Monthly Archives: September 2012

From Lawyers to Entrepreneurs

Montage LegalLaurie Rowen and Erin Giglia know a lot about unhappy lawyers.  They get at least one resume every day from attorneys looking for an alternative to law firm life with Montage Legal Group, the network of freelance attorneys Laurie and Erin founded in 2009.  Three years in, Montage Legal boasts over 60 attorneys from top law schools on both coasts, and provides legal services to over a hundred law firms. Next month, Laurie will be honored as the Orange County chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners’ Entrepreneur to Watch for 2012.

Laurie and Erin met in the litigation group at Snell and Wilmer, after both had graduated from USD.  In a bizarre twist of friendship, in late 2007 they discovered that they were pregnant at almost exactly the same time. They decided to start Montage Legal a year after both of their daughters were born in April 2008.  At first, their goal was to change the way people thought of contract lawyers.  They soon realized that they were changing the way contract lawyers thought of themselves.  By providing law firms with high-quality attorneys, whose photos and impressive profiles appear on the Montage Legal website, Laurie and Erin created an attractive alternative for lawyers who wanted to do challenging work outside the confines of traditional firms. When they first started Montage, neither of them knew much about entrepreneurship, but they applied the skills they had used as lawyers to grow their business.  Laurie learned about accounting by taking a Quickbooks class and reading books about business plans.  At Snell & Wilmer, she had created trial preparation checklists that associates there still use today.  At Montage Legal, she creates detailed checklists and planning documents that she and Erin use daily to ensure that the business is meeting its goals.  As a litigator, one of Erin’s strengths was the ability to see the big picture; she now applies that skill to Montage Legal’s overall development.  Erin’s long-term vision and Laurie’s organizational skills combined to powerful effect.

Now, as successful business owners, their lives are only slightly less busy than they were when both were litigators.  The key difference: they are growing their own business, providing top-shelf legal services and improving the lives of lawyers across the country.  They spend their days meeting with clients, working with their attorneys, speaking at events, and growing their business, which recently expanded to the D.C. area.  They somehow also find time to mentor law students on networking and career development.  Importantly, they have more flexibility in the time they spend time with their young children, and they find genuine satisfaction in their work.

If you were going to start your own business, what would you do?  How can you start doing it now?

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What’s Harder to Leave: Money or Status?

When lawyers, especially those in big firms, think about doing something else, the first question that comes up is almost always this:  how would I make enough money doing anything else?  Those fabulous associate salaries are easy to get used to, especially when you have debt.  For newer lawyers, the money question matters mostly because of debt – whether it’s the $240,000 of law school debt that many people graduate with, or the mortgage they took on when they settled into their new jobs.  For lawyers who have been in practice a bit longer, the money question may have more to do with their kids’  school tuition or the “lifestyle to which they’ve become accustomed.”  It gets a lot harder to justify those gorgeous suits and handbags, or the lease on the Lotus, on the salaries that most college graduates earn.

But is it harder to give up the money or the status that comes with being a lawyer?   In general, it’s pretty easy to feel good about yourself at a cocktail party where the conversation stays superficial.    Isn’t it nice to be able to impress people with the three little words, “I’m a lawyer”?  Being a lawyer – any kind of lawyer – gives you a certain status that can come in handy, say, with the parents of the person you may hope to marry.  If you come from a lower-income family, as I do, your family may also take a certain pride in telling people what you do.   Moving from law to a different profession usually results in some sense that the ground is shifting under you in large part because you no longer have that quick status signifier to fall back on – at least, not immediately.

What do you think the hardest part of leaving the law is:  the likely drop in income, or the change in status?




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From Law Student to Media Consultant

Greg Stone is making me coffee in his beautiful Victorian home on a small hill.  As we discuss his path from Rutgers Law School to Stone Communications, his media consulting company, he tells me about turning down an attractive law firm offer right out of school to pursue journalism instead.

