Career Alternatives

Just a typical lapsed lawyer (J.D., Northwestern ’68)

Lawyers turn into ex-lawyers for a host of reasons. The transition can be voluntary or not. We all know that erstwhile attorneys have successfully gone on to become, among thousands of other things, consultants, teachers, writers, and entrepreneurs. Late last year, in partnership with our friends at Adam Smith Esq., we reached out to lapsed lawyers to ask them their personal stories. Why did they choose the law in the first place? Why did they leave? What are they up to now? Do they regret leaving the practice of law? (A whopping 93% said “no” to that last question.)

We were quite pleased with the level of response to our survey: 430 former (or “recovering”) lawyers shared their stories with us. The tales they told us bring to mind a sort of inversion of Tolstoy’s line about happy and unhappy families. Those who were positive about their time spent practicing had a diverse range of experiences; those who were unhappy mostly tell the same story.

Read on for the details.

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Beneath the skin of many a suit-sporting lawyer beats the heart of a writer. Law offices across the land are stocked with aspiring novelists, poets, journalists, and others who long to write things other than credit agreements or motions to dismiss.

Perhaps you’re a literary type who went to law school on a lark but long to return to the world of arts and letters. If so, keep reading to learn about how to make that dream a reality….

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These days, traveling for work can be a real pain thanks to the efforts of the Transportation Security Administration. With all of the electronic gadgets you may be carrying with you to your destination, having to unload and reload your bags and pockets during every business trip you make can get old, and quickly at that.

If only there were something — perhaps an article of clothing — that would allow you to carry everything you could possibly need, from work-related tech gear to personal items and more. All you’d have to do is take it off at security checkpoints and then be on your way without the usual hassle. Wouldn’t that be amazing?

As it turns out, that piece of clothing exists, and it was created by a former corporate and real estate lawyer….

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Marathons and triathlons are so passé. They’re just not thrilling enough; you need an endurance event that’s going to make you feel truly alive. Enter Tough Mudder, a 10 to 12 mile obstacle course designed to test participants’ all-around strength, stamina, mental grit, and camaraderie. This isn’t a race, it’s a challenge, and participants are greeted upon entry with an ominous sign that reads, “Remember You Signed a Death Waiver.”

If you choose to sign up for one of these events, some of the extreme challenges you’ll experience include trudging through a mile of waist-deep mud, sprinting through blazing fire, being submerged in ice water so cold that hypothermia is a real possibility, and running through 10,000 volts of electricity. If that sounds crazy, it’s because it is.

This is the kind of torture that could only have been dreamed up by a former Biglaw tax attorney….

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Many of our readers are busy Biglaw attorneys, and almost as a rite of passage, many of them have come home from work late at night, showered and gotten completely dressed and ready for the next day, and slept in their clothes for a few hours, if only because they knew they wouldn’t have the time or energy to complete their morning routines before returning to the office.

If this sounds like an enjoyable lifestyle, then more power to you. For others, a more relaxing life beckons each and every day, but only some are brave enough to heed its call. When the art of relaxation summoned this corporate lawyer, she listened, and managed to turn it into a successful business opportunity as the founder of Higher Ground Yoga.

If you’re in search of some zen, this stealth lawyer may be able to assist you….

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If you’ve ever been in a bookstore (and we hope that you have), you’ve seen the ubiquitous red Zagat guides, often situated right next to the checkout line to encourage impulse purchases. They’re wonderful resources for the restaurant-obsessed (note my avoidance of the f-word). The Zagat guides compile thousands upon thousands of user-generated reviews and distill them into clear, concise, often clever capsule reviews of restaurants in top cities around the world.

Last year, Google purchased Zagat for between $100 million to $200 million. That’s a pretty nice chunk of change — especially for a pair of former lawyers.

Yes, Tim and Nina Zagat are attorneys. Let’s learn about how they got their start….

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Dear Law School Deans:

How’s the media boycott going? Oh wait… you’re not doing that? So it must feel a bit like a digital mob is baying at your walls. Apparently, any attempt to defend the “value proposition” of a legal education will be met with instant scorn and mockery (and not just here on ATL.)

Now, deep down, we all know that no serious person can actually believe that law school deans are venal and sinister characters looking to simply con students. You entered your profession in the hope of helping students get the best legal education possible. And you find yourself in a world where your motives are being impugned. And we all know the parade of horribles that is the legal job market: only about half of all law school graduates will find a job requiring bar passage, and at least half of those who do find legal jobs don’t make enough money to service their debt.

When law schools are put on the defensive about employment numbers, we often hear about how the J.D. is so incredibly versatile and will serve its holder well in any context: banking, consulting, business, and what have you. There is some skepticism about this.

On the one hand, there are too may lawyers and too few jobs. On the other, a law degree can be used in a variety of ways. There is a mountain of data proving the former assertion, there is little data to support or refute the latter. So let’s try to settle this….

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In Stealth Lawyers, their excellent ongoing video series on career alternatives for attorneys, our friends at Bloomberg Law have covered the range of human needs. They’ve written about lawyers who help us eat, drink, and laugh. Is there really more to life than that?

As a matter of fact, there is. It’s important that you smell good while doing all these things.

Bloomberg has you covered. In today’s installment, they profile a prosecutor turned perfumer. Before he switched careers, he saved up a lot of money….

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So you think you’re pretty funny? If you have an excellent sense of humor that you feel is going unappreciated within the stuffy legal profession, you should apply to work for us here at ATL.

But there are other avenues that comedically inclined counselors can explore. For example, you can ditch your Biglaw job to try and make it as a comedian.

Check out the latest installment of the Career Alternatives video series being produced by our friends at Bloomberg Law. It features a prominent comedian, one you may recognize from his many television appearances, who in a prior life worked as a lawyer….

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‘…to take a survey (if you’re a non-practicing lawyer).’

You almost never hear of someone enduring the rigors of med school, becoming a doctor, practicing medicine for a few years, and then just ditching the profession altogether. The same could be said of licensed plumbers and electricians. Yet lapsed lawyers are everywhere: making chocolate, writing novels, blogging, leading the free world, whatever.

Obviously, there are myriad reasons for leaving the profession. Some ex- (or “recovering”) lawyers were nudged out or fired, while others left of their own free will to follow their muses onto different career paths. Some simply hated being a lawyer. Some hated the clients (e.g., “[W]hat do I care about some stranger let alone his problems?” — Columbia Law grad turned soldier-of-fortune Denis Clifford).

Not everyone buys into the idea that a law degree is so versatile (hi, Elie), but some non-practicing JDs do find that that their legal training was great preparation for the next stage of their careers.

We are reaching out to lapsed lawyers to ask them their personal stories. Why did you choose the law in the first place? Why did you leave? What are you up to now? Looking back at your time practicing law, how would you describe your experience? And so forth.

Are you an ex-lawyer? Please click here to take our survey and share your experiences. This survey is the first in a series of research projects in partnership with our friends at AdamSmithEsq, where the Lapsed Lawyer survey will also be hosted.

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