Monthly Archives: December 2012

From Lawyer to Research Director

sara harnishSara Harnish attributes her career change to being lucky and to staying friends with
the right people.  In her case, one of her key opportunities came from a law school friend who offered her a chance to intern at of the country’s most prestigious hospitals.  Her internship led to her current position as Assistant Director of Non-Clinical Research at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Sara started out as a litigator, but she never liked it.  At 43, she stopped practicing law. At 48, she started her internship at Dana-Farber.   “I was terrified,” she says. Her computer skills were rusty.  She was a Mac person working in an office full of PCs.   Although the technology was daunting, she loved the fact that everyone was focused on the same goal of curing cancer.  It reminded her of what to her was the best part of law practice: the sense that everyone was working together to solve a problem.

Sara worked her way up to her current role. Part of her job involves facilitating meetings that bring together oncologists, nurses, and community members to review potential treatment protocols and informed consent forms.  Another part of her job involves reviewing the informed consent documents to make sure that they are both comprehensive and, importantly, easy for patients to understand. Sara’s legal background helps with both of these.

She learned everything she knows by jumping in. It took her a few years to feel truly comfortable with the work, she says, but her confidence has grown over time.  “It was like being in a foreign country where you speak a little of the language, and you need to get your family around safely.”  From time to time, she still feels a bit on edge. “I will never understand genome sequencing the way scientists do,” she says.

Sara points out that there are many ways for ex-lawyers to work in health care.  Like most big institutions, hospitals value people who communicate well.  Lawyers could use their communications and/or analytical skills in hospital development, communications, risk management, or patient advocacy, for example.

Sara still thinks of herself as a lawyer.  “But I went on retired status just last year,” she laughs.

Comments Off on From Lawyer to Research Director

Filed under From Law To ...

From Lawyer to Pizzeria Owner and Lawyer

Shannon Liss-Riordan has neveshannon2r been one for convention.  When I met her as a student at Harvard Law School, she was dedicated to having a public interest career, a rarity among our classmates.  Sixteen years later, she is one of the state’s most feared class action litigators, representing hourly wage workers – including the employees of the Upper Crust pizzeria chain.  Shannon sued Upper Crust on their behalf in 2010.

Last month, Upper Crust went bankrupt in the wake of that lawsuit and several related scandals involving the recruitment and underpayment of illegal immigrants.  This week, Shannon bought the Harvard Square location of Upper Crust.

She and another investor are restructuring the restaurant so that all of the employees have ownership shares.  There is talk that she will change the name of the restaurant from Upper Crust to The Just Crust.  She hopes that the location, which closed last month, will reopen in a few months.  In the meantime, Shannon is preparing for trial in the employees’ class action suit, which is scheduled for next summer.

I have admired Shannon’s chutzpah for years.  The way she put her talents to use defending some of the most voiceless among us represents the best part of the legal system.  And now, with her decision to buy the Upper Crust in Harvard Square, she defies convention again.  I have no idea what she’ll do next, which is one of the reasons she is such a great role model for other lawyers.

Hat tip: Eater Boston

Comments Off on From Lawyer to Pizzeria Owner and Lawyer

Filed under From Law To ...

From Lawyer to Sociology Professor

EHG Photo-UVA LawnLiz Gorman spent years working at prestigious law firms before realizing that what she really wanted to do was teach in the social sciences.  She switched careers entirely after ten years in practice, and is now a tenured sociology professor at the University of Virginia

Liz spent her first few years after law school at a Washington, DC firm, but she didn’t enjoy government work. She moved to New York and joined a Wall Street firm, but that had problems of its own.  “It was all about money. It took my breath away to see these incredibly smart people spending 100 hours a week figuring out whether one corporation could get a little more money than another.”

Frustrated, she left the firm and spent some time on the kind of comprehensive self-assessment she now wishes she had done in college. She read “What Color Is Your Parachute,” and loved working through the book’s exercises. That self-analysis led her to realize both that she had an academic bent and that she was most interested in the social sciences.

Although she didn’t know which of the social sciences she wanted to focus on at first, auditing classes at Columbia helped her narrow her interests to sociology.  Her family moved to Boston so that Liz could study at Harvard, where she had been an undergraduate.   “The hardest thing about going back to school was restarting the learning curve,” she says. For the previous ten years, Liz had been a professional with a certain amount of autonomy. Now, she was studying unfamiliar subjects, like advanced statistics, and learning about theorists she had never read.

After getting her doctorate, Liz joined the faculty at the University of Virginia, commuting on the weekends to her family in Boston.  She loved academia from the start.  While she was on the tenure track, she stopped the clock when she and her husband adopted each of their children. She got tenure, and is now an associate professor.

Liz’s advice to unhappy lawyers is this: make a move as soon as you know you’re unhappy.  She remembers that when she was practicing law in New York, she sometimes felt as though she was in Invasion of the Body Snatchers. She barely recognized the person she was during the day at the firm, but she would get herself back at night. “If your job pulls at you like that,” she says, “listen to that voice and take some action. You don’t want to wake up at 75 and feel bad about what you did with your life.”

