“It’s almost as a lawyer, you’re paid to absorb stress,” said David Lat of Above the Law during the Switching Tracks: Alternative Careers for Lawyers panel on February 4, 2014, hosted at Dechert LLP by AABANY’s Career Placement Committee, Young Lawyers Committee, and Membership Committee. In a candid discussion of what happens when a lawyer no longer wants to practice law, our panelists, former attorneys who have made the transition into non-legal careers, shared honest advice and personal experiences on how and why a person might leave the law to an audience of approximately 50 people. Panelists included:

  • Chia Kang, Senior Lateral Recruiting Coordinator at Ropes & Gray LLP
  • David Lat, Founder and Managing Editor of Above the Law and Author of Supreme Ambitions
  • John Schowengerdt, Senior VP-Ethics Officer at Citibank
  • Peter Kim, Executive Director of the Museum of Food and Drink.

The panel was moderated by AABANY Vice President, Programs and Operations Gurinder Singh Founder and CEO of Lean Lex. 

Each of the panelists seemed happy with their choice to leave the law, despite their initial reservations and anxieties. Chia Kang shared, “Even though I loved my job, I swear a lot less now.” After explaining the circumstances that led her to leave the law for legal recruiter – her employer offered her the safety net of returning to her job, Chia Kang spoke about her legal experience, her interest in graduate studies in psychology, and her knack for baking. More importantly, true to her psychologist-like impulse to heal and validate the feelings of others, she shared the sentiment that it’s okay to feel insecure while you question, challenge, and re-evaluate your personal vision of success. 

A lawyer turned journalist, David Lat continues to blog about the law – in fact, his career grew out of his side-project and penchant for being able to entertain others. Much to the audience’s amusement, he revealed the story of coming out as a drag queen in the legal blogosphere, mentioning the kindness and forgiveness of individuals such as now Governor Chris Christie. The authenticity and candor of the panelists struck a chord with each of us in the audience. Indeed, calling upon our shared experiences as traditional Asian Americans, David Lat also shared his parents’ less-than-enthusiastic response to his personal decision to leave the lawyer, reminding of that old joke: “In an Asian family, there are only three real jobs – doctor, lawyer, and failure." 

John Schowengerdt now works as a VP of Ethics at Citibank. His advice for people that feel as if their resume is a roadmap to nowhere? "Convince yourself that you are exactly where you need to be, then convince the person that’s interviewing you.” His practical advice continued as he informed the audience that people should get creative with their wording, especially since recruiters and employers will hire based off of skills that aren’t listed under qualifications. He also noted how obnoxious it really is when a person mentions that a job just fell into their lap – reminding audience members that the economic climate is a very real consideration. Still, having a job that doesn’t make a person miserable and making enough to live do not have to be mutually exclusive, especially if you’re willing to ask and pursue a non-traditional employment arrangement. 

Peter Kim, Executive Director of the Museum of Food and Drink – with exhibits we can’t wait to eat as soon as soon as the museum opens, knew for some time that he wanted to leave the law, though the same existential questions still occasionally wake him up at night – Am I doing the right thing? In ten or twenty years, will I like the life that I’ve made for myself? However, now, he admits that he feels invested in his work – since leaving big law, he feels passionate about something because there are individual names and faces that he feels that he’s affected more deeply. He and the other panelists attested that the soft skills that one acquires as a lawyer – attention to detail, oral and written communication, etc. – are still invaluable after leaving the law, so there’s certainly no reason to feel as though law school was a mistake even if you decide to stop practicing. 

Though the panelists were in agreement that they’re not likely to return to the practice of law, they all kept their bar admissions – partly for the ability to say, “Yes, I’m attorney too,” but also for the nostalgia. The panelists and audience members then met at Windfall for a much-needed drink. Thank you to all who made this event possible: our insightful panelists; our sponsoring and organizing Committees – Career Placement, Young Lawyers, and Membership; our hosts Dechert LLP and Windfall Lounge; and especially all those who attended.