gordon chin.jpgEvery once in while, we like to explore career alternatives for attorneys, i.e., things you can do with a law degree that don’t involve Biglaw or contract attorney work. These days, we’ve come to think of the series of open threads as things you might do if you can’t find Biglaw or contract work.
Do you have a passion for Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and HGTV? When you walk into a room, do you immediately judge the color scheme? Do you spend an inordinate amount of time rearranging doc review boxes to maintain the proper feng shui in your office? Maybe you should consider a second career in interior design.
Gordon Chin, a real estate lawyer and American University Law ’99 grad, has always had an interest in design work. Since being laid off by Locke Lord Bissell & Liddell in November, it’s become his full-time gig. To see his ultra-modern style, check out this Washington Examiner piece [PDF] on him (though the article’s a bit cliched, describing his style as “unpretentious yet somehow still sophisticated”).
Chin told us:

I’ve always done design work on the side, but given the slowdown in big-law, I’ve found more time to devote to my passion. I’m currently working with some clients in the DC area — everything from interior design, to staging services….
Projects range in scope and size — some include entire rowhomes/townhomes, others are consulting with paint colors or staging, assisting clients with shopping or selecting decorative pieces.

A Q&A with Chin, and the bright side of being laid off, after the jump.


GC Design - Logo Pic.jpgIt helped that Chin got his start doing design work on the side while working as an attorney, as he slowly built up his client base. Most of his work comes now from referral or word of mouth. His clients include attorneys, realtors, restaurant owners, and Hill staffers.

Kash: How does design work compare to practicing law?
GC: They are both creative in a sense, so very similar. However, interior design is more of a creative outlet for me. I’d like to think I was always a very good real estate attorney for my developer and lender clients, paying attention to details (that one comma in the wrong place makes a world of difference), so in that sense, the two fields are similar because in design, it also comes down to the finish details — the details make the room. As a very Type-A person, I think I was successful in law, and now I’m seeing the same in interior design. I enjoy both — practicing law and design — however, design comes with less structure, and more ability to think outside the box. I find myself working on weekends to cater to clients’ schedules, so it’s not that different from when I had to go into the office on weekends. No billable hours quota is a plus!
Kash: Would you ever have taken the leap into full-time design work if you hadn’t been laid off?
GC: I probably would not have had as much time to devote to the design side of my life if I were still at a large law firm billing away, but would have certainly still done some design work on the side. It would have just been more difficult to find the time for design — late evenings, weekends, etc. I have been designing spaces for family and friends for quite some time — probably since I started practicing law in 1998. If I had not been laid off, I probably would not have had the time to do a few things which have helped get me exposure in the design world: (1) audition for HGTV’s Design Star tv-reality show (I did not make it into the finals though); and (2) be featured in the local home section of the Washington Examiner newspaper.
Kash: Does your legal training help in any way in your current design work?
GC: I think my legal training and background is valuable in everyday life, including in the design work. I use contracts when working on certain design projects, so I am able to infuse legalese into the contracts I enter into and understand the legal mumbo-jumbo in the contracts. In real estate transactions things are very methodical, so I tend to also apply that to my design — there is always a reason for the design, right down to the small accessories on the coffee table. Another perk of having practiced law for so many years in DC is the network of contacts — this has proved to be a good source of referrals for design projects. I have worked on many projects through friends of friends or former colleagues, etc.

Chin hasn’t ruled out a return to the legal world. But he’ll be focused on the laws of design until the legal market picks back up.
Condo serves as owner’s own “oasis in the city” (PDF) [Washington Examiner]


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