Career Alternatives

Barry Levenson

Are you a foodie? Are you committed enough to the gustatory world to leave the awful taste of the law behind and start a museum about your favorite food? Wisconsin lawyer Barry Levenson was that devoted. Sadly, his favorite food is mustard.

Levenson got a shout-out on NPR this morning for his National Mustard Museum. Levenson is a Wisconsin law grad who had quite a distinguished legal career. According to On Wisconsin, he practiced for 15 years and headed the Criminal Appeals Unit of the Wisconsin DOJ, arguing lots of cases before the state Supreme Court. In 1986, after a disappointing World Series — another sad note: Levenson is a Boston Red Sox fan — he consoled himself by buying lots of his favorite food: mustard. While healthier than ice cream, it turned into an obsession.

He began manically collecting jars of mustard. In 1987, one of his cases made it to One First Street; before oral argument in Griffin v. Wisconsin, he spotted a jar he didn’t have yet on a room service tray at his hotel and stuck it in his suit pocket, where it remained while he addressed the Nine. It was good luck perhaps. He won the Fourth Amendment case, 5-4. Levenson tells us he got some inspiration thinking back on “Justice Felix FRANKFURTER and Chief Justice Warren BURGER.”

Eventually, Levenson decided he wanted to flavor his whole life with mustard. He gave up his law job in 1992 and opened his museum. It gets 30,000 visitors per year. How do you make mustard that sexy?

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No, that’s not a typo; we’re not talking about firefighting. We’re talking about fart fighting. From our sister site, the fabulous Fashionista:

There’s no graceful way to introduce this product, so we’ll just cut to the chase: “Subtle Butt” is a disposable patch of fabric with an “activated carbon layer… to which stench adheres and gets neutralized.” Except there’s nothing subtle about farting.

In short, Subtle Butt is a small square of fabric you stick to your underwear just in case you lay a real stinky egg. If it’s loud, you’re on your own. Subtle Butt does nothing to muffle sound. Gross.

This product sounds like a gas — and very useful for lawyers. Imagine you’re in a marathon negotiation session for a billion-dollar merger, or deposing the opposing party’s CEO, and that Mexican food you ordered from Seamless Web has given you flatulence.

Do you really want to waste precious (billable) time by stopping the proceedings and stepping out of the conference room, just to toot your own kazoo? If Subtle Butt has you covered, just let it rip — and cough really loudly or drop binders on the floor, to cover up the noise.

In light of Subtle Butt’s utility for attorneys, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the inventor is a lawyer….

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It has come to our attention that a local comedy club is holding a contest to determine “the funniest lawyer in New York.” Could this be a train wreck of epic proportions? Based on the tagline in the event poster, all signs points to “yes.”

Oh boy. You know what they say: those who can, do; those who can’t, show up and make fun of those who can…

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I have come to the conclusion that most Americans really enjoy three things:

  1. Freedom
  2. Earning money, and
  3. Buying food out of a truck.

Think about it. Remember as a kid when you would hear the music from your local ice cream truck making its way down your street? Remember running towards it as if your life hung in the balance, all the while thinking, MUST-GET-ICE CREAM-NOW!? And it didn’t matter whether you had 14 gallons of every conceivable flavor of ice cream at home; you just had to have your King Cone or Chocolate Chip Cookie Sandwich. Those were good times.

Well, roughly a year ago, George Washington University Law alum Sam Whitfield was reviewing documents for discovery as contract lawyer in Washington, DC, when he and his colleagues began craving cupcakes. The problem was no one wanted to venture across town to a local hot spot, Georgetown Cupcake,to pick them up. That’s when Sam had his first rendezvous with cupcake destiny.

“I thought, what if we could get cupcakes delivered to us?” he said. “I come up with three or four crazy ideas like this every day.”

Soon thereafter he found himself investing in a truck, a baker, and cake mix (lots of cake mix). In a very short time, Curbside Cupcakes was born, but would DC find his idea as delicious as he did?

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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….

