Reinvention: Do More of What You Love, Discover More of Who You Are

Paul E  Kandarian (2)Yesterday, a Boston Globe writer named Paul Kandarian profiled me in connection with the She Did It/Boston Conference, coming up on March 24 (get your tickets here!), where I’m moderating a panel on career reinvention for women over 50.  When I thanked him, Paul responded with a wonderful note about his own reinvigoration, underscoring the transformative power of doing more of what you love without knowing in advance where it will lead.  With his permission, I’m reprinting his note here:

After talking to you I realized how much I fall into the realm of which you speak. I’m 60, and have been a writer for 33 years, doing 15 years at a daily paper and since then, solely working as a freelance writer/photographer, embracing the uncertainty and magic of it in equal, energizing doses. But in the last 10 or so years, I’ve really found myself, as it were: I got into acting seven years ago and find it the most freeing experience of my life, giving me a level of self-fulfillment that continues to surprise and delight. And I’ve also gotten more into travel writing, a lot, and find myself winging around the world to write about exotic places.

These just happened by seeming accident, but when I really think about it, it was more about unwittingly designing my own life, as I think we all do, we’re all in charge of our own destiny, our own life’s design. I’d long wanted to act, just never had the courage to do it, but when I did, it opened a door for me that was incredible and incredibly unexpected in how it satisfies, and continues to feed a long-held yearning. And I’ve always loved to travel (I was a flight attendant in my 20s, believe it or not), so combining my writing ability with the hungering ache to travel was a perfect fit, and one that again, seemingly just happened but was most likely the result of my subconscious design.

I guess that’s the long version of confirming what you advise others, to find what it is inside you that you may not even know is there, and capturing its ability to fulfill, to satisfy, using the skills you already have. I do many things I find satisfying in my life, but the recent acting bug completes that in an way I’d never imagined. I shouldn’t say complete; life is not complete until you draw your last breath, it’s ongoing, changing, morphing into forms that bring much of why we’re here into crystal perspective.

Anyway, thanks for thanking me, but thanks mostly for realizing what we all have in us and guiding others into recognizing how to best bring that out. There is so much untapped human potential in all of us, I’m happy you’re showing folks the way!

Readers, do you know anyone who is trying to reinvent themselves later in their careers – say, 50 and up?  What challenges are they (you?) dealing with?  What helps?

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From Lawyer to Academic, Author, Distiller or Tour Guide

LAL3DI love profiling former lawyers who have carved out fantastic alternative careers for themselves.  Here are four very different paths taken by ex-lawyers, all of which, frankly, sound fascinating.  I’m especially drawn to the tour guide story, since one of my first and favorite jobs was leading tours as a high school student around the Massachusetts State House.  That early experience telling stories on my feet to a captive audience, and the thrill I got from doing so, no doubt played into my decisions to become a litigator and, eventually, a business professor.  Each of these former lawyers also tapped into something they love to do in order to find their next, and better, career (well, OK, except for the prize-winning novelist who is still a public defender).

1.  Robin Kelsey, who used to practice law in California, is the Director of Graduate Studies in the History of Art and Architecture Department at Harvard and has tenure.  According to Harvard’s website, Professor Kelsey is “a specialist in the histories of photography and American art, Professor Kelsey has published on the role of chance in photographic production, geographical survey photography, landscape theory, and the nexus of art and law.”  Art and law!  Kelsey has also written and edited books about photography, including “Archive Style,” on photographs and illustrations for U.S. surveys in the late 19th century.  Writing about old photographs sounds like a fantastic job to me, but the cherry on top is that he works with my favorite historian, Jill Lepore.

2.  Sergio de la Pava, who is actually still working as a public defender in New York, won the PEN award for his self-published(!) debut(!) novel about a public defender in New York.  Heads up for lawyers who love to write – including those of us who have always loved to write but who went to law school in part to make money – de la Pava won the most lucrative prize given by PEN, worth $25,000.   His story is also one of remarkable persistence, since he began writing his 678-page novel at work in 1998 and did not self-publish it until 2008.  The PEN prize came five years later.  His second novel, Personae, is also getting a lot of love from literary critics.

3.  Michael Lowe, who practiced law in DC for years before starting DC’s first distillery in over a century with his son in law.  Their small-batch gin, Green Hat, is getting national coverage from gourmets and praise from local upscale restaurants.  More about what makes their seasonal gin superior here.

