Welcome back to Thrillable Hours, my interview series about alternative careers for lawyers. I originally met Rachel Rodgers at the inaugural WDS conference and we’ve stayed in touch since. Many of you have written about virtual law practices, especially after I posted Simon’s Thrillable Hours interview, where he set out his virtual practice from (presently) Greece. Rachel’s practice is different from Simon’s but the outcome is the same: a flexibility in legal work, an ability to move around more fluidly and a doubling-down of an already present entrepreneurial spirit.
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What made you decide to follow a less conventional path than typical law school graduates? Was there a particular moment that catalyzed the decision for you?
Well, it all started with graduating from law school and choosing not to take the bar right away. Instead, I spent 7 weeks in Thailand and Hong Kong with my husband while all my friends frantically studied. When I returned I just knew it would be hard for me to have a traditional legal job with little freedom or flexibility. I had an amazing clerkship already lined up so I went to work for a judge. It was a one year term so it gave me some time to figure out what I was going to do about my career.
I had an excellent experience clerking for a really wonderful judge. I absolutely loved the people that I worked with and the work was challenging and interesting. While I was clerking, I started interviewing for my next position and I also starting researching starting a solo practice. I eventually had offers from a firm, a non-profit and a public defender’s office and wound up turning them all down. Everyone said I was crazy (and it drove my mother nuts) but I just knew that I wanted to do my own thing and start my own practice. I needed the flexibility to travel and live my life as I pleased not subject to a strict corporate schedule. I felt like I could do it and I felt like the time to do it was then and there. I knew if I went to work for a firm or agency, I would get used to getting a salary and my lifestyle would become more expensive and I’d have every excuse not to go solo so I decided to take the leap.
I started my online-based law practice serving young entrepreneurs in 2010 and haven’t looked back.
What do you find most fulfilling about your current job?
I really love the people I work with. As a young entrepreneur myself, I understand what they’re going through as they build their business. I love talking with an entrepreneur about their big dream and then getting to be a part of the team that makes their dream a reality. For example, my very first client had a tumultuous, slow start for her gourmet food company, but now she is making a deal with a national retail chain for her product to be featured in their stores. I love having been a part of the team that helped make that happen. Its extremely rewarding.
I also have (almost) complete control over my schedule and get to work from home or wherever I happen to be in the world and really love that. And I’ve found that I enjoy managing the business, which I never would have known if I hadn’t taken the risk of starting my own practice.
Besides that, I work with lawyers who are interested in practicing online like me. I teach a class on how to build a virtual law office and love it. I really enjoy teaching and, again, I get to work with lawyers who are entrepreneurs and want to see their dream come true as well. Its pretty awesome.
Do you have any advice for professionals who are interested in leaving private practice but concerned about what is out there?
I do feel like the legal profession is very traditional and can feel very limiting, in terms of what’s possible for your career and your lifestyle. But creating a virtual law office and practicing law online has been my way of making the law work for me. I get to practice law from home with my two kids nearby. I make my own hours, choose my clients, choose my practice area and even choose how much I want to work and how much money I want to make. And it allows me to work from anywhere, including France, my favorite place on Earth! Its been my key to work like balance in the legal industry and living my life the way I want to.
The reality is that life is short and you really don’t have forever to start living. So once you’ve found what you love, going after it is the only logical next step. Something that my mom said to me when I was leaving home for the first time and moving to another state that I always think about when I am getting ready to take a risk is: “If you don’t like it, you can always come back.” The same is true for lawyers, if you leave your traditional law job and try something different, you can always go back to the law if you want to.
How did your legal education inform the way you see the world today?
I am definitely still a lawyer but I am also a teacher, an entrepreneur, a mother, a wife, a novice cook, lover of France and swimmer. I feel like I get to be all of those things while still being a lawyer. So many lawyer’s lives are so consumed by the law that there is no room for anything else — I think that’s what leads to so many lawyers being unhappy.
I really value that my legal education gave me the confidence to build my life and my career on my own terms. I don’t think I ever would have created my own business if I didn’t go through law school. It was really a tough, traumatizing experience for me in many ways – yet I got through it and now recognize what’s important to me. Being a student of the law has definitely played a role in shaping my values. No matter what else I do in my life, I will always be an advocate for the underdog in one way or another.
What do you have to say to those who tell me lawyers can’t have fun?
Well, they obviously haven’t been to my house on a Saturday morning. That’s when the Rodgers family dance parties happen. There is usually reggae music involved and there is probably something yummy baking in the oven, too.
Actually, for 2013 one of my New Year’s resolutions was to have more fun. I definitely have good times and laugh a lot pretty much everyday, but I could stand to make even more room for fun in my life. We all can.
Rachel Rodgers is a 2009 graduate of Benjamin N. Cardozo Law School in New York. She is a business lawyer for young entrepreneurs. She started her location independent, online-based law practice in 2010 and so far has practiced law from New Jersey, California, Arizona, South Dakota and France. Rachel also teaches other lawyers how to build profitable virtual law offices and writes about practicing law online on her blog. You can find her on Twitter @rachelrodgersesq.