It was 1979 and I had been practicing law for seven years. I was a partner in a small suburban firm. We had a stellar reputation, a solid working relationship and all the business we needed. I was 33 years old and I had a wife who was also a lawyer, a five-bedroom house and a brand-new Jaguar XKE. The trajectory looked great, except for one thing-I felt trapped.
It wasn't my partners, wife, community or work. Even though I seemed to be living the dream of success, I could not see myself spending another 40 years doing the same things. I had to start looking for what was next. That was the beginning of the wonderful journey that I now see my life has become.
The many places law can lead
First I was off to New York City to see how law is practiced in the Big Apple, but that didn't work out the way I planned. Practice was similar to the suburbs, and city living wasn't user-friendly for me, especially as the sweltering days of summer subway rides loomed. Then in 1980, just as my frustration level was growing, a colleague told me that AT&T, which was gearing up for divestiture, was building an industry-specialized sales force and looking for someone who could sell to the legal profession. What an opportunity-a new career in a corporate environment in the field of technology! So off I went to Philadelphia, as a single person. (My wife was on the partner track of a Wall Street firm and didn't share my wanderlust.)
During my tenure at AT&T, I developed an interest in conflict resolution and trained as a mediator. That helped me earn a Law and Humanities Fellowship to Temple University Law School. When I was done with the fellowship, I headed to California. It was 1988 and I had a new profession as a business consultant, a new business partnership and a new personal relationship, all rolled into one package.
That "partnership" lasted three years. But during that time, I developed ideas for a book based on my insights as a lawyer and my time at AT&T. As I traveled the country consulting, the book percolated in my mind, and in 1991, I began researching, writing and presenting my ideas to whoever would listen.
Then in 1993, along came a new opportunity to join an international educational company. In five years, I delivered more than 500 seminars on management topics to audiences in 40 states, England, Ireland, Scotland, Australia and New Zealand. I also kept writing, and in 1998 my book, Getting to Resolution, was published. I was thrilled when it was endorsed by Stephen Covey, named one of the 30 Best Business Books of 1998 and selected by the Executive Book Club.
With all that under my belt, I decided to get off the road for a while. I had cut back on my traveling for about a year and was still living in Northern California, when a high-flying dot-com in Washington, D.C., made me an offer I could not refuse. So back to the East Coast I went-but seven weeks after I arrived, the dot-com (like so many others) lost its funding.
What did I do then? I just turned up the dials on my consulting practice and undertook projects such as structuring public-private partnerships, studying international peacemaking, designing corporate training programs in communications skills, designing do-it-yourself electronic mediation services, finding a publisher for my poems and working on my second book (which was recently published).
So what's next? Who knows, I might even take the California bar and return to general practice as a country lawyer. But that's probably years away … I have a few other stops on my journey in the meantime.
Who says there are geographic and professional limitations to what you can do with a law degree? You need not be immobile-just follow your inner voices and take your own journey.
Stewart Levine ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is the founder of Resolution Works and author of The Book of Agreement: Ten Essential Elements for Getting the Results You Want (Berrett-Koehler, 2002). He practices and teaches how to resolve conflict and collaborate effectively.