4.  Jack Friedman, a former telecommunications and finance lawyer whose job was eliminated in 2008, when he was in his late 50s.  After working with career coaches, Friedman decided to create an entirely different second career: he now leads student tours, primarily in Washington DC, New York, Philadelphia and Boston.   He says that his new job allows him to combine his love of travel with his interest in working with young people.  It also allows him to use some of his legal skills, like speaking in front of a group and doing advance research, but he gets to set his schedule and only works four to five months out of the year.

For thirty more stories of former lawyers who love their new careers, read Life After Law: Finding Work You Love with the JD You Have.  It makes a great Valentine’s Day gift for the unhappy lawyer in your life (is that you?).

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Unhappy in Law: When Is It Time to Leave?  

LifeAfterLawYou’re practicing law, but you have doubts.  When should you start acting on them?  While there’s no universal answer, there are a few good guidelines.

First, it’s never too soon to start keeping the kind of notes that will help you figure out when and how to leave.  Don’t sit with a vague feeling of discontent indefinitely.  Instead of simmering, fuming or venting your general frustration, start a list of notable specific experiences (not on your work computer, please). List incidents, projects, and interactions that you enjoyed and those that frustrated you.

Focusing on your subjective responses to what happened, so that eventually you can get a grip on the particular drivers of your unhappiness.  Writing this down – and I don’t think there is a good substitute for writing – will help you form a detailed picture of what you do and don’t like about law.  Are the work conditions getting you down?  Does how much, when and/or where you work chafe at you?  Is it the skills you’re asked to use, or praised for? The subject matter? All of the above?

The point of this process is to figure out what, if anything, you like about what you do – otherwise known as your “preferred skills.”  That, in turn, will help you figure out what skills you want to draw on in your next career, and what value you have to sell to other employers.  Knowing your preferred skills drives your elevator pitch; it also drives your networking process by helping you figure out whom to target.  That process, in turn, will help you get clarity about where you want to use those preferred skills.

Should you leave before you have your next gig lined up?  I did this myself, and while I don’t recommend it as a general practice, some people need the time and space away from work that only a career break can provide in order to think critically about their own future.   Vacations, even the rare two-week kind, don’t usually cut it.  It is especially challenging to answer the “so what do you do?” question at parties when you are between careers, but you’d be surprised at the number of people who have tremendous respect for – and often envy of – people with the courage to make that kind of change.

Now, sixth and seventh year associates are in a unique position.  As partnership decisions loom, these associates tend to face  more suspicion in leaving law than more junior or senior lawyers.  Their advantage, on the other hand, is that they have more work experiences and perhaps more volunteer experiences to draw on in proving their preferred skills.  The upside of shifts in the legal profession is that more and more people outside of law  – more prospective non-legal employers, more friends, and more parents – who understand that partnership is no longer guaranteed even for wonderful happy lawyers.   The stigma of leaving law is diminishing all the time.

Above all, don’t wait too long to leave.  While I’ve never met any ex lawyers who regretted leaving the law, I’ve met far too many who wish they had done so earlier.

Readers, what told you it was time to leave?  How did you take those first steps?

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More Support for Your Brilliant Post-Law Career

crossing_the_chasmIn this season of Thanksgiving, I’m grateful for everyone who helps unhappy lawyers find and excel in non-legal careers.  In addition to the practical advice and inspiring stories in Life After Law, there are a number of great resources out there for lawyers considering a big change:

Marc Luber’s JDCareersOutThere offers terrific advice for lawyers exploring and changing careers.  His “JD Refugee” videos, for “people who are applying their legal skills without practicing law,” should be one of the first stops for JDs considering alternative fields.

Chelsea Callanan’s Happy Go Legal is a coaching service that focuses on new lawyers, but applies a holistic approach to help all lawyers find the best-fitting career.  Callanan’s blog and podcasts expand the resources she offers for becoming happier and more successful in whatever you choose to do.

Pace School of Law’s New Directions for Attorneys is a six month career re-entry program for lawyers who have taken time off and want to move either into a legal or an alternative non-legal career.  Graduates absolutely rave about this NY-based program, and the staff is phenomenal.  The next session starts in January 2014, and there is an info session on November 18 in White Plains.

And speaking of career reentry, I can’t recommend iRelaunch highly enough.  Carol Fishman Cohen and Vivian Steir Rabin have helped thousands of people (including loads of lawyers) relaunch their careers in a wide variety of fields.  They offer ongoing training, run conferences around the world, and their newsletters are unusualy useful.

