Have you ever considered leaving the law and going on the adventure of a lifetime? On Lawyer 2 Lawyer, host Craig Williams spotlights word traveler, writer, photographer, and public speaker Jodi Ettenberg, a former lawyer who left the law and took a different career path. Jodi will discuss how she became interested in law, what led to her departure, what she learned in her new career, and the importance of finding and following your passion.
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Mentioned in This Episode
Lawyer 2 Lawyer
Taking a Different Path-Leaving the Law and Finding your Passion
Intro: Welcome to the award-winning podcast Lawyer 2 Lawyer with J. Craig Williams bringing you the latest legal news and observations with the leading experts in the legal profession. You’re listening to Legal Talk Network.
Craig Williams: Welcome to Lawyer 2 Lawyer on the Legal Talk Network. I’m Craig Williams coming to you from Southern California. I write a blog named May It Please the Court and have two books out titled How to Get Sued and the Sled. Before we introduce today’s topic, we’d like to take this time to thank our sponsor LEX Reception. LEX Reception is a close-knit team of virtual receptionists dedicated to professionalism, warmth and 24/7 availability for law firms and attorneys.
While musician Paul Simon studied law before abandoning it for music, Nina and Tim Zagat, both famously known for the Zagat Survey, met when they were both attending Yale Law School but found their passion in restaurant reviews. And then there was Gandhi who passed the bar in 1891 and returned to India to practice in Bombay but obviously pursued a different calling in life.
Well, today on Lawyer 2 Lawyer, we’re going to spotlight a former lawyer who left the law, took a different career path. We’ll take a look at how she became interested in the law, what led to her departure, what she’s learned in her new career and the importance of finding and following your passion. Today, we’ve got our guest Jodi Ettenberg. For a decade, Jodi traveled the world as a writer, photographer and public speaker. Her website, Legal Nomads, told the stories of places she visited often through food.
As celiac, Jodi’s guides and translation cards helped many others with food restrictions eat safely around the world. When a spinal tap left her disabled in 2017, she continued to share with her community tackling tough topics like chronic pain, grief and loss. Jodi’s also the author of the Food Traveler’s Handbook and intends to start her own podcast in early 2021. Prior to founding Legal Nomads, Jodi worked as a lawyer in New York City for five years and went to law school in Canada. Well, welcome to the show Jodi.
Jodi Ettenberg: Thank you so much. It’s really a pleasure to be here.
Craig Williams: Well, Jodi you’ve led a very interesting life and I would highly recommend to our listeners to follow up and take a look at your website because it’s just chock full of wonderful information about traveling the world. Kind of give us a little bit of a short history about yourself. You know, I remember from watching your YouTube video that you went into law school on a dare.
Jodi Ettenberg: That is true. It is true. Much to my family’s dismay, I essentially abandoned plans to study business and instead someone bet me I couldn’t get into law school the day before applications were due. I’m from Quebec. As you said, I went to school in Canada, so that was McGill in Montreal and they had a program where if you came out of high school, you went to a two-year program called CEGEP. From there you could apply directly into law school and kind of been grouped in with everyone else.
So I applied on a whim, you know because of this bet and when I got accepted I figured well I was 18, I wasn’t sure what else i wanted to really do and this would be a wonderful opportunity to learn as much as possible and see where things went. I think people made the assumption, you know, that my whole family must have been lawyers for me to go to law school that young, but actually it was the opposite. They are not and they were quite surprised as well, but McGill tuition being a lot more reasonable than the U.S levels of tuition meant that I could take sort of this almost hubristic decision to decide to go even though i wasn’t certain i wanted to practice law.
Craig Williams: Well it’s certainly evident that you’ve got a bit of wanderlust in you and I really want to talk about that, but I want to find out where that wanderlust
Jodi Ettenberg: You know I think it comes from the stories that my family told at the dinner table and the programs that we used to watch. My mom is a lovely storyteller and she studied world history, taught history and at the dinner table our discussions were often her kind of recounting different tales of emperors and conquests and regardless of what it was, it was always so well done and engaging and I think it got both my brother and I very interested in the world and what stories can do. My trip that i ended up quitting my law job for started with a desire to go on the trans-Siberian trains —
— and that was because of a PBS documentary I saw that just fascinated me and I would have these daydreams as a kid of riding the trains and thinking of, you know, visiting Siberia and Mongolia, and that was an important part of the trip I ended up starting with, not realizing at the time it would turn into a new career, but it was it was definitely partly spurred on by that wonderful documentary I saw about the building of the trains.