Greg’s father had been a lawyer, and his family expected him to follow suit.  So, a year after graduating from Harvard College, Greg started law school.  He hated it from the first day, but worked with a number of lawyers while he finished school.  His summer associate experiences led to a full time job offer.  That terrified him.  “It seemed like too much money,” he tells me.  “I didn’t want to be tied down to a job I might hate.”  So, in his last year of law school, he applied to Columbia Journalism School, and got in.

Greg’s first job out of journalism school, as an apprentice writer for  Time, paid $15,000.  That job led to promotions at Money and at Time Video.  At some point in his media career, an employer offered to pay for an executive business education at Columbia and Greg got his master’s by going to school on Fridays.    Eventually,  Greg worked for television stations, and then moved into video production as an independent producer, starting  his own business at the age of 36.

If he had it to do over again, would he have gone to law school?  No, he tells me.  “You should only go to law school for one reason: that you want to be a lawyer.”  He advises his teenage kids that they should do what they love and work hard at it, even if they are not sure they will be good at it.    “A law degree is not something to ‘fall back on’ – especially these days.”

So many lawyers feel trapped by their degrees: by the amount of time they put into their J.D., by the amount of money they and their families invested, and by the sense that they would disappoint their families if they chose a different path.  But building a succesful career, as Greg has done, takes time – and we all have finite time.  As he says, “We shouldn’t be shackled by our credentials.”

Do you feel bound by your law degree?  What could you do if you weren’t?

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From Law Professor to Acupuncturist

Clare Dalton has  been one of my role models for 25 years, both for her brilliance and her bravery.  In 1987,  then-Professor Dalton sued Harvard Law School for sex discrimination when she was denied her tenure.  She won her case, but she didn’t go back to Harvard – which was my loss, because I didn’t get to study with her when I arrived a few years later.  Instead, she went to Northeastern and used some of her settlement from Harvard to help create a domestic violence institute that helped advocate for victims.   In short, she was a model of the lawyer many lawyers want to be:  someone who used her brilliant legal mind to teach students, advocate for the underserved, and go up against the system when she was treated unfairly herself.  And she didn’t have to bill her hours.

And now, for something completely different.  Last year, the Boston Globe ran a story describing Clare Dalton’s latest career transformation: from academia to acupuncture.  In 2010, Dalton started her own practice after having studied acupuncture in England and Florida.  She told the Globe that her acupuncture certification exams were harder than any other exams she had taken, including law exams.   How great is this?  Dalton opened her own practice, and now sees patients in the Boston area.   I love that the “About Clare” section of her acupuncture website simply mentions that this is her second career.  No details about the whole sued-Harvard-and-won things, or about the leading-advocate-for-domestic-violence-legal-reform thing.  Just a clear-headed profile of her qualifications for her new profession.

To me, it looks like Dalton has dedicated her life to helping other people in one form after another.  She is now healing patients by using her hands, as opposed to helping students and victims of domestic violence by using her brain.  She also has a history of choosing the more difficult option when she knew it was right for her, and ultimately benefiting society as a whole.  How many lawyers can say that?



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iRelaunching in Law

One of the most generous people I know – and one of the best resources for unhappy lawyers – is Carol Fishman Cohen, the co-founder (with Vivian Steir Rabin) of iRelaunch.    iRelaunch helps people restart, reconfigure, and reboot their careers after they have taken time off from work, whether it has been one year or 20.   They run a dizzying series of conferences, mentoring circles, and other programs that help people who have been out of the workforce figure out their next steps.

I met Carol while I was figuring out my own career relaunch a few years ago, and read her book “Back on the Career Track.”  After she introduced me to Golden Seeds, the angel investing network where I now serve as the Executive Director, she gave me the chance to speak at an iRelaunch conference about what had become my own successful career revamp.

Lawyers, you won’t be at all surprised to learn, make up a big part of the iRelaunch audience.  Many of them have gone from Big Law to home to Big Law again, but many of them have relaunched in an entirely different direction.  Carol and Vivian tell the stories of many of these lawyers in the “Relaunching in Law” section of their site, which is here.

The Relaunching Lawyers list is a great place to start reading about other lawyers who have taken time off, reconsidered, and rebooted.

What will your relaunch story be?

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