I’m always on the lookout for stories from the Leave Law Behind community, of people first realizing they want to do something different to those people who take that first step and actually leave and do something else.
Here is the story of Carly Steinbaum, a former BigLaw attorney who left the law, took a break and now has started her own purpose filled company.
Here it is. I think you’ll find it insightful, actionable and inspirational. I did.
First of all, thank you, Casey for this opportunity to post, and thank you to all of you for reading this.
To begin, I was a lawyer for about seven years, first at Sidley Austin and then at a boutique litigation firm founded by Gibson Dunn & Crutcher attorneys. I now have my own company, De Novo, and we are building an app to allow professionals – beginning with lawyers – to swipe through job openings confidentially and chat with a third party recruiter on matched jobs, only if they want to – think Bumble for law jobs. (We’re launching our beta in the Fall, so please check out our website www.denovoapp.com).
Because I am much happier after “retiring” from the practice of law, I wanted to share a little bit about my journey in the hopes that it resonates with some of you.
I was always supposed to be a lawyer
I always wanted to be a lawyer. Why? Well, I don’t really know. I guess it’s because I grew up watching lawyer shows, and I loved the theatrics of it. (Little did I know that what they show on TV isn’t at all what being a lawyer is really like.)
So, I was laser-beamed focused through high school and college to get into law school. It wasn’t until I got to law school that I took a minute to breathe and ask myself why I was there. And I really didn’t have a good, honest answer.
There were clues that I was meant to do something else: I fantasized about starting my own business, and I even tried a couple of times with friends during law school. But I stayed the course and joined a big firm after graduation. After all, I had already come that far.
Disillusioned with the law
Pretty early on in my legal career, when I was a junior litigation associate, I realized I didn’t feel particularly fulfilled. But I didn’t hate my job. And I had no idea what else I’d do.
By my 5th year, however, when I was still spending much of my time doing document review for large government investigations and being the most junior associate on my litigation matters, I felt like my soul was being sucked out of my body. I could go a whole day staring at my computer screen without talking to anyone. And, despite working ridiculous hours, I rarely felt professionally challenged. (After all, why try that hard to write a brief if it’s just going to be revised a million times anyway?)
I always thought my strengths were my communication skills and ability to take initiative. I was good at speaking to people, I was collaborative, and I enjoyed taking a leadership role on matters. My most enjoyable days at work occurred when I would work with clients, co-counsel, my peers, and even opposing counsel to resolve a specific issue. (I didn’t particularly enjoy fighting with opposing counsel, which obviously happened as well.)
But being likeable and enjoying chatting with people wasn’t what was going to make me a good associate. And I didn’t have enough self-motivation to see if I could get more court experience or give more presentations – which I thought would be more in-line with my strengths – because I was too busy doing the parts of my job that I didn’t enjoy that mattered much more to the firm. Nor do I know if those opportunities would even have been available to me had I tried to seek them out.
I began to try new things
My advice to anyone who feels the same way is to mix it up. Getting out of your current environment helps.
I wasn’t ready to give up on the idea being a litigator at that point, so I decided to join a boutique litigation firm to see if I liked litigation. I didn’t want to throw away all the years I spent in law school and in practice, and I had no idea how to make the transition to a job in business anyway. And, I thought if I could actually practice litigation and get more hands-on experience, I might enjoy it.
So I sought out – and joined – a young, more entrepreneurial, boutique litigation firm, where I would be able to run my own cases, get into court more often, and maybe bring in some business. And actually, I did everything at that firm I set out to accomplish – I went to court, I ran cases, I wrote motions and briefs that weren’t revised a million times (and many that won anyway, thank you very much) – and I even brought in some business.
But, while I wasn’t miserable at this new place, I still felt like inertia was pushing me forward in life. I wasn’t satisfied. I had to accept the fact that, fundamentally, I didn’t enjoy the practice of law.
