Monthly Archives: January 2013

From Lawyer to Celebrity Baker

_MG_7351WB from above with straw shortcakeWarren Brown has had his own show on the Food Network, and appeared on Oprah. His chain of bakeries, CakeLove, has several locations around Washington, DC and does a thriving online business.  He has written four cookbooks so far, and speaks compellingly to kids about the importance of pursuing their passion.  Before Warren became a baker, he practiced law.

He went to law school hoping to become an advocate for better sex education, an issue he had been working on since college.  He didn’t like law school, and practice was no better.  Baking became his refuge. It was more rewarding than practicing law, especially when people tasted the final product.  “I liked the feeling of knowing that I could make something special, fairly quickly, and lay claim to it.  It gave me an accomplishment I could point to.”

Although leaving law to run a bakery didn’t sound like a great idea to his friends and family, Warren had confidence.  He knew nothing about entrepreneurship, but he was a quick study and he had a credit card.  In March 2002, he opened the first location of CakeLove.  Local publicity led to national coverage and a guest spot on Oprah.  Warren has since appeared on the Today Show, Martha Stewart Radio, NPR, CNN and the Wall Street Journal.

Everything Warren has done, from college forward, has stemmed from his passion for solving problems.  His advocacy for better sex education led him to law school.   His need to find some joy and a sense of accomplishment in the face of an unsatisfying legal career led him to baking.   His desire to figure out how to bake a better cake led him to CakeLove.  He writes cookbooks in part to help people learn to cook and bake for themselves and to spend more time in the kitchen.  “It’s the best room in the house,” he says.

Warren isn’t sure what problem he’ll solve next, but he isn’t lacking options.  “The world has its share of problems to solve,” he says.  “I’m most interested in the ones that have a big impact, but which we don’t really talk about.”

Readers, what problems do you want to solve?  Could those solutions lead to your next career?


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Helping Lawyers Find a Career Coach

choiceI asked Marcie Schorr Hirsch, a principal with Hirsch/Hills Consulting, what lawyers who are thinking of leaving law should look for in a career coach.  Here’s her excellent advice:

“I believe that attorneys looking for a professional career expert to assist them have to seek out someone with three fairly disparate skill sets. They need someone who:

1.       is an ‘informationaholic’, who is continually gathering new information from disparate sources to maintain  a broad awareness about what is going on in the world.

2.       has the ability to rapidly see patterns and be able to find trends in large, complex sets of data.

3.       possesses a kind of creativity that I call “projective.” By this I mean that they need to be able to take their analysis of the data, sift out the priority elements (those that are strongest and most relevant to the issue of satisfying, successful work,) and envision how this  pattern of talents, values and focus translates into positions that exist currently and possible jobs that could be created for them.

There is also one last component to finding a coach with whom the attorney will find success: there must be “chemistry” which, in this case translates to the coach’s ability to get on the client’s wavelength and to engender trust. If the client also enjoys the coach’s style and company, that’s a bonus. I like to make the process more fun, less chore.( I actually think the outcomes are better when that’s the case.)

Unfortunately, while there are formal certifications for career counselors, coaches, etc., I have yet to find any that identify the elements above which, for me, are foundational. Anyone can get certified—it is simply a matter of going through the process. But the coach that will be truly, consistently successful will possess the elements above.

For that reason, referral is absolutely the best way to go. There are a number of sources who can serve in this capacity: therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists often refer people to coaches who have helped their past clients. Sometimes friends or colleagues have knowledge of someone who they or someone they know has found to be a great help. You may have encountered someone in your workplace who is consulting to your organization in a related area, such as talent management or organizational development, and they may actually do this kind of work privately or know of someone who does. Human resources professionals can be good leads as can college and university career center staff.

I like to google folks to see what they’ve published —it gives me a good idea of how they think, how original and creative they are and whether or not others hold them in high regard. Beware of folks who aren’t “out there”  providing thought leadership on career and workplace issues: they are often old-style career counselors who are heavy on the counseling part but have rather limited or dated knowledge of today’s work world.

Lastly, don’t feel limited to someone you can visit locally. While that’s a nice bonus, it’s far better to work remotely (phone/skype, etc.)with someone who is super than have “face time” with someone whose biggest asset is geographical!”

Some of the ex-lawyers profiled in Life After Law had terrific experiences with career consultants.  Having some kind of accountability and external structure for your career search can be invaluable.  As with therapists, however, the right chemistry makes all the difference.

Have you ever thought about working with a coach?  If not, why not?