If you’re looking for holiday gifts for yourself or your favorite unhappy lawyer, may I offer some suggestions in addition to Life After Law?  One is Allison Rimm’s The Joy of Strategy, which helps readers prioritize and manage their lives in a way that maximizes joy.  Rimm is a former VP at Massachusetts General Hospital, a gifted coach and a great writer.  Whitney Johnson’s Dare Dream Do is another great choice for people who are trying to envision something better for themselves, but need help getting unstuck.   Johnson is an influential Harvard Business Review writer and blogger whose practical wisdom and inspirational messages combine beautifully in this book.  And although it’s a classic, I’ll say again that doing the flower diagram in What Color Is Your Parachute? changed my life.  What a thrill to see Life After Law “frequently bought together” with WCIYP on Amazon!

Readers, what other resources helped you with your transition?  Whose help are you grateful for?



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One and Done: Why I (Probably) Won’t Write Another Book

LAL3DAt my library’s Local Authors Night last night, someone asked what my next book would be about.  “One and done,” I replied.  When I tell people there will be no next book, I don’t mean to sound churlish.  Am I not grateful for the wonderful comments and kind emails I’ve been getting from readers all over the place?  I am.  Isn’t it wonderful to see my book in Barnes & Noble and on library shelves?  It is.  Aren’t I glad I pushed through the experience of writing the book, even though I had two part time jobs at the time and a four year old daughter?  Oh yes.  But being an author isn’t what I envisioned when I was just a voracious reader, just last year.

Even with the wonderful publisher I have, and the talented marketers I work with, spreading the word about Life After Law has largely been my responsibility.  Writing this blog, writing guest posts for other blogs, helping reporters appreciate the huge range of non-legal careers ex-lawyers can succeed in, and speaking all over the place has been my privilege.  But, to be honest, it isn’t always a pleasure.   I’m half-way between Introvert and Extrovert on every Myers-Briggs test I’ve taken.  And successful authoring requires a good deal of self-promotion, which rubs me the wrong way in terms of my nature and my acculturation.  I know I “should” Lean In, and Take the Lead, and speak up for my work.  This isn’t a new lesson; I realized half way through my Big Law career that this is not a meritocratic world, and that women especially should speak up for themselves – carefully – to get the credit they deserve.  I can self-promote in some circumstances, but not on a sustained basis.  Even now, 20 years into my professional life, I find it easier to advocate for someone else than for myself.

The whole point of writing Life After Law was to encourage people to find work they love, work that fits their talents and interests, and to dare to leave behind the safe misery that so many people – lawyers especially –  experience in their careers.  As I tried my best to follow the great advice I’ve been given about book promotion, I realized that I was ignoring my own advice about joy at work.  While I love my new full time teaching job, my part-time self-promotion job is much harder because it goes against my nature.   Now that I realize how integral this post-writing part of the process is, and how uncomfortable it is for me, I can think more critically about whether to do it again.

Readers, have you thought about writing a book?  Have you done  it?  Was it what you expected?  Please let us know below.




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From Lawyer to Professional Foodie

_MG_7351WB from above with straw shortcakeOne of my favorite kinds of Life After Law stories is the “law to food” transition.  When I left Big Law, I thought seriously about starting a food tour company, since I loved sharing cool new food finds with friends.  I also thought about working for Whole Foods, for entirely different reasons.  Although my own transition led me elsewhere, there are many true, inspiring stories of lawyers who made the switch into foodie careers, including:

* Valerie Beck, who left corporate law to work for Mary Kay and then to build an empire of chocolate walking tour companies, including Chicago Chocolate Tours and similar operations in Boston and Philadelphia.  I admire Valerie not only because she channeled her love and encyclopedic knowledge of chocolate into a career that fits her outgoing personal style, but because she gives back in so many ways.  She helps other women entrepreneurs through her WIN network, and partners with a different charity in every city she tours in.

Warren Brown, pictured above, who left government practice to bake cakes and became a hugely successful entrepreneur.  Warren is the founder of CakeLove, the popular cupcake bakery chain around Washington DC, the author of several cookbooks, and a former Food Network star.  His most recent success is Cake in a Jar.  I had the chance to taste some of this amazing stuff in the development stage, and the buttercream frosting literally made me swoon.

* Shannon Liss-Riordan, who hasn’t left law per se, but who is balancing her career as one of the most successful wage-and-hour litigators in the country with a sideline as co-owner of the Just Crust, a cooperatively owned pizzeria in Cambridge, MA.  The Just Crust rose from the ashes of the Upper Crust, a pizzeria chain that she successfully argued was underpaying its workers and which subsequently filed for bankruptcy.   I find it especially wonderful that Shannon is running a restaurant when she has built her career by ensuring fair treatment for restaurant and coffee shop workers.

