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Conventional wisdom says that being a lawyer is a safe career bet. It’s predictable and likely to garner you a good professional status. That same wisdom says that being an entrepreneur is risky, unpredictable and can turn you into either a household name or a nobody.
The truth is that the conventional wisdom is largely wrong. Being a lawyer might not be the guarantee that it once was – the playing field is changing. Technology is evolving every day and many people get through law school only to realise that they don’t want to be lawyers at all.
Michael Fox, a recent guest on the Beyond Billables podcast, is one such person. After finishing school, Michael got a job with a major law firm, but it didn’t take him long to realise that it wasn’t for him. On the show, he shared some of his more vivid memories: ‘one of the more senior members of my team sat me down one day and said, look, I don’t have any hair, I have a mortgage, I’m tired and I don’t like coming to work – get out while you still can.’
Most people aren’t presented with such a stark vision of future reality, but for Michael, the coaxing was barely needed. He left the law, landed a job in sales at Google and ultimately started his own retail company – Shoes of Prey. To date, he’s seen that company grow to a global scale, including a relocation of 23 staff members to LA, penetration into markets around the world and the opening of a 160-person factory in China.
Michael did not stand for a status quo where he didn’t like he what he was doing, so he looked around, started opening doors, trying things out and taking risks. The result was a career that might appear unorthodox on the surface but is very successful if you peel back the layers.
In honour of Michael, we’ve decided to dedicate this post to highlight other lawyers who’ve also become successful entrepreneurs. Some have left the law altogether, others have innovated within the industry, and there are some who have done a total 180.
Haley Altman, CEO and founder of Doxly
As Altman tells it, the inspiration for her document management platform happened when, as a partner in a law firm, she sat on her apartment floor, surrounded by a mess of manila folders. She was searching for one particular form that contained an all-important signature that, until found, left a multi-million dollar deal hanging in the balance. Founded in 2016, Doxly’s aim is to bring peace of mind, control and velocity to legal transactions with technological solutions. To date, the startup has received almost three million dollars in seed funding. To read the full story, click here.
Chrissie Lightfoot, CEO and founder of Robot Lawyer LISA
Chrissie Lightfoot is an ex-lawyer turned bestselling author, consultant, and legal and business commentator. She first became known in 2016 with the creation of Robot Lawyer LISA (Legal Intelligence Support Assistant), the ‘world’s first impartial AI lawyer.’ Chrissie’s moves were born of a desire for something more than a standard legal career and her striving has, needless to say, paid off. She’s currently on the cutting edge of the AI revolution as it pertains to business and legal services.
Nehal Madhani, CEO and founder of Alt Legal
Nehal Madhani was a decorated legal student who landed his dream job at internationally renowned law firm, Kirkland & Ellis LLP, after graduating. But Nehal’s curiosity and desire to grow didn’t stop there. Nehal taught himself coding and founded Alt Legal, a company whose cloud-based IP docketing software helps a major chokepoint in legal workflow. He developed himself into an author, thought leader and is now a sought-after speaker at bar associations and industry events. In 2016, he made the ‘fastcase 50’ – a shortlist that recognises 50 of the smartest, most courageous innovators, techies, visionaries and leaders in the law.
Andrew Arruda, CEO and co-founder of ROSS Intelligence
As a practising attorney, Andrew Arruda observed how often the scales of justice tip in favour of the wealthy and it didn’t sit well with him. He teamed up with a computer scientist to create an AI legal assistant and research tool, ROSS, utilising IBM Watson technology. Ross’ mandate doesn’t simply end with trying to address inequality. The company also strives to ‘supercharge lawyers with AI.’ Arruda is another shining example of an attorney who followed an interest and started a fantastic business outside the scope of traditional law practice.
Ned Gannon, CEO and co-founder of eBrevia
Ned Gannon was educated at Harvard Law and was a practising lawyer when he co-founded the startup eBrevia. Based on artificial intelligence and machine learning technology (developed in partnership with Columbia University), eBrevia aims to streamline due diligence and lease abstraction tasks. Founded in 2014, the company has undergone multiple funding rounds and to date has almost four million dollars in venture seeding. Ned’s always been a bit of serial entrepreneur and never really defined himself as a lawyer only. He was also the founder and CEO of Audible Auto, a startup company developing infotainment technology for smartphones and vehicles.
These are but a few example of the thousands of lawyers who’ve embraced technology, started their own companies, and/or looked laterally (or outside the law) for career progress. Over the years, there have been quite a few lawyers who became famous for doing something other than practising law. Author Washington Irving, singer Andrea Bocelli and painter Henri Matisse were all qualified lawyers, and if this list is anything to go off of it’s a good thing more people strayed from the law.
As technology continues to disrupt the legal industry, we can only imagine that more and more people will follow Michael’s lead.
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