Every now and then, we like to offer our readers some career alternatives — things you can do with your law degree and legal training that don’t involve, say, working in a large law firm or as a contract lawyer. We’ve profiled a wide range of individuals, from lawyers who have left the law for everything from football coaching to CEO-ing to therapy (giving, not receiving).

A number of past profiles have involved attorneys turned entrepreneurs. We’ve looked at lawyers who have started restaurants and gone into college admissions consulting. We’ve profiled a lawyer who makes hot tamales, and a lawyer who is a hot tamale.

Today we continue down the path of attorneys who have gone from representing companies to launching them. Our latest interviewee has started a company, Urban Interns, that might be of interest to any ATL readers who are looking to hire interns — or any ATL readers who are looking for internships, which can provide valuable experience and/or a paycheck (of great value during these times of still-high unemployment).

Meet Cari Sommer, a Biglaw alum who last year launched Urban Interns….

ATL: So, can you tell us a bit about your background and legal career up to this point?

I’m a graduate of Cornell University and Brooklyn Law. I began my legal career as a bankruptcy associate at Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft. I then joined Bryan Cave, where I did bankruptcy work and litigation. I loved it at Bryan Cave and got great experience there — securities arbitrations, many bankruptcy litigations (including a trial), some criminal and regulatory work.

ATL: And tell us a bit about what you’re currently up to.

I’m a Founder of Urban Interns, www.urbaninterns.com, a national marketplace that connects small businesses with people looking for part-time jobs and internships. I also co-write Hire Up, a column in Entrepreneur.com about small business hiring.

ATL: What led you to start Urban Interns?

I was one of those people who thought “I’d go to law school and then do something in business” — and then, a short 10 years later, it was time to make that happen.

I started Urban Interns with my business partner, Lauren Porat — she’s a former investment banker and veteran of IAC — because we believed we had the right idea at the right time. There’s a lot of focus right now on small business as a powerful engine to create jobs and stimulate the economy. Yet this opportunity is highly underserved from the perspective of the employer and the job seeker. There was no place in the market that was efficiently and cost-effectively bridging the gap between small businesses who wanted to hire and the tons of highly qualified job seekers who are looking for a foot in the door with entrepreneurial organizations.

ATL: How’s it going so far? What stage are you at?

It’s going great. We’ve crossed the one-year mark and are growing fast. We’ve expanded from New York to a national platform and continue to make a solid footprint in the market. If I may brag, we were named one of America’s Most Promising Startups by BusinessWeek last year, which is quite an honor and something we work to live up to.

ATL: What connections do you see between your work at Urban Interns and your legal background and training? Has it been an asset?

Specifically with respect to my legal background, as I previously told the WSJ, practicing law is about analyzing facts, solving problems, advocating a position, and communicating with clients and adversaries — skills I use every day in my work as an entrepreneur.

When lawyers look at themselves solely as technicians, then perhaps it could be limiting if you branch out into another business or profession. But if you look at yourself as having developed a broad skill set, such as the skills I just mentioned, that’s a unique asset you bring with you to whatever you do.

In addition, lawyers typically know enough to know what they don’t know and when they should be asking a question. That’s valuable in business. Part of what I love about being an entrepreneur is taking things one step further and creatively finding a business solution.

ATL: Do you still currently practice law?

My formal practice of law is limited to reviewing the bills I’m sent by my lawyers.

ATL: What do you miss most about the full-time practice of law?

Once you pass the very junior associate years when everything is new, there’s a certain rhythm — perhaps even predictability — to practicing law. That’s kind of nice. Part of that rhythm includes down time, whether at the end of a big case or closing a big deal. Being an entrepreneur requires pure energy all the time.

I also worked with an amazing group of people. Many are still my mentors and friends. Perhaps I left at the right time, but it’s nice to leave a firm feeling proud of what you’ve learned and contributed and wanting to maintain a professional relationship with those you worked with. Luckily I now work with a great partner and have found a community in the NYC entrepreneur scene. There’s a lot going on here right now and it’s exciting to be a part of it.

ATL: And what do you miss the least?

The feeling that there’s another career out there that I might be better suited for. I’m very proud of the business my partner and I are building. Being the founder of a startup can only be described as exhilarating and exhausting yet I could not imagine my professional life any other way.

ATL: One last question, which may be of practical value to some of our readers. Lately there has been some controversy over the use of unpaid interns. Do you have any advice to offer either employers who want free labor — er, unpaid interns — or interns who are navigating the internship marketplace right now, where many of the positions on offer are unpaid?

With respect to the employers, my first bit of advice is, “Call your lawyer.” Any time you hire staff, you need to understand the rules and regulations surrounding the particular employment situation. Interns (paid or unpaid), as well as contractors, part-time help, and freelancers can be a great way for businesses to grow their team, but yes, it requires some thoughtful planning.

Urban Interns is a marketplace, not a staffing agency. We don’t get involved in the employment transaction between businesses and who they hire. That said, we usually see a roughly 50/50 split between paid and unpaid jobs posted on our site, though the trend is definitely starting to skew towards paid positions. While we personally choose to pay our interns, the data suggests that in these times, there’s room in the employment universe for both arrangements.

And at a minimum, it’s great to see so much conversation around this topic. At this time, with unemployment hovering at almost 10 percent, hiring is definitely changing — which means both employers and job seekers need to start thinking about the creative ways to foster mutually beneficial employment arrangements.

We recently wrote a few pieces about this topic — check them out here.

ATL: Thanks for taking the time to chat. Good luck with Urban Interns!

Urban Interns [official website]
America’s Most Promising Startups [Bloomberg Businessweek]
Rethinking the Law [Wall Street Journal]

Earlier: Blind Item: Law Firm Cutting Costs With Undergraduate Slave Labor?


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