I love profiling former lawyers who have carved out fantastic alternative careers for themselves. Here are four very different paths taken by ex-lawyers, all of which, frankly, sound fascinating. I’m especially drawn to the tour guide story, since one of my first and favorite jobs was leading tours as a high school student around the Massachusetts State House. That early experience telling stories on my feet to a captive audience, and the thrill I got from doing so, no doubt played into my decisions to become a litigator and, eventually, a business professor. Each of these former lawyers also tapped into something they love to do in order to find their next, and better, career (well, OK, except for the prize-winning novelist who is still a public defender).
1. Robin Kelsey, who used to practice law in California, is the Director of Graduate Studies in the History of Art and Architecture Department at Harvard and has tenure. According to Harvard’s website, Professor Kelsey is “a specialist in the histories of photography and American art, Professor Kelsey has published on the role of chance in photographic production, geographical survey photography, landscape theory, and the nexus of art and law.” Art and law! Kelsey has also written and edited books about photography, including “Archive Style,” on photographs and illustrations for U.S. surveys in the late 19th century. Writing about old photographs sounds like a fantastic job to me, but the cherry on top is that he works with my favorite historian, Jill Lepore.
2. Sergio de la Pava, who is actually still working as a public defender in New York, won the PEN award for his self-published(!) debut(!) novel about a public defender in New York. Heads up for lawyers who love to write – including those of us who have always loved to write but who went to law school in part to make money – de la Pava won the most lucrative prize given by PEN, worth $25,000. His story is also one of remarkable persistence, since he began writing his 678-page novel at work in 1998 and did not self-publish it until 2008. The PEN prize came five years later. His second novel, Personae, is also getting a lot of love from literary critics.
3. Michael Lowe, who practiced law in DC for years before starting DC’s first distillery in over a century with his son in law. Their small-batch gin, Green Hat, is getting national coverage from gourmets and praise from local upscale restaurants. More about what makes their seasonal gin superior here.
4. Jack Friedman, a former telecommunications and finance lawyer whose job was eliminated in 2008, when he was in his late 50s. After working with career coaches, Friedman decided to create an entirely different second career: he now leads student tours, primarily in Washington DC, New York, Philadelphia and Boston. He says that his new job allows him to combine his love of travel with his interest in working with young people. It also allows him to use some of his legal skills, like speaking in front of a group and doing advance research, but he gets to set his schedule and only works four to five months out of the year.
For thirty more stories of former lawyers who love their new careers, read Life After Law: Finding Work You Love with the JD You Have. It makes a great Valentine’s Day gift for the unhappy lawyer in your life (is that you?).