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The Road Less Traveled
By Petra Pasternak
July 16, 2009
SAN FRANCISCO — Long before the recession killed the job market, Casey Berman realized the law wasn’t for him.
Having launched a number of companies already — and sold one — now he’s launching another: a consultancy called Leave Law Behind through which he’ll hold the hand of disillusioned lawyers who want to start their own business.
On Tuesday night, the 1999 Hastings College of the Law graduate pitched an alternative path for J.D.s at his alma mater
“Tonight’s not about making a million dollars,” Berman said to a gathering of about 25 people. What it was about: transitioning to your own business, one with low overhead and a predictable monthly income, all while “doing something you love.”
Berman, a San Francisco native, said he first realized he was feeling like a cog in a wheel while working in house for Workshare, a local technology company. “I wasn’t feeling cool,” he said. “I wasn’t liking my day–to-day.” The money was there, but his heart wasn’t in it.
He quit the full-time job in 2004, but continued part time as outside counsel to the company to help pay the bills while dabbling in a couple of other ventures.
A trip to Rome gave him some inspiration. He thought guys in Italy looked “cool,” dressed in their Italian suits, walking into the local cafes where the barrista knew their usual. “What I wanted was to imagine myself as cool on my own home turf,” he said later. “You want to create an environment in your head in your day-to-day that makes you feel good about yourself.”
One of the businesses he created was a high fashion clothing company called Gytha Mander , which sold its wares online and through stores like L.A.’s Fred Segal. He sold it in late 2006, having grown tired of the 4,000 T-shirts in his apartment, for an amount he declined to disclose publicly. He said the experience 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.
Right now he’s working full time at Berman Capital, his father’s investment banking firm in North Beach (though not as a lawyer). At the same time, he’s working on Leave Law Behind and launching Web sites, like a guide to kid-friendly spots in San Francisco.
He maintains that anyone can go into business for themselves, provided they know what they want and don’t want out of life. Berman illustrated how to apply the IRAC analysis — taught in law school as the basis for essay writing — to one’s own life.
First, figure out your issue: What’s not going right? Why are you where you are? Being frank helps, he said.
Then, examine the rules by which you’ve lived your life: making career choices based on what seems safe, say.
The final two steps, analysis and conclusion, involve figuring out what you love doing and translating that into making money.
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.
Of course, starting is one thing. Building is another.
“How can you afford this?” Berman asked. “First of all, you can’t.” Whether you’re getting unemployment checks or still working full-time, you have to be willing to invest, Berman said.
Shortly after he left Workshare, Berman said, he had $60,000 in savings and a line of credit. “It was nerve-wracking to pay my groceries with credit,” he said.
After the discussion, one employed lawyer who declined to be named said Berman’s message had been reassuring. “For a lawyer, it’s almost embarrassing to say that you want to do something else.”