Craig Williams: Well let’s go back to your law career. While you’re in law school, I believe you found yourself in New York for a summer.
Jodi Ettenberg: I did. I summered in New York City for two summers actually and ended up going to Paul, Weiss as my first job out of law school. I ended up deferring actually before I started. They actually thought I had made a mistake on my papers because they didn’t realize I was so young and when they did realize, I sort of asked if I could keep my offer open for an extra time and so I went overseas to France and studied there for a year and then worked a year in a non-profit org in South America before coming back to start my job in New York. So I think it was already pretty settled at that point hat my wanderlust was firmly ensconced and when I started in corporate law, it had never really left my mind this idea of eventually getting to Siberia.
Craig Williams: But your time in corporate law was pretty grueling.
Jodi Ettenberg: It was long week. Yes, long weeks, 90-hour weeks at my first time. I think the year I started they had sort of under hired for the amount of work that came in, having had the opposite problem the year prior and I was in corporate and yes there were many. I believe my first year I built 3,000 hours in my first 11 months essentially.
Craig Williams: Standard New York associate —
Jodi Ettenberg: Yes.
Craig Williams: — in a large firm.
Jodi Ettenberg: There’s no question — I knew what I was getting into, but in contrast to associates in the years prior where things were a bit slower, it was definitely even a little more than I expected, but I certainly learned a lot.
Craig Williams: How do you think that grueling schedule really affected your willingness to travel? I mean you were there traveling a year before and then all of a sudden thrown into this grindstone of time consumption. Where you struggling that year?
Jodi Ettenberg: I think it’s not only time consumption that was really apparent to me, but also just the culture shock of returning coming from a non-profit environment in parts of the world that were less developed and then coming back to start at a corporate firm was a very — it was a very dichotomous experience. I think it highlighted my desire to travel. In that, it continued to show me the differences in different places in the world and how there was so much more to see in terms of perspectives that it didn’t want to limit myself to one experience in this lifetime.
I certainly got a lot more than I bargained for in the 10 years following, but I think that it sort of came through that experience of walking back into this firm and seeing people who really did make their lives out of this sort of one experience of being a corporate lawyer and for me the wanderlust sort of preceded that and I knew would come later as well. I definitely did struggle with the hours. I think it is exhausting to anyone, you know the lack of sleep definitely takes an impact on your body, but from sort of my spirit or my viewpoint, for me I was saving up knowing that i would eventually take that chance and travel for what I thought would be one year. And so in that sense, it didn’t really get me down because it was always going to be a temporary experience for me.
Craig Williams: Did you find yourself unique among the associates at Paul, Weiss and at your second law firm, where you one of the only ones who were thinking about leaving afterward or was it a common thing?
Jodi Ettenberg: I think people generally were both worried about retaining their
jobs and also thinking about what to do after them. In the Paul, Weiss experience, it was a much larger firm than the second firm I was at and i think had a much broader range of people who had done a lot of travel previously who were also interested in the idea of something life after law.
The second firm I was at was smaller and also full of interesting people. I think I stood out there because I had framed photos of places I had been on the wall and not my law degrees and that was one of the questions I got a lot was where are your law degrees and I was like under my bed, but on this wall, we have a lovely photo of the Petronas Towers from Kuala Lumpur. So I think I stood out you know just for having a different perspective that way, but it wasn’t certainly a goal to stand out in any way. I was just putting the photos on the wall for me as inspiration for where I eventually wanted to get to and not to try and you know be contrarian.
Craig Williams: So you’ve managed to leverage your writing skills into a continued income. Do you find that your writing skills as a lawyer has helped you?
Jodi Ettenberg: I think that the skills that you get as a lawyer not just in school but working and having to be more agile as information comes in being able to negotiate and keeping your cool in the process or we hope keeping your cool in the process there’s a lot of skills that really were impactful later on even just being able to digest my own contracts as they came in as part of my work, but ultimately I think the writing preceded the law degree for me. I was always writing. I think even if I never published, even if I didn’t become a lawyer, I would feel like I needed to write.
