Sunday, July 19, 2009

"First Thing, Get a Job At Your Dad's Investment Banking Firm...." offers what, to me, is a peculiar article about a former lawyer who is supposedly starting a consulting business to tell other lawyers how to leave the profession. I have met a lot of lawyers who would be happy to move into other fields, but are held back by concerns about what alternative field to enter, earning potential, and stability of income. What answers does this person have?
  • Figure out your alternative career field for yourself: this is "about: transitioning to your own business, one with low overhead and a predictable monthly income, all while 'doing something you love.'"

  • Don't expect to maintain your income: "'Tonight's not about making a million dollars,' Berman said to a gathering of about 25 people."

  • You can't afford it. Seriously - "'How can you afford this?' Berman asked. 'First of all, you can't.'"

I'll give Berman some slack on that last point, as he appears to be suggesting that you have to make a serious investment of time and money to get your business off the ground. Yet at the same time, during his prior ventures Berman "continued part time as outside counsel to [his former employer] to help pay the bills" and for his current venture "he's working full time at Berman Capital, his father's investment banking firm in North Beach (though not as a lawyer". Is this a pitch for creating an alternative career path, or is he arguing that lawyers should moonlight in their copious spare time?

Seriously, if this were a pitch for setting yourself up for an alternative career, he might be more convincing to me. Find something you love, figure out a business angle, learn all about it, start exploring the financial angles - financing, time to profitability, etc. - and if it works, run with it. And if it doesn't work, at least you were doing something you love. But if this truly is a pitch to find a way to quit legal practice, it falls into a heap of books, products and seminars that profess to help lawyers generate ideas, but practically speaking do nothing to help with the transition. (I once read a book about alternative careers for lawyers that mostly listed "careers" ostensibly to help lawyers brainstorm; although it was unquestionably inclusive of career options, it lost a bit of credibility with suggestions like "bus driver".)

But let's take a look at the specifics:
Having launched a number of companies already - and sold one - now [Casey Berman's] launching another: a consultancy called Leave Law Behind through which he'll hold the hands of disillusioned lawyers who want to start their own businesses.
Okay, so he has his idea, he has an audience, he has the attention of the national legal media....
Once armed with an idea, a person can take free and low-cost steps like starting a blog and registering a domain name, Berman said. Print some business cards and you have a conversation starter at a networking event.
So if I search the web for "Leave Law Behind" I'll come up with his weblog and the "Leave Law Behind" website? Apparently not. (But, even if he hasn't put up even a placeholder site, at least he snatched up the URL I would expect for his venture.) What sort of business ventures is he steering people toward?
[Berman] said the experience [starting a fashion brand] taught him a good lesson - that he didn't want to work with products. Since then, he's stuck to companies focused on services and electronic content, such as Web sites.
I hope he's describing his own passion, and not his advice to lawyers, as there's an incredible amount of money to be made in traditional businesses. But whatever he's arguing, I would be interested in learning more about Berman's websites and their profitability.

I recall attending a few seminars back when I was in law school about career options. The "alternatives" tended to be people describing either government jobs of various sorts, or careers that required an impressive résumé on top of a law degree (but paid well). I recall one seminar from a guy who billed himself as a specialist in finding alternative career paths for lawyers, but it turns out that most of his focus was on MBA's wishing to transition to different companies, and he was trying to attract lawyers into his paid seminars even though he had little knowledge of the legal field or how lawyers could actually transition to other job fields. But he did encourage brainstorming - come up with your own idea, and go for that. But really, I don't need to pay somebody to tell me that I can come up with my own idea for alternative employment that I can start in my spare time and that may never turn a profit.


  1. When you went to law school, did they tell you that you can do "lots of things" with a law degree? I found out quickly that people don't like lawyers and don't want to hire you. (Or at least, didn't want to hire me!)
    Btw, did you see the article on It's all about how lawyer jobs are shrinking....

  2. When I went to law school, they promised nothing. And they delivered! ;-)

    Seriously, they assumed that "Everybody who goes to UM gets a job." And they coasted on that belief, right into the biggest legal recession save, perhaps, for this one. So I wasn't thrilled with the placement office.

    At the same time, I never wanted to work for a big law firm, and the more I have seen of them the less interested I become. Consistent with my unconventional post-law school work history, I've managed to carve out an unusual semi-"alternative career" for myself that... well, takes to long to describe, but works for me.

    This guy isn't telling people "Everybody loves to hire law grads", which (as you so correctly say) would be very far from the truth. I have to give him that much credit.


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