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From Lawyer to Jazz Critic

Bob Blumenthal has written about jazz for Rolling Stone, the Atlantic Monthly, and the Boston Globe.  He won two Grammy awards for his album notes.  His first book, Jazz: An Introduction to the History and Legends Behind America’s Music was hailed as “the single best compact introduction to jazz currently available” by the Wall Street Journal.   For sixteen years, he was also a lawyer.  He refers to himself as a “recovering attorney in a 12-bar program.”9_15_10 Sax_ Colossus siging

Bob didn’t decide to become a full time music critic overnight.  He’d been writing about jazz since his senior year at Harvard, when he had a radio show.  An editor of what later became the Boston Phoenix offered him free tickets to a jazz performance if Bob would write a review.  Bob already knew he was going to Harvard Law School, and that his legal studies would leave him little time for jazz.  Writing occasionally for a weekly paper, he thought, could give him with a chance to stay connected to his great passion and to earn some pocket money at the same time.

He wrote occasional jazz reviews throughout law school.  After graduating in 1972, he worked in private practice for a year, which he calls “the most unpleasant year of my life.”  He found it hard to write that year, because he never knew when a partner would walk into his office at 5:30 pm, saying he needed a memo by the next morning and forcing Bob to give up his concert tickets that night.   He left to become one of six attorneys at the Massachusetts Board of Education, where he stayed for fifteen years.   His work schedule in the public sector was more predictable, and Bob had more time to write on the weekends.

When one of his Phoenix editors moved on to Rolling Stone, he recruited Bob to write.  That led to pieces in The Atlantic and other publications. Bob also started to write liner notes for jazz albums.  In the late 1980s, he became the guest critic for the Boston Globe’s Jazz Festival.   While he was still at the Department of Education, the Boston Globe asked him to be a contributor for the Arts section.  Bob agreed on the condition that they pay him an annual salary based on what they expected his contributions would be each year.  Writing for Rolling Stone and the Phoenix had built up his reputation, giving him the leverage he needed for that negotiation.  The Globe agreed.   “I became a retained freelancer,” he says.

Bob worked as a lawyer by day and a music critic at night for years.  He decided to leave law when the work was no longer challenging and he couldn’t make more money because he was at the top salary grade for his department.  When he left, he was making as much from writing as he was from his day job at the Department of Education.  It took him six years to double his writing income and replace the money he had made as a lawyer.

Although some people are surprised that Bob left law, he finds it more surprising when people who dislike their work keep trudging forward rather than trying to find a better alternative.  “If you are not happy,” he says, “how can you not change your situation?”  Leaving law is easy, he says.  “It only takes an understanding spouse with a health plan.”

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From Lawyer to Therapist

IMG_0020Will Meyerhofer is a psychotherapist whose online forum, The People’s Therapist, is especially popular among lawyers.   Psychotherapy is his third and most satisfying career.  His first was law.

Will comes from a family of therapists, including both parents and his brother, but he went to law school instead, in part because he loves to write.  He hated the adversarial nature of his law firm work from the start.   Group therapy sessions that he had started going to in law school became invaluable when he was an associate.   As a consequence of his misery, Will stopped performing at work.   His supervisors noticed, and suggested that perhaps Sullivan & Cromwell was not the right place for him.

He had forty-one informational interviews.   Networking and his persuasive skills led him toward his next job: a junior marketing position at Barnes & Noble.   Although he took a 50% pay cut, his work was more engaging at first.  After a while, however, he became bored.  He liked books, but sales didn’t motivate him.  He set out to change careers a second time.

“I told a friend that I needed someone to remind me who I was, and that I was unique and skilled,” he says. “He told me that I was a good listener.  I knew that on some level, but it helped to hear it from someone else.”    After talking with a lot of therapists, including his brother, he decided to become a therapist himself.

To do so, he had to go back to school for two years and incur another $35,000 of debt – a fraction of what he would have owed at a private university.  “I highly recommend cheap schools,” he says.   When Will graduated, he got a part time clinic job, earning less than $27,000. Almost immediately, he started seeing private clients.  After five or six years in practice, he was making a six-figure salary again.

But he is not in it to get rich, he says.  He is in it to be happy, and he is.  After all, he says, “what would you pay if I could guarantee you would be happy about what you were doing all day?”

His own story illustrates what can happen when you have the courage to start again –  in Will’s case, twice.   Will went from being miserable at his law firm job to being happier at Barnes & Noble to absolutely loving his work as a therapist.   After some hard start-up years, he now has as many clients as he wants.  He finds it immensely rewarding to help people live better lives on a daily basis.  He likes being his own boss and setting his own schedule.

Will knows, from personal experience and that of his clients, the value of figuring out what is truly going to make you happy.  “If you miss that challenge,” he says, “you miss a real opportunity for joy.”

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