I love hearing stories from the Leave Law Behind community, of unhappy attorneys first realizing they want to do something different to those amongst us who take that first step and actually leave and do something else.
Here is the story of Christina Arenas, a Leave Law Behind community member just like you, who recently took the courageous step to leave her full time attorney job and pursue her dream as an e-commerce entrepreneur.
Her online store Duchess of Dupont curates an eclectic mix of lingerie, swim, and leisure wear. And she’s providing discounts for LLB readers! – email Christina directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the below post, Christina takes us through her journey of leaving the law, how she identified her entrepreneurial vision, how she managed her finances to make this shift, and the 3 main lessons of becoming your own boss that she wants to share with you.
I think you’ll find her experience and bravery in facing the unknown and following her dream insightful, actionable and inspirational. I surely did.
Take it away Christina …
On Finding My Inner Duchess: From Attorney to Fashion Entrepreneur
Do I regret getting a law degree? I don’t know yet. But, ask me on my deathbed and I’ll tell you with certainty. I have bounced around this question in my head for the past 9 years since graduating from law school. If I knew then what I know now, I probably would have never gone into law. But, hindsight is 20/20. On the other hand, now in my mid-30s, I feel a whole lot wiser.
My legal career was nothing exceptional. I practiced employment law for a small local firm and worked in the health policy field for a few years for a local non-profit. With the few pro-bono cases I took every year, I did realize I loved working for myself. I also had a love for fashion that only grew every year. During law school, while my fellow classmates were buying ipods, I was buying Ferragamos at Saks and frequenting consignment shops on Newbury Street.
Taking Entrepreneurial babysteps
In 2013, after I discovered Leave Law Behind and reached out to Casey, I started my blog, Duchess of Dupont (now Hello Duchess). As a fashion and lifestyle blog, it offered a much needed creative outlet from the analytical work of law and policy.
Two years after that, I started dating my now husband and he fittingly called me “Duchess” and “Duch” for short. I wrote blog posts for myself whenever I had time and did not aspire to become an influencer. In fact, influencers really annoyed me, especially when they pitched clothing items from “fast fashion” corporate giants.
After a series of unfortunate events that got me stuck in document review, I knew I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life working in e-discovery. I loved the policy job I had prior, but not the management. I also loved the litigation job I had before that, but, again not the management. Some would probably say, I was difficult to work with, that I had problems with authority. But the clients loved me (and didn’t like the management), so I knew that wasn’t it.
In the span of 3 years, I applied to over 400 jobs, had about 40-50 interviews with no offer. I wouldn’t say I had given up on applying to permanent law and policy jobs. In all honesty, I probably only was really excited about a handful of them. Very few offered a healthy work-life balance. Almost all the jobs I applied for offered nowhere near the amount of vacation time I was used to. I’m a work-hard, play hard kind of girl, so two to three weeks of PTO a year was not going to cut it. I also realized that many bosses I interviewed with just wanted a cheap “worker bee,” someone they would not feel threatened by.
I was clearly at a crossroads. Planning my wedding kept me busy for a good year, but as my sister-in-law affectionately put it, “You’ve pulled off a great wedding. What are you going to do with your time now?” As soon as the festivities were over, I wrestled with this question again. About 6 months prior, I tried designing my own underwear line, but the process was going very slowly. I wanted results fast, so after a year of going back and forth with the pattern maker and really making no significant progress, I tabled my little stint at design until I had more experience in that world. Shortly after, I talked to a friend of the family about switching gears and possibly becoming an online retailer, offering American-made and European-made lingerie and swim items. He and I both agreed that this would be a good move because in selling I would learn then learn a lot about the design process.
On a whim, I went to a lingerie, swim, and clothing show in New York. That’s when the magic happened. I was in absolute heaven. There were booths of beautiful lingerie, swim, and leisure wear as far as the eye. I hadn’t heard about many of these brands though I knew quality when I saw it. I’ve always had a soft spot for small business and quality garments and figured why not introduce them to DC. Curating garments was something I always really enjoyed. I also had a little bit of savings from working a lot of overtime foreign language document review projects so I wanted to see if I could make my money work for me in the fashion industry. How hard it could be?