It was something that even as a kid I felt very strongly about and it was a cathartic way to both start and end the day. So I think I’ve tried continuously to improve as a writer. You know legal writing gives you a really solid backbone and a skeleton from being able to build a story or a piece that has logic and sort of flow to it. I think the narrative aspect of that is something that everyone needs to work on because that’s the part that really lets you put your own imprint on the work that you do which is often discouraged within the legal field.
Craig Williams: And although we’ll talk about income streams, writing is one of your income streams and on your website, you teach your writing course.
Jodi Ettenberg: I actually unfortunately did not get a chance to launch that course. I had 400 people signed up for it, but the spinal tap that ended up sort of derailing my experience that I was having in life happened before I was able to launch and so I’m not going to be able to do that unfortunately, but it was based on keynotes I had given on the neuroscience of story and how science can help us tell better stories and affect change in a way that’s really meaningful and creating content to really not just go viral, but to affect change in the process.
Craig Williams: And you’ve been traveling. You know after your legal career, you started traveling the world. You’ve written a blog and a book about your food experiences, but you mentioned that you had a spinal tap in 2017 and that’s kind of changed things for you. What’s happened?
Jodi Ettenberg: Well, the spinal tap was in august of 2017 and other than a brief period for about eight months, I’ve pretty much been bed bound. Unfortunately, I’m not mobile and it’s left me unable to live independently which you can imagine is a really big change to the complete freedom of the life I had built for myself prior. So I think you know I make the joke that I’ve already lived two lives, one as a corporate lawyer and then one as this very free world traveler who basically planned to just eat everything I could other than wheat of course being a celiac, and now it’s sort of an open season as to what comes next.
I’m extraordinarily grateful to have my community of readers. They’ve been very, very engaged with the story but also just incredibly thoughtful with asking questions, trying to raise awareness for a condition that they didn’t know about. What happened was that the spinal tap left me with a cerebrospinal fluid leak which is basically a leak in the fluid that cushions your brain and surrounds your spine. And while most people either recover on conservative bed rest or with something called a blood patch where they inject your blood into your epidural space, unfortunately, I was one of the people where complications ensued and I’ve had four procedures so far and I’m still unfortunately bed bound.
So writing for me is physically very difficult because there’s very little way to do it without sitting or standing or putting traction on the spinal nerves. And as you mentioned, instead I’ll be shifting into launching a podcast hopefully in early 2021. To answer the kinds of questions that my readers have been asking a lot about, grief and loss and how you face things when life really changes in a moment, how do you find joy again when something like that happens to you.
Craig Williams: What has been your solution?
Jodi Ettenberg: I think finding joy in the small is very important. You know, when I’ve written about this in the past, I’ve quoted from Victor Frankl of man’s search for meaning and this idea that when forces beyond your control take everything from you, they still don’t have the ability to take away your freedom to choose how you respond to the situation and of course in his case, you know that was in the concentration camps during the Second World War for something like my situation, you know even if I’m no longer able to change the ability to walk at the moment,
I can challenge myself to change my attitude toward it and I think reframing the mindset toward everything is a big part of how you remain resilient in life, but also how you can re-find wonder and joy again even when your life is sort of infinitesimally small at least comparative to how it used to be.
Craig Williams: Or significantly different certainly. Before we move on to our next segment, Jodi we’re going to take a quick break to hear a message from our sponsor. We’ll be right back.
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Craig Williams: Welcome back to Lawyer 2 Lawyer. I’m Craig Williams and with us today is Jodi Ettenberg, a lawyer turned world traveler, blogger and foodie. Right before the break, we were talking about a significant disability Jodi that’s changed your life and you mentioned that you’ve had some success in reframing which as I remember as a young lawyer was one of the skills that you learn to do in the law.
Jodi Ettenberg: That’s right. I do think a lot of what we learn training as lawyers is useful in whatever careers we choose and you know when I have featured lawyers in my writing who have taken alternative career choices or when lawyers write me to ask about what they’re afraid of in switching careers, I think it’s really important to remind people of the skills they have. You know there’s such a lockstep siloed view to the legal profession in many cases.