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Ed. note: This post is written by Will Meyerhofer, a Biglaw attorney turned psychotherapist, whom we profiled. A former Sullivan & Cromwell associate, he holds degrees from Harvard, NYU Law, and The Hunter College School of Social Work. He blogs at The People’s Therapist.

It’s frustrating, trying to teach lawyers the fundamentals of doing business. Several of them arrive in my office each month, wanting advice on changing careers. But they haven’t got a clue.

That’s because they still think success is making your parents happy. Lawyers start out as the kids who do everything right. They behave. They obey. They get good grades. Typically they aren’t especially talented at anything – just good at everything. The formal education system is designed to reward that sort of bland “goodness.” It isn’t about getting an A in any one subject – it’s about getting “all A’s.”

That doesn’t make any sense in the real world. You don’t need “all A’s,” you need to discover the work that you love to do….

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We’ve written before about how cheerleading for football teams is a possible career for J.D.s, but what about coaching football teams? A Detroit Lions assistant secondary coach, Daron Roberts, has done just that. The Harvard Law graduate and former Biglaw attorney is coaching in the NFL, notwithstanding the fact that he had no prior coaching experience before he left Biglaw behind. ESPN the Magazine reports:

Roberts got the bug when he tagged along with a friend who was working as a counselor at Steve Spurrier’s prep camp in South Carolina. He had long been a gridiron fanatic; in high school, he spent twice as many hours at football practice as he did studying. But working at Spurrier’s camp, he began to entertain thoughts of becoming the next Jon Gruden (whose book, Do You Love Football?!, was a big hit with Roberts). Something inside the law student changed during those three days. “The best part was sitting with the campers at night,” Roberts says. “Our talks would switch from zone technique to girlfriends. That’s when I realized football is the most powerful conduit for reaching young men in America, and that I had to be a coach.”

You’ll forgive me if I feel a little kindred connection with Roberts. Here’s a guy who had a law degree and a high-paying job and gave it up to pursue something he truly loved. His story is further proof that you can break out of the Biglaw box, if you want it badly enough…

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Good news for general counsel who dream of one day sitting in the king’s seat: the ABA Magazine says there is a new trend of corporations tapping lawyers to become top executives:

Nine of the Fortune 50 companies now have a lawyer as chief executive, up from three just a decade ago. In December, Bank of America and Continental Airlines became the two most recent publicly traded corporations to do so. Also in 2009, Citigroup named Richard Parsons, another lawyer, as its chairman, which is separate from the CEO.

Business leaders and corporate headhunters agree that the JD is once again an alternative to the MBA as the degree of choice for CEO candidates, and that the trend is very likely to increase over the next decade.

Woo-hoo. Maybe law school grads will start kicking biz school grads to the curb. Vanderbilt’s management school dean goes so far as to call the J.D. a “renaissance degree.”

According to the ABA Magazine, one law school is particularly successful in sending its grads off to lead a company instead of doing bet-the-company work….

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‘Think,’ one of the pieces on display at Agora Gallery.

This past weekend, two of your ATL editors paid a visit to Agora Gallery in Chelsea. We wanted to see for ourselves the LEGO brick sculptures of Nathan Sawaya, the lawyer turned LEGO artist.

As explained in our profile of Sawaya, the NYU Law grad left Winston & Strawn for a $30,000-a-year job as a builder at LEGOLAND. Several years later, Sawaya is now a world-renowned LEGO artist, whose works sell for thousands of dollars.

So, what did we get to set our eyes on? And how did we like it?

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Welcome to the latest installment in our career alternatives series, in which we explore opportunities for attorneys outside the world of large law firms. We know and love the world of Biglaw — it’s our focus here at Above the Law — but we realize that there are other things you can do with a law degree.

One possible alternative: corporate intelligence (aka working as a private investigator / detective). A legal education certainly helps if you want to break into this field. Jules Kroll — founder of Kroll Inc., and widely regarded as “the founding father of the modern intelligence and security industry” — is a lawyer (Georgetown Law ’66).

We chatted with lawyer Philip Segal, founder of Charles Griffin Intelligence LLC, about how he got his start in this area.

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