I used the name of my blog for my online store, Duchess of Dupont, and got my business up and running in under two months. But the hardest lessons were yet to come. It’s easy to create an online store, but it’s very hard to sell your items to people you don’t know. However, these strangers will become your best customers and biggest fans. On the contrary, most family and friends will make themselves sparse.
The Lessons of Becoming Your Own Boss
Lesson #1: When starting your own business, do it for something you really believe in.
Unfortunately, law school doesn’t teach you enough about selling. But, being able to sell yourself properly is one key to success. You are not just selling a product or service, you are selling a dream, vision, and lifestyle. And if you can’t or don’t want to sell legal services, it’s not the end of the world. There are a million other things to sell in this world. But whatever you do, you must sell something you feel strongly about because the road ahead is too long and arduous for someone who is lukewarm about an idea.
Lesson #2: Appeal to people’s wants and needs. Meet them in their happy place.
I think lawyers have it particularly difficult because, for the most part, they have to sell their services to clients that are in uncomfortable situations. Perhaps the client just got laid off or maybe they want realized they want to get a divorce. When I worked as a plaintiff’s employment lawyer, I realized that no amount of hard work, skill, and legal proficiency could ever take the pain away of being terminated. Compensation can certainly help but one can never truly be made whole again.
Client expectations are incredibly high in the legal services environment versus the retail environment. It takes a lot more effort to make your average person satisfied when selling a legal services because it is not something he or she frequently buys. It is also something abstract until it reaches its physical work product form and therefore requires an ample degree of trust. That’s why I turned to selling fashion products. The products are concrete; consumer education is minimal; and gratification is instant. By lowering the trust threshold, a can meet someone in their “happy place” pretty easily.
Lesson #3: Determine your target audience. Engage and market to them.
I had bold plans to carry a sprinkling of brands that would appeal to everyone and price ranges that a majority could afford. But within a month after my launch, I figured out that I was just being naive. Trying to appeal to every woman is futile. I went to a ton of networking events and many times when I approached certain women about my shop there was obvious disinterest. Most women my age just weren’t going to buy lingerie and silk lounge wear. Perhaps they would buy a functional bathing suit. They were so children-focused, wearing beautiful fabrics was sadly an afterthought. So a turned my attention to the millennials, single women, hip women age 55 and over.
I remember the day I sold to my first (non-friend) customer. It was a local appointment though she did find me online first. I special ordered a bra for her with the guarantee that there was no pressure to buy. I showered her with customer service and she in turn she gave me the “keys to the kingdom.” A lingerie aficionado herself, she told me how she found out about my shop, which in turn allowed me pursue that media stream to find more people like her. She also told me about my competitors, what they lacked, and what she found refreshing about my store. This information fueled my efforts to further set myself apart from them and make a unique space for me in DC selling small, independent American-made and European-made brands.
While I’ve only just begun this journey of leaving law behind. I’m currently still a document reviewer, but I hope my lessons learned thus far appeal to others that considering a career change. I have by no means summited the mountain yet, but it’s nice to know that for the first time in a long time, I’m working towards something I believe and see value in. Thank you for your eyes, ears, and virtual support.
Christina Arenas is the Founder and CEO of Duchess of Dupont LLC, a lingerie, swim, and leisure e-commerce store. The store focuses on small, emerging, and independent brands. Christina is also a recovering lawyer and health policy professional (Northeastern University School of Law ’09, Tufts University School of Medicine ’09). While in the process of leaving the law, she welcomes questions from the LLB community regarding law, fashion, or anything in between. She is also offering an additional 10% off to LLB customers. Christina may be contacted at email@example.com.
Want to “be like Christina” and take those steps to leave the law? Sign up for a Leave Law Behind Free Consult, a direct one-to-one phone call with me Casey to discuss how you too can leave the law.