Comments Off on From Lawyer to Sociology Professor

Filed under From Law To ...

From Lawyer to Rabbi

Van LancktonVan Lanckton liked practicing law, but he loves being a rabbi.   His  “aha” career change moment came as he recovered from triple bypass surgery in 2001.  He thought a lot about a single question:  For what purpose had his life been saved?  He decided to retire from the firm where he had spent the last twenty years of his legal career in order to enroll in full-time study in rabbinical school – at the age of 60 – and graduated six years later.

What does he love about being a rabbi? “The  opportunity to accompany people both at times of great joy and great sadness is an amazing gift,” he says. “Whether you help name a child, help that child pass through the rites of puberty as a bar mitzvah, marry people, or be with them when they are sick or dying, these are chances to assist people that you just don’t get as a lawyer, even when you represent individuals.” When he practiced law, he notes, there was a limit to the amount of stress his clients were under because their problems were financial. In contrast, he says, the help he can give as a rabbi is priceless.

I was stunned to learn that at least two other rabbis in greater Boston are former lawyers like Van, but he points out that there are many similarities between lawyers and rabbis.  Being a rabbi is “simply studying law from a higher authority,” he notes. “And sermons are just like closing arguments, with no judge or opposing counsel.” I ask whether the counseling aspect is the same. ‘Not really,” he says. “When you counsel clients as a lawyer, they have a fixed set of options. When you’re counseling congregants, you are mostly just listening.”

For Van, changing careers was “a million dollar decision,” as he puts it. When he compares what he would have earned as a lawyer in the years since he resigned to what he has earned as a rabbi, he thinks the differential is about a million dollars. But it’s not money he needed, he points out.  “Many people think they can’t make a change like this, but they can,” he says.  The tendency to be conservative about our personal possessions may make it hard to distinguish what we need from what we have, and therefore want to keep. “You may not be able to keep up with the mortgage on that five bedroom house,” he says, “but do you really need to live in such a large house?” Van says he has seen too often people who end up frustrated and bitter when they give preference to  making a living over making a life.

Drawing on both his legal and rabbinic careers, Van believes strongly in living the examined life. “If you don’t examine your choices carefully,” he cautions, “you may be wasting the only life you get.”

1 Comment

Filed under From Law To ...

Intermix: Flexible Work for Ex-Big-Firm Lawyers

Leila KananiToday’s post is from Leila Kalani, the founder of Intermix Legal Group.

Leila knows a lot about the inflexibility that comes with traditional law firm employment. That’s why she created Intermix Legal Group for attorneys who had other commitments or were “law firm refugees” and wanted to be able to work on a project or part time basis from home based around their own schedules. Intermix is based in Chicago and works with law firms and legal departments in Chicago and the DC metro area.

After practicing intellectual property law for 10 years in prestigious firms in DC and Atlanta, Leila decided to leave BigLaw. She was getting married and wanted to start a family and knew she wanted more flexible working arrangements. But she also knew she didn’t want to stop practicing. However, there were no companies that catered to helping attorneys who wanted to leave full time work and still stay engaged with interesting legal work, on a more flexible basis than billing a set number of hours a year.  She left Sterne, Kessler, Goldstein, and Fox in DC to start her own firm and gain that flexibility.

At one point in her practice, she had needed a few experienced attorneys to help her on special projects and overflow work. After many failed attempts with different traditional legal staffing companies she turned to her own network of attorney colleagues who had recently left the practice. She soon realized there were so many attorneys that had left BigLaw or wanted to leave for reasons such as their families, because their firms would not allow for more flexible working arrangements. These attorneys were qualified to do top legal work without supervision or hand holding, much more so than the junior attorneys the traditional staffing companies had recommended.  There seemed to be no reason why these same seasoned attorneys could not do part time work from home.  Leila knew that if her former firm could benefit from this hidden pool of talent, then so could so many other law firms and corporate legal departments if only they had a source from which they could be matched with these attorneys.   Intermix became that source.

To start her team, she tapped her network.  After 10 years of working and maintaining good connections with her colleagues, she had developed a very strong network, and was overwhelmed with the response from attorneys that wanted to join her team.  These attorneys had an average of eight years’ experience and are almost all women who had left their law firms to stay at home with their families. The attorneys currently bill between $125-$200 an hour, and also work on project flat fee rates.

Intermix provides experienced freelance attorneys for project based work to assist law firms and legal departments with resourcing challenges such as overflow work and special projects. Legal departments and law firms can now send work to Intermix’s pool of talented attorneys knowing they are getting high quality legal services at significant savings.

My questions for you, readers, are these:  what are the obstacles to creating more firms like Intermix?  While firms like Intermix and Montage Legal Group attract many working mothers, can you see more men joining firms like these in the future?

Comments Off on Intermix: Flexible Work for Ex-Big-Firm Lawyers

Filed under Other