Secret Lawyer: From the Courtroom to the Beach

Vol. 42 No. 9

By

Leslie A. Gordon is a secret lawyer who has been working as a freelance legal affairs journalist for more than 10 years.

After graduating from the John Marshall Law School, Michael Palermo spent two-and-a-half years representing labor unions at a Chicago law firm. He later worked for the state of Illinois, prosecuting doctors, dentists, and other professionals. After returning to private practice to handle construction litigation and personal injury cases, Palermo eventually decided to hang his own shingle for litigation and business law cases. During that time, he also taught legal writing at his alma mater.

Meanwhile, Palermo had started taking yoga classes and doing yoga videos at home. In 2009, his interest in yoga “started getting real serious,” he recalled. He began doing yoga almost daily. One day, while on the website of the yoga studio he frequented, he stumbled upon information about yoga teacher training.

“I thought, ‘I taught law school, maybe I should teach yoga.’ As soon as I said it out loud, that was it,” Palermo said. In 2012, he completed a six-month yoga teacher training program. “It was pretty intense,” said Palermo, who continued to practice law during the course but began gradually scaling back his cases.

Once Palermo received his certification, he started teaching free yoga classes to gain a following. He also did a lot of subbing. Eventually, he landed regular teaching gigs, including a beach yoga class he got through a friend. Today, Palermo teaches “a ton,” and makes more money than he did as a lawyer. His schedule is flexible: some weeks he teaches one class, others he teaches eight.

The shift from lawyer to yoga teacher has been positive. “It’s different,” Palermo explained. “When I walk into a room, everyone is not thinking how to tell me what I did wrong [like in a courtroom]. I don’t have that stress. I’m a happier person.”

Teaching law school turned out to be great preparation for being a yoga teacher. “My first semester [teaching legal writing] was a disaster,” Palermo said. “But I got better by practice. I devised a lesson plan, stuck with it, and learned to be firm and confident.” He now applies those skills to teaching yoga.

“Litigation is the same thing,” he adds. “In trial, you have a script. You stand up and present. You speak legibly and know what you want to do. Because of law, I learned how to speak to people in a clear voice. Some students in my yoga teacher training program got nervous just saying their name. But because of my law practice, I understood about having an outline of where you want to go—a set up, a middle, and an end.”

Having had a solo law practice also gave Palermo valuable experience in business-running skills like marketing and networking. “I’m used to telling people what I’m up to and I learned not to be afraid to ask [for work] when talking to prospective client. That’s how I got from the courtroom to the beach.” 

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