Grover Cleveland’s excellent book of career advice for young lawyers has a delightful title: Swimming Lessons For Baby Sharks (affiliate link). It nicely captures the competitive nature of the legal profession today.
But the cutthroat competition isn’t for everyone. One high-powered lawyer, coming up on partnership at a top-tier law firm, decided he didn’t want to swim with grown-up sharks. He’d rather go swim with blue whales — quite literally. He’d rather be where the wild things are — and by “wild things,” we aren’t talking about cute drunken paralegals at a post-closing party.
Let’s look at this lawyer’s departure memo — great opening line, or greatest opening line? — and find out how he made enough money to break out of Biglaw’s golden handcuffs….
Last month, Patrick Dykstra left the Dubai office of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher. Here’s the opening of his departure memo:
Friends and Colleagues,
After over eight years at GDC, the firm still refuses to change its name to “Dykstra Dunn & Crutcher”. I cannot suffer this injustice any longer and therefore I am leaving the firm today.
HA! Quite clever, no?
Some associates have left their firms after not being recognized for their superior legal minds. But Dykstra quickly makes clear that he’s just kidding:
In all seriousness, today is my last day full-time at GDC after eight excellent years in which I have had the pleasure of working alongside so many brilliant individuals. Thanks to all for the many great memories.
Going forward I will be spending more time leading documentary film crews as well as private clients on expeditions to some of the world’s most fascinating destinations as I have done in the past.
If you have ever dreamed of experiences like swimming alongside the largest animal to ever inhabit the planet, the blue whale, tracking lions on foot like National Geographic, or being part of a world-first expedition to photograph killer whales underwater in Iceland, please visit my website: www.PictureAdventure.com and “like” the Picture Adventure Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/PictureAdventureExpeditions).
A departure memo is a great opportunity to promote your business — to hundreds if not thousands of well-heeled potential customers. See, e.g., David Tayar (Paul Weiss associate whose farewell email offered a discount on laser hair removal).
And Patrick Dykstra’s business sounds quite cool indeed. I interviewed him over email (since he’s on the other side of the world; but I wouldn’t mind meeting up with him in person sometime).
Congratulations on your departure and your new venture! Are you nervous about leaving the practice of law?
Thanks! I’m very excited about the next chapter of my life.
As far as being nervous about leaving, I’m pretty relaxed about the transition actually. I’ve been planning to move on from Biglaw for several years now and stayed a lot longer than I had originally planned. As much as I am going to miss drafting shareholders’ agreements until 2 a.m. on Saturdays, focusing more time on leading life changing expeditions to the world’s most fascinating places is definitely a change that I am ready for!
There are a fair number of Biglaw associates — and even partners — who would like to leave their firms to try something new, but can’t make it work financially. How were you able to do it?
A couple of factors went into it. First, I lived well below my means while collecting all of those Biglaw paychecks and bonuses. Second, I identified an investment strategy early in my career and stuck with it. There are many good places to invest your money, but U.S. real estate was the one that I liked most. From the time I was a first-year associate, I started buying distressed properties in the Midwest and having a friend supervise the remodel, renting, and management process. After eight years, and many remodeled rental properties, the income from the rental houses has now reached a point that I can live a relatively comfortable life without the need for additional income from a job. That is what really makes leaving, and Picture Adventure, possible.
Ultimately it is the opportunity costs that made me decide to leave the law now. I know that I won’t be able to afford certain things going forward, but each day I spend at my desk is a day that I am not climbing a volcano or swimming with killer whales — and those lost opportunities are what I truly can’t afford anymore.
And tell us about Picture Adventure. How did you come up with the idea for it?
I started Picture Adventure because travel and photography are my passions and I love introducing people to the world’s most amazing experiences. For years I was spending my vacation days seeking out unique adventures around the world, most of which required a lot of research, planning and scouting to be successful. I would often be asked by fellow photographers and other adventurers if I could take them, for example, to swim alongside a blue whale. After a lot of requests, I began taking people to do these kind of trips several years ago, and now I get asked frequently enough that I decided to make it into a small business venture.
You did remain at Gibson Dunn — which is, of course, a great firm to work at — for eight years. Any advice for folks trying to stick it out in the Biglaw trenches?
GDC has been as good to me as any firm could be. I assumed that my Biglaw stint would last the standard three or four years, at most, before I moved on, but I stuck around for eight. It only worked for me because I was able to carve out a very manageable work/life balance throughout that entire time and I always held my ground when it came to keeping travel and other plans intact, despite the Biglaw workload. Not that I am qualified to give it, but my advice to anyone in the Biglaw trenches is to (a) do good work; and (b) learn to say “no” and stick to it. If people generally like you and you do good work, your job is safe… even if you tell that partner that you are going to your friend’s wedding this weekend, despite the fact that there is an “emergency” with the IPO.
If you thought you’d work in Biglaw for just a few years, what led you to law school?
It was a challenging economy when I graduated from undergrad in 2002 and law school seemed like it would be more interesting than entering the job market right away. I did not go in thinking that I wanted to be a lawyer for the rest of my life, but instead thought I would enjoy those three years and then figure out the next step after that, knowing that as long as I did well in law school, that a job in big law would make it possible to pay back the student loans I had to take out to attend should I chose to go that route. NYU Law was full of students much smarter than me and I really did enjoy the entire experience, especially spending time with so many brilliant people. As it turns out, I did alright in law school academically and figured I’d give Gibson Dunn and sunny Los Angeles a try.
Thanks for taking the time to chat, and best of luck with your new career!
Thanks! I will still check Above the Law even though I won’t be a part of the Big Law grind anymore!
If you’d like to learn more about Picture Adventure, check out the company’s official website. If you’d like to read Patrick Dykstra’s complete departure memo, flip to the next page. Congrats again to Patrick Dykstra, and good luck to him and to Picture Adventure!