* Robert Rook, the lawyer who founded the Emack & Bolio’s ice cream empire in Boston.  Rook represented rock and roll musicians, and worked closely with the homeless on the side.  He named his “hippie” ice cream chain after two of his pro bono clients in 1975.  My advice for first-time visitors to E&B is “peanut butter oreo.”  You won’t be sorry.

Readers, have you left law for a food-related career?  Are you thinking about it?  What kind of foodie life after law do you want for yourself?

Valerie and Warren are among the 30 ex-lawyers profiled in my new book, Life After Law: Finding Work You Love with the JD You Have.  Get your hard copy or e-copy now!

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Your Life Begins Where Your Comfort Zone Ends.

Leap-of-FaithBefore I figured out my post-law life, going to law school alumni events made me queasy.  Thank goodness I got over that, so I could bring you some of the wisdom I heard last weekend at the Harvard Law School alumnae fest that happens every five years.  My favorite panel was one of two called “My Brilliant but Unusual Career” (seriously, they had so many interesting non-lawyer alums that they needed two panels).  Here are some useful sound bites.  All quotes are approximate – I didn’t have a proper recording device.

Sarah Hurwitz, a speechwriter for the First Lady, on risk:  “When you think about risk, think about it in a big way.  Think also about the risks of staying where you are, which can be just as scary.”

On looking down the road to determine whether you should change direction: “If I keep on the path I’m on, I’m going to end up somewhere I don’t want to go.”

On the importance of competing for jobs even when you are not the perfect candidate: “People make impressive narratives out of the half -mess that is their lives.  Be wary of being overly impressed by anyone.”

Susan Estrich: On her path from presidential campaign manager to tenured Harvard Law professor to LA lawyer: “Life is a series of decisions and most of us don’t have complete control over all the factors that go into those decisions.”

Silda Wall Spitzer: On the discomfort of leadership: “If you have never been in a position where you’re afraid, where you felt like you had to fake it until you could make it, you haven’t pushed yourself into a real leadership position.”

Jamienne Studley:  On choosing what to do when confronted with multiple interesting opportunities:  “At a number of my pivot points, I’ve tried to ask, ‘what a the chances that something like this will only exist today?’ I’ve tried to do the things that might not be available later.”  Also, “resilient is maybe more important than smart.”

If you, like me, have ever felt uncomfortable about drawing on your network, alumni or otherwise, I can’t encourage you strongly enough to reconsider that reticence.  You’d be surprised at the number of people outside of the competitive law firm environment who enjoy mentoring.  Many people like to help other people just as much, and maybe more, than getting help themselves.   Even law school alumni can help you move outside of law, as these panelists did.  Your own networks include people who can offer this kind of guidance and the connections that will help you figure out and succeed in your own life after law.  Connecting with potential role models may give you the confidence you need to take your next step toward a better-fitting career.

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Closing the Post-Law Gender Gap

One of my wonderful new colleagues at Bentley sent me this NYTimes piece on the comprehensive efforts to help women students and faculty do better at Harvard Business School.   These included placing stenographers in classes to help uncover perhaps unintentional gender bias among professors in who they called on and coaching women students to raise their hands more assertively in class.  This got me thinking about whether certain law schools (you alumnae know which these are) should try something similar.  This might benefit graduates who go on to non-legal careers as well. 

In interviewing over a hundred former lawyers for Life After Law, I noticed certain differences between women’s and men’s post-law experiences – a qualitative gender gap.  For example, women generally face fewer social repercussions when they leave big firms in the context of having kids than men do, so they find it easier to leave firms without a clear sense of their next professional step.  But are they more inclined to leave in the first place?  (My guess: oh yeah).  Do they have different assumptions about what they can do next?   Does what and how we learn in law school affect our divergent career paths?

We all know the stats about women lawyers in firms, including the persistent fact that women make up 50% of junior associates but only 15-18% of equity partners.  But maybe we can come up with ideas for potential law school reform by extrapolating from our own collective experiences about the post-law gender gap.   Here are some of my personal data points:

  • I found it easier to leave a high-paying, high-status law firm partnership than some of my male colleagues who were equally unhappy because I had a broader personal definition of success.  By the time I left, I no longer thought that money would buy happiness for my family or myself. 
  • Taking my wildly generous 12-week maternity leave created a meaningful space away from the firm.  While I didn’t come up with any great new career ideas on 2-3 hours of sleep a night, I did come to believe that some kind of non-legal career was generally possible and increasingly appealing.  Weekends and vacations had never created enough time for that to sink in.
  • I wasn’t great at firm politics when I practiced law.  I understood that mentors and sponsors could make a difference, but my male colleagues seemed to fit right into the system while I was still studying it.  It wasn’t until after I left my big firm that I learned to network effectively.  If I had understood the process and power of networking earlier in my career (say, in law school), I might have made partner sooner than I did. I also might have left sooner than I did. 