Exploring how my skill set can provide value in non-law, alternative jobs
So I decided to quit.
Yes, it was a difficult financial decision. But I realized the money I had saved over the years wasn’t making me happy sitting in the bank, and I wasn’t doing anything with it (it’s not like I could afford the home I’d want in Los Angeles with it anyway). So I figured I’d take a big chunk of it and enjoy my life.
And I did. I traveled the world for four months, which was the most liberating and exhilarating four months I think I’ve ever had. On my “post-bar” trip, I traveled domestically, through Asia, and to several countries in Europe I hadn’t previously explored.
When I returned, I became a legal recruiter with a major company, where a good friend of mine from law school also worked. As I mentioned, I enjoy talking to people, and I know the legal market very well. And I had seen the value in making a lateral move.
So, despite the fact that I always despised legal recruiters as a lawyer – I assumed they were trying to make an extra buck by selling me on a job that if I cared, I could find for myself and figure out if it was a good fit for me way better than they could – I gave it a chance. I learned very quickly that actually, there is a lot of value in legal recruiting. A good recruiter is able to provide insight and perspective on the market, give career advice, serve as an advocate, and manage the application process.
Money stresses … surprisingly weren’t that stressful!
I won’t lie; it wasn’t an easy transition, particularly because I didn’t get my first paycheck for about six months (and I had spent a lot of my savings while traveling). I had to change my lifestyle. I stopped going out to restaurants, which means I saw my friends less, I lived on Trader Joe’s frozen food (which is actually quite good), I kicked my online shopping habit cold, and I gave up other luxuries that I still don’t miss (like my bottled water subscription). I watched my checking account dwindle down to less than what it was when I was a first year associate.
But surprisingly, I was OK with all that. I appreciated what I had, and I learned what I needed and what I didn’t need to make me happy. I also enjoyed many aspects of my new job, in ways I didn’t before, and I didn’t have the same dread and misery I often had every morning. So, despite the financial stress, I didn’t regret my decision to stop practicing law. I also had a new-found confidence that, whatever happened, I’d figure it out.
Becoming my own boss
And, after about a year in legal recruiting, I took my knowledge and experience as a lawyer and recruiter and started my own company, De Novo, to help professionals, starting with lawyers (naturally), find new law jobs. As I mentioned above, I want people to be able to fill out a basic profile and swipe through jobs the way I swipe through Bumble. (Maybe people will just swipe, get a match, and feel good about themselves because they have options. Or maybe they’ll want to pursue those options. Either is fine with us! And I say that De Novo is like Bumble because a recruiter, like a guy on Bumble, can never initiate the chat.)
In other words, I want to remove the parts of recruiting that I don’t think add much value – like cold calling or emailing to tell someone about an opportunity – while keeping the parts that do. De Novo’s goal is to make the entire job hunting and hiring process more streamlined, transparent, and delightful for everyone.
And for the first time in my life, I feel challenged and fulfilled professionally. I am in charge of my own destiny, and I am creating something of value for others. It’s not any less stressful; in fact, creating my own tech company, with all the bugs and issues and hurdles and surprises and setbacks that comes with that, has been – by far –the most stressful thing I have ever done. But it’s my stress – I created these challenges, and I am in charge of creating the solutions. I am engaged in what I do every day, and I am proud of what I’m doing. See more at https://www.denovoapp.com. Thank you in advance for checking us out and telling your friends about us. (I promise, there’s no catch!)
Many of you likely have realized that the practice of law is not for you much earlier in your career than I did. You may not need something as dramatic as a “post-bar” trip to reset or pivot your professional life.
But regardless, if you’re like I was, and you feel stuck in your life – like you’re living at a steady B+ (at best) – then take the risk and get out if you can. I am so much happier. And there isn’t one day where I’ve looked back and wished I could swipe right on my old life.
Thanks for reading! And if you liked my post, please like De Novo on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/denovoapp/. We just put up the page and could really use your likes!