Legal crossroads – Nevada City resident counsels lawyers in limbo
Michael Levin had been fired from two firms in 18 months when he decided the practice of law was not for him. But it was not just his repeated attempts to pass the bar exam that prevented him from retaining work.
“All I ever wanted to do was write,” Levin said.
Levin is one of thousands who have earned their juris doctorate degrees but were dissatisfied with the practice of law for one reason or another.
Hindi Greenberg, a Nevada City resident and former practicing attorney, has made a career of helping those in limbo with the law profession.
Her business, Lawyers in Transition, counsels those who are thinking about making either a change within the profession or a move out of it completely.
In the 18 years she has been a career consultant for attorneys, Greenberg has built up a database of 15,000 people.
Greenberg practiced law for 10 years before she left the profession.
“I did really well, but I really hated it,” she said.
After graduating in the top 10 percent of her class from the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law in 1974, Greenberg said she clerked for a Superior Court in Northern California and then for the Chief Justice of the High Court of American Samoa. In her decade of practice, Greenberg held at least five different jobs before she realized how unhappy she was.
“It wasn’t where I was working; it was what I was doing,” Greenberg said.
On her quest to find out what career was right for her, Greenberg spent a year as a wrangler on a cattle ranch in Wyoming and then returned to the Bay Area to what she called a “composite career.”
She managed a ballroom dance studio and an apartment building, trained horses for the National Park Service, gardened for a neighbor and picked up contract work using her law experience.
In 1985, she began to organize monthly meetings for those dissatisfied with their careers in law. It was the humble beginnings for Lawyers in Transition.
“I realized it was my transition,” Greenberg said.
She relocated the business to Nevada City in 2001. From the comfort of her home, Greenberg uses the Internet – http://www.lawyersintransition.com – to continue operations.
Her life is the contrast that clients seek. Rather than a stuffy office full of legal books, briefs and files, her home is light and colorful. Brightly painted works from Nevada County artists hang on the walls. And the sliding glass doors frame the deck into a stage for her 16-year-old cat, Edie, to enjoy the various types of birds fluttering around feeders.
“There are quite a number of people around the country who attempt to do what Hindi does, but there is no one really in her league,” Adam Epstein said.
Epstein is a principal with Enable Capital, LLC, a San Francisco-based investment bank. He is a former CEO, and corporate attorney who has worked with Greenberg as an adviser to some of her clients and a guest speaker at seminars.
Her associate attributes Greenberg’s success to her being a good listener, her peerless judge of character and being passionate about what she does. Her own experience as a lawyer helps her understand the plight of her clients, Epstein said.
Of her clients, Greenberg said only about 20 percent leave the field of law completely. Another 40 percent change to a job within law, such as research or writing for legal publications. The remaining 40 percent decide to remain where they are.
“It’s a hard profession,” she said.
Long hours, demanding clients, stress and lack of time for an “outside” life contribute to dissatisfaction among lawyers, Greenberg said.
“The great majority of attorneys leave the law because they become disillusioned with the ‘business of law,’ ” Epstein said.
Accounting for their time, contentiousness, lack of civility between attorneys and their clients, and the general stress associated with the limitations of selling time, are all reasons behind dissatisfaction in law, he said.
For Levin, a resident of Los Angeles, a career in law seemed the best way to write and make a living. He graduated from Columbia Law School, but failed to pass the bar exam after a few attempts. When his second firm let him go, Levin had already sold three books. So he began teaching and made a go at writing for a living.
Now he helps coach other lawyers looking to make the leap into writing through http://www.writer2author.com on the Web.
Greenberg said she has seen many interesting career alternatives in her 18 years. Some have become tour guides in varying countries; others offer fishing expeditions. There are few clients who can surprise her with ideas for alternate professions after 18 years. One exception is a recent inquiry in which an attorney wanted to leave the profession to become a guru and form a new religion.
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