Readers, what would you add to this list?  Has your experience in law, and/or leaving law, been affected by gender?  Is that necessarily a bad thing?  Do you think law schools should be re-engineered in any way to reduce gender bias?  Let’s talk.

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Life After Law Book News

It’s almost here! The final copies of my new book, LIFE AFTER LAW: Finding Work You Love with the JD LAL3DYou Have arrived at my house last week and are coming your way later this month. The book officially launches September 24, and you can reserve your copy at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. LIFE AFTER LAW profiles thirty former lawyers who have moved into a variety of more rewarding careers and provides practical, JD-specific advice based on their experiences and my own. It’s the perfect gift for unhappy lawyers (do you know any?).
It’s been gratifying to see so much enthusiasm about the book already. Publishers Weekly chose LIFE AFTER LAW as one of its featured fall publications. LIFE AFTER LAW has been mentioned on, and several other websites. My advice on “faking it at work” while planning a career change appeared recently on Above the Law.  The Massachusetts Women’s Bar Association chose it for their limited “recommended reading” bookshelf, along with Lean In.   I have also been interviewed on podcasts including Happy Go Legal,, and JDCareersOutThere.
In the coming months, I’ll be speaking more often about LIFE AFTER LAW. I hope you can join me or listen in on these dates:
September 17: I’ll be live on CBS Radio with the Career Coach Caroline Show
September 19: I’ll be on Bloomberg Radio’s live broadcast from Boston
September 27: Along with Elizabeth Warren and Susan Cain, I’m speaking to Harvard Law School alumnae from around the world at Celebration 60
October 3: I’m speaking at Harvard Law School to all students and Boston-area alums
October 17: Speaking to the Massachusetts Women’s Bar Association in Boston
November 7: Please join me for breakfast at the Harvard Club of Boston’s Author Series
You’ll also be able to read about me and LIFE AFTER LAW in upcoming issues of ABA Journal and California Lawyer.
Now, where do you think I should be?  I’d be grateful for your suggestions – please send them to me at  And thank you so much for reading!

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Ex-Lawyers Make Excellent Leaders.


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The recent news that a former lawyer has become the CEO of Kripalu (the Berkshires haven for many unhappy lawyers and others) put an extra spring in my bakasana. Things got even more exciting when I read the press release in detail. Kripalu cited David Lipsius’ “training as a lawyer” first on the list of “qualifications that make David the right person to lead Kripalu into the future.” It’s so nice to see “training as a lawyer” recognized for what it so often is: training as a leader. Lipsius didn’t come to Kripalu from a BigLaw corner office, but from NBC, where he had been a VP in charge of operational and creative divisions, and on the senior team of the Today show. As it happens, Lipsius replaces another former lawyer, Richard Faulds, as Kripalu’s CEO. According to Kripalu’s website, Faulds “joined Kripalu’s residential ashram staff after several years of working as a Legal Aid attorney, and became Kripalu’s legal counsel in 1989.” Don’t you love stories of lawyers who run away to the ashram?

This got me thinking about other ex-lawyers who run major institutions. As a new-ish business law professor, I’m especially interested in ex-lawyers running universities. The president of Bentley University, Gloria Cordes Larson, is my favorite example, and not just because she is a great boss. President Larson’s career has run the gamut of public policy and government work, from developing geriatric service programs to managing consumer affairs policy to putting together the Boston Convention Center, an enormous undertaking. Although she tells me that former lawyers make up a small minority of university presidents, they’re especially effective in that role.   Other ex-lawyers running universities include President Clayton Spencer of Bates College (Yale Law School, 1985) and President Kenneth Quigley of Curry College (Villanova Law School, 1982).

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that ex-lawyers make superb leaders. After running some case teams, many partners prove to be excellent managers (and I know that many other partners are terrible managers – I mean, I know).  Leadership requires not only vision and tenacity but the kind of analytical skill and ability to build consensus that lawyers often develop as their careers progress.  Those skills are enormously transferrable.  My hope is that more lawyers will take their leadership skills beyond the case team and into an organization they are passionate about.  David Lipsius makes an excellent role model.

Readers, who are your favorite ex-lawyers in leadership?  Maybe this one, or this one?

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