms’ clients reduce their tax liability.

And as I’ve mentioned before, one of my professional heroes left a brilliant career in legal academia to become an acupuncturist.  After writing that post, I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Clare Dalton at length about her transition, and I look forward to telling more of her story in the book.  I suspect the only reason I haven’t yet met a former lawyer who left law to become a full-fledged medical doctor is because I haven’t looked hard enough.

So many of us gave thanks this holiday for our good health.  I’m thankful too for these former lawyers, for following their passions, for healing others in these new and wonderful ways, and for sharing their stories with me.

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From Law Student to Brewing Genius

Jim Koch is talking with me about how he went from earning his JD and MBA at Harvard to starting the Boston Beer Company, whose Samuel Adams beers have won more awards than any others in history. As Chairman of Boston Beer, Jim oversees a company of about 850 employees that did over $500 million in revenue last year – but that’s not what he set out to build. “My dream was to have a company with eight employees, including me, and one million dollars in revenue. I’m not sure I wouldn’t have been just as happy with that,” he tells me. Not that he’s unhappy now, mind you – just perhaps a bit busier than he expected.

When Jim graduated with his joint JD/MBA, he found it surprisingly hard to get a job. Law firms were wary of the alternative exit plans the MBA offered him, and businesses couldn’t understand why he wasted time studying law. “There were round holes and square holes, and I was an octagon,” he says.

His first job after graduate school taught him that a business career can have as much social impact as a legal one. While Jim was in law school, he was especially interested about environmental issues. In fact, he was one of the founding members of the Harvard Environmental Law Review. While he considered practicing environmental law, he decided instead to join Boston Consulting Group. His first client? International Paper, which owned six million acres of timber and was at that time the largest private landowner in the US. Jim soon realized that International Paper’s forests were vastly underproducing. Their lands could have been producing sustainably three times as much as they did. As a result of Jim’s recommendations, International Paper changed its practices and increased the amount of pulpwood and timber they got from the same land base. Other pulp and paper companies followed suit, taking the pressure off the forests Jim was so concerned about protecting and effectively removing the threat that they would be clear cut. “I could have spent my whole career as a lawyer working for the NRDC or the Sierra Club, and never had this kind of impact,” he notes.

As Jim points out, you can use the same analytical skills in business as in law – and, as his experience with International Paper shows, the business route can lead to more sustainable solutions.

Are you making the kind of impact on the world that you hoped to make when you chose law school? What alternative paths might help you have even more of an impact?

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From Lawyer to Island Caretaker

When people ask Alan Rilla, caretaker of Spectacle Island, how to get a job like his, he laughs and tells them, “You can’t.”  Alan, a former lawyer and corrections specialist, has been responsible for overseeing this Boston Harbor island for six years.  It’s a job he applied for, along with 200 other people, after reading an article about the open position in the Boston Globe.  For six months of the year he has the island more or less to himself.  During the other six months, he entertains 85,000 visitors from all over the world.  He  describes it as “the best job in the world,” and appears to be a very happy guy.

But let’s get back to the law part.  Alan grew up in a close-knit Italian neighborhood in the Berkshires.  An internship in the Public Defenders’ Office after college turned him on to the law, and he applied to law school.  Most people never left his neighborhood, so his going to law school was a big deal not only for his family, but also for his entire community.  After a few years with the District Attorney’s office, Alan switched to private practice and joined the most prestigious firm in his county.  One of his first clients became the most lucrative in the firm’s history, and Alan had a pretty comfortable life mostly serving that one client for several years.  When the client was acquired by a larger company, Alan decided not to follow the job out of state.

As he tells it, “When I was a Master of the Universe, and had moved into a big house, my father would come by and say, ‘You know what the problem is with this big house and all these toys you have?’ I’d say, “No, what’s the problem with all these things I worked so hard for?’ And he’d say, ‘They can’t love you back.’”

When his father got sick, Alan thought about that conversation and decided to downsize.  He spent the last two years of his father’s life caring for him, and then worked on projects he liked.  An opportunity to testify at the State House on reforms to the corrections system led to an opportunity to work with Sheriff Michael Nash, whom Alan describes as an “icon.”  Alan spent eight years working in the corrections system, developing juvenile justice programs that won multi-million dollar federal grants and became models for other states.

Alan’s corrections work ended in March 2005, when his attempt to calm down a disturbance at the jail led to some inmates throwing him off a second story balcony and breaking his neck. Nearly a year later and well into his recovery, he read that Globe article and applied for the caretaker job.   Alan’s not sure what he’ll do when his term on Spectacle Island ends in 2016, and that doesn’t bother him at all.

Readers, have you ever applied for a job that seemed totally unrelated to your prior work?  If so, why?  If not, why not?

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Law Reentry School: New Directions

If you’re in the greater New York area , I hope you’re doing well after Sandy and have your power back.  I also encourage you and all your lawyer and ex-lawyer friends to check out the New Directions Program at Pace University, which is having a number of Open Houses in New York City and White Plains this month.

New Directions is one of the programs highlighted in my forthcoming book, Life After Law (Bibliomotion, September 2013).  It’s a 5 1/2 month career reentry program for lawyers who are re-entering the job market.  The program includes an externship so that graduates emerge with a useful and up to date entry on their CV.

As the New Directions website explains, this may be just the thing for you if you answer yes to any of the following:

  • Are you an attorney who has taken a leave from practice or never practiced?
  • Have you been pursuing a second career but would like to return to the legal field?
  • Would you like to return to the practice of law, or an alternative legal career, but you’re not sure how or where to begin?
  • Would you like to bring your legal skills up to speed, learn and practice on-line legal research, develop a resume, refresh your interviewing skills?
  • Would you like to obtain a current practical legal experience and, as a result, develop a current writing sample, references, and networking contacts?

In Life After Law, I profile Amy Gewirtz, the Director, a former practicing attorney who created the program in 2007 because she saw a tremendous need for it.  Her role as Director suits her well in part because she has always enjoyed the counseling aspect of law practice.    I also profile Carroll Welch, an alumna of New Directions who is now its Associate Director.  Carroll provides career counseling for New Directions participants and knows firsthand what it’s like to re-enter the field after several years away.  Amy and Carroll are both powerhouses, and their skills and dedication make me think this program must be an amazing experience.  Deb Pagnotta, whom I’ve profiled on this blog, was the Director of New Directions for its first two years.

Given the high rate of career dissatisfaction among lawyers, and the numbers of lawyers who leave their jobs for some period of time – maybe to be home with their kids – and are not sure whether or how to come back into it, it amazes me that there are not more programs across the country for lawyers and ex-lawyers who are struggling with career change.  Why aren’t there more programs like this?

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