June 25, 2018

How to Switch Careers if Being a Lawyer isn't for You

What to do if you end up not being a lawyer or suffer from lawyer burnout. How to go from a lawyer to an entrepreneur. How being a lawyer helps you run your own business. Advice to attorneys who want a career change. Lawyer career change. law school blog. law student blogger | brazenandbrunette.com

Hello again everyone! I know you're probably surprised to see me again and are probably wondering shouldn't this girl be bar prepping instead of blogging?? Well yes, but I somehow got ahead this week and had some spare time so ta-da! 

Anyways, this post has been a long time coming but I actually think now is the perfect time to share this post because I'm sure at some point in this life, at least one of you is going to be doing the whole lawyering thing and think, wait, what if I should be doing something else with my life??? And this post is for you! Or really, anyone just curious because it's nice to know that you always have an out. Or maybe that's just the Bar-prep cynicism in me haha! 

So backstory... today's post is an interview/kinda guest post with Andrew Lynch of Jackson Wayne. He reached out to me last semester about his amazing briefcases (mentioned in my gifts for law school grads post) and I was really intrigued when he told me that he was a former lawyer now in the leather business and I figured that some of y'all could benefit from his story. I guess also an alternative title for this post could have been how to switch from a lawyer to an entrepreneur because he's got such great advice. So, here's the interview! 

from JacksonWayne.com

What law school did you go to?

University of Iowa

What type of law did you practice?

Litigation mostly. Early in my career I worked at a large law firm and represented large corporate clients in commercial litigation matters. Once I started my own practice, I represented mostly small businesses and individuals in business and consumer litigation.

How long were you in law before taking on Jackson Wayne?

I was in private practice for about 10-12 years, but started to transition out toward the latter part of that.

What made you decide to switch from law to leather goods?

I always enjoyed entrepreneurship more than law. I had started side businesses very early in my legal career. I just had a sense that I would end up running a business someday and not involved in the traditional law practice. I wasn’t sure exactly what form that would take. But I knew I wanted to start trying things early on in case it took awhile. I never saw myself practicing law for 30+ years. I have a lot of respect for the law and what lawyers do. But I knew it wasn’t for me long term. Also, my personality lends itself more to creating, building, entrepreneurship, etc., rather than litigation.

The leather goods business is something that had been floating around in my head for awhile. It was sort of borne out of my own experiences carrying briefcases as a litigator. We did a press release that explains it a bit more here.  

How did you make the move from lawyer to business owner?

It wasn’t easy. I would say most of my lawyer friends (probably 75%) aren’t particularly happy with their career choice. But they don’t know how to change because the pay is pretty good and hard to replace. Also, the longer you do it, the more you are sort of pigeonholed into that – it’s just how people see you.

I only worked at a law firm for a couple of years before starting my own practice (my first toe into running a business). As a young lawyer with no book of business, I had to figure out how to generate clients, fast. At that time the Internet was certainly around, but not like it is today. Most lawyers had a basic website that was really just a glorified business card. I decided to learn everything I could about web marketing. I started generating my own content and clients pretty early on.

I used that web marketing knowledge to start a couple of other Internet businesses that did pretty well. Over time, that momentum allowed me to transition out of law and to pursue Jackson Wayne Leather Goods, which is really where my passion is.

Did you have any debt from law school? If so, did this make it hard to have a career change?

Yes, I had student loans. I was fortunate enough to lock them in at a low interest rate, but it was certainly a factor in my early years as to how much risk I felt I could take on.

Does your legal background help you at Jackson Wayne?

It’s funny, the law license both helps and hurts you in business. It helps for the obvious reasons because it’s easier to form an LLC, handle a lot of the business admin, avoid legal battles, draft documents, etc. But it hurts because law school and litigation in particular trains you to be risk averse and to anticipate all the things that can go wrong. This is the exact opposite of what an entrepreneur needs to do. Every day you have to take risks, do things outside of your comfort zone, etc. If you approach business like law, you’ll never get anything going in business. So I had to sort of “untrain” my mind a little bit and act more like my clients! I recently went to inactive status with my license.

What advice do you have for a lawyer that wants to make a career change?

The best piece of advice I could give is to not put it off. I can’t tell you how many lawyers I’ve talked to over the years that are interested in a career change but just end up putting it off and becoming perpetually miserable. It doesn’t get easier with time – it gets harder. So get started now. You shouldn’t give up the income just yet but you need to start taking steps that will eventually lead to your exit. That may mean starting a business like I did, or it might mean getting retrained for a different career or simply applying for non-law jobs.

Also, while planning your exit, be sure to avoid the “golden handcuffs.” It’s very natural for young lawyers to want to enjoy the new income they’re receiving. It seems many law firms actually encourage it, at least implicitly. Ramping up your lifestyle/expenses can be a killer for getting out of law. If you’re monthly living expenses are high, it can be nearly impossible to get out of law because other jobs may not pay as much or other businesses you start may have a growth period where you’ll have no income from it. So living beneath your means will give you a great shot at getting out of law.

One last thing, I don’t mean to be down on the legal profession. I do know lawyers who are genuinely happy with their career, even litigators! I think most people will have a sense early on in their career. Thanks!


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