In these difficult times for the legal profession, it’s more important than ever to know all your options. So we resume our series on career alternatives for attorneys — jobs for J.D. holders that don’t involve working as a Biglaw associate or contract attorney.
In a prior post, we discussed the career alternative of entrepreneurship. If you’re tired of working for a boss, then become the boss: start your own company.
Today we focus on two lawyers who, interestingly enough, have started their own businesses in the same area: admissions consulting and academic coaching. Perhaps this is the start of a hot new trend? Cf. the cupcake craze sweeping the nation, which another lawyer is capitalizing on.
Adam Nguyen, formerly of Paul Weiss and Shearman & Sterling, is the president and CEO of Ivy Link. Jon Palmer, formerly of Schulte Roth & Zabel, is the president and founder of The Admissions Experts.
Both businesses are headquartered in New York — which makes sense, given how obsessive Manhattan parents can be about getting their offspring into elite educational institutions. NYC ≠ TTT!!!
Read more about these gents and their new enterprises, after the jump.
Both Adam Nguyen and Jon Palmer have distinguished educational and professional pedigrees — a prerequisite for starting a business aimed at helping applicants get into the schools of their dreams.
Nguyen, a graduate of Columbia and Harvard Law School, previously worked as the chief-of-staff and corporate legal officer for a large real estate investment company, an M&A associate at Shearman, and a private equity / fund formation associate at Paul Weiss. He also clerked for Judge Faith Hochberg
Palmer received his BS from Cornell and his JD/MBA from Emory. After a stint as a consultant in Chicago, he moved to New York and joined Schulte Roth & Zabel, where he handled executive compensation matters. Earlier this year, he left SRZ to start The Admissions Experts.
“Like most newly minted JDs, I was lured to big law because of the compensation and prestige,” said Palmer. “Needless to say, with the increased pay came the long hours that are typical at a large law firm. Although I was earning significantly more at SRZ [than as a consultant], I was extremely displeased with my work life balance, which at the time was non-existent…. I quickly found out that there was nothing prestigious about reading through thousands of pages of diligence documents at 2 a.m.”
Did someone say “prestigious”? Prestige is the Holy Grail pursued by Nguyen’s and Palmer’s clients. Nguyen’s company, Ivy Link, provides education advisory services to applicants to MBA, JD/LLM, and undergraduate programs, as well as one-on-one academic coaching to K-12 students. Palmer’s company, The Admissions Experts, offers help with high school curriculum and extracurricular planning, college selection, and college application preparation.
Like many entrepreneurs, Palmer built a sideline into a business. “I initially got involved in college admissions by helping friends and family,” he explained. “I assisted my two younger brothers through the application process, both of whom attended Ivy League schools, and I have helped over two dozen family friends apply to colleges over the past five years.”
Nguyen also entered the field for personal reasons. He cited his appreciation for higher education and the opportunities it offers, “no doubt stemming from the fact that my family came to the U.S. as political refugees, who like many immigrants saw education as the means for upward mobility.” Perhaps more oddly, he mentioned the
masochistic pleasure he derives from taking standardized tests. In addition to the LSAT, Nguyen has taken the MCAT, GMAT, GRE, and the California and New York bar exams. Whew!
“I came from a modest background, where high-achieving and motivated kids often do not have the knowledge of and access to quality education — and ultimately success,” said Nguyen. “My company’s philosophy is to bring ‘smart education’ to the market at ‘smart prices,’ i.e., the elite services we provide do not have to cost a fortune.”
Is it wise to be launching a new business during the Great Recession? Both lawyers turned educational entrepreneurs are optimistic. According to Palmer, “despite the economic downturn, our services will always be in demand because parents want the best for their children, regardless of the cost, and our services positively impact a student’s chances of admission to their dream college.”
Here’s Nguyen’s take:
People asked me why anyone would start a company during a recession. My response is that when you have an idea and a desire to do something, act on it. There’s an old saying (by Lao-Tzu?) that goes something like: the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. Delaying that first step just means you’re STILL one more step away from completing your journey. And you KNOW lots of lawyers are in the habit of delaying things…
The common explanation for lawyers delaying other pursuits (e.g., writing a book, striking out on their own, etc.) is that they’re risk-averse. I’m beginning to think it’s more than risk aversion. Many smart people are conditioned to be task-oriented instead of goal-oriented. We are fantastic at completing an assignment or a task, but instinctively we don’t look beyond that. We are inclined not to set bigger goals for ourselves and ask whether our current “tasks” are leading to their goals. It took a lot of practice and self-motivation for me to move from being task-oriented to goal-oriented.
Perhaps this focus on tasks rather than goals is one disadvantage of coming from a legal background. But having been trained in the law has advantages too. Nguyen and Palmer said that their legal knowledge has helped them in forming and structuring their companies, negotiating contracts, developing business strategies, and minimizing tax burdens.
“I have also found that assisting a student through the application process is very similar to an attorney representing a client before a jury,” said Palmer. “My job is to help a student receive a favorable decision from the admissions committee by helping the student portray their accomplishments in the best light possible, which is similar to a trial attorney presenting evidence for his/her client during trial…. Moreover, the writing skills I acquired in law school and in legal practice directly enable me to provide expert advice to my students on their essays.”
(Palmer’s bio mentions his experience drafting SEC proxy statements for Fortune 500 companies. Hopefully his students’ application essays are more scintillating.)
We asked Palmer and Nguyen if they still practice law — and, if not, if they miss it. Nguyen, who is licensed in both New York and California, still practices on the side: “I’ve always enjoyed doling out advice and helping people solve problems, so I continue to practice law by advising start-up businesses, including investment funds, on basic issues relating to structure and operations. This way, I can keep current with legal developments and help people who are struggling to strike out on their own.”
Palmer, meanwhile, has left the practice of law behind. “While I definitely miss certain aspects of practicing law and the friends I made at SRZ, I am much happier working for myself and helping students achieve their dreams in life,” he said.
We wish Jon Palmer and Adam Nguyen the best of luck with their new ventures. And on behalf of our many readers who are looking for new job opportunities, we’d like to ask: Hey guys, are you hiring?
P.S. That last line was somewhat tongue-in-cheek. But, according to Palmer, “as a testament to how bad the job market truly is, I have received dozens of jobs inquiries from a diverse set of people, including JDs, MBAs, and PhDs, many from top schools.”
The Admissions Experts is not currently hiring, but it does pay referral fees. “If anyone refers a customer to us, we provide them with a payment equal to 20% of a customer’s fees (which in some cases can amount to a $1000 payment to referrers),” said Palmer.
As for Ivy Link, Nguyen said the company also offers referral fees and is hiring, albeit “selectively.”
Earlier: Career Alternatives for Attorneys: Entrepreneur / Small (or Not So Small) Business Owner
Prior career alternatives for attorneys