Obviously, with technology, things are really changing now, but if you have the privilege to think about switching careers, then there are so many skills that you likely do have and it’s figuring out you know what do you want to do, what are the skills you have that make you different to other people and then what are the pinpoints that other people have that you can try and solve and like overlap between those things I think is where everyone’s personal sweet spot is to figuring out what to do next.
Craig Williams: Your five questions on your website, you have five questions that you ask in your Thrillable Hours series.
Jodi Ettenberg: I do. I do. I thought the words — I thought Thrillable Hours was hilarious and other lawyers of course understood the joke with billable hours. Non-lawyers think it’s ridiculous and they’re like this isn’t funny. It’s like it’s very funny. Yes, I asked every lawyer the same five questions about their career choices and also the last one they throw away about how people were saying lawyers can’t have fun and the question was what do you say to people who say lawyers can’t have fun.
Craig Williams: When you were having fun I guess in a different way traveling the world, you’ve been to many destinations. I think Siberia is among them and you’ve traveled to Thailand and to Vietnam, many different places. As a lawyer, what
would you recommend to other lawyers to travel to, to start their Legal Nomads.
Jodi Ettenberg: Well, I think it really depends on what they’re traveling for or to what end. You know for me the one-year sabbatical accidentally turned into a new career and a really fulfilling wonderful and you know I never thought i would get into public speaking and photography. I had to teach myself how to blog and it was a really enjoyable experience of learning not just traveling. I think if you’re looking to travel as your career, you do still need to figure out what those skills are like I said and what pinpoint you want to fix.
The travel blogging world when I got into it was extremely small. You know we were a dozen people who all knew each other and now it’s extremely saturated and added on to by influencers, social media and Instagram, and there’s a lot more noise in every space right now online. So if someone’s looking to change careers and get into travel, I think there’s a real examination that needs to happen or maybe they can travel and enjoy their lives while working location independent wise in a different career. There are many options out there that certainly weren’t there you know 20 years ago.
Craig Williams: And you have a host. Your website has a host of resources and books available for people to consider and look at. I saw one of the ones is one of my favorites is What Color is Your Parachute?
Jodi Ettenberg: Yes. That’s a book that I’ve recommended to many people. I agree it’s very useful. I think really what people come to me with the most from the legal profession is the fear and the fear of making a big change of what people will think, what benefits they’ll have if they do switch and I do wonder —
— you know with what’s going on in the world these days with the pandemic, it forces you to really rethink and reframe parts of what are beneficial or not to you, the same way that having this experience of this spinal tap that left me with this disability that I never had before. I can tell you I’m extremely grateful that I quit my job when I did and took the risk because I can’t imagine the experience of being here right now and wishing I had traveled to Siberia and never having gotten there.
Craig Williams: Now that you’re in this position, have you given any thought to going back to becoming a corporate lawyer or going back into any form of the expected lawyer.
Jodi Ettenberg: Expected. What your parents want you to do?
Craig Williams: Yeah. There were so many — like one of my roommates in law school didn’t graduate with the intent of becoming a lawyer. He graduated because he wanted to be a political consultant in Washington, D.C. and a law degree is a prerequisite to work there.
Jodi Ettenberg: Right. I mean as we as discussed, I’m sure on other podcasts and what i said earlier, the law degree itself is very useful. A great way of rethinking the way you think, teaching you how to think a different way. For me, as much as much as my family does joke about me becoming a lawyer, again and I have kept my bar admission, I don’t plan to. I mean at this point just getting through a day and being able to try and cook my own food is a win and the cognitive output that’s required let alone the physical output required to work as a lawyer again may never be possible for me. So my first step for now is to try and carve out enough sort of space to be able to do this podcast and see where that goes, but I don’t think I’m capable of something that intensely corporate anymore.
Craig Williams: Right well I don’t think very many people and after a few years of it, you know certainly maybe to dabble in it part time or as you say just be aware of your own contracts is sufficient. Well, I would like to talk about your upcoming podcast. What are your plans? Is it going to be — you said it’s going to be in part to address some of the questions that your community has been asking you? Are you going to be talking about your travel experiences and your recommendations on how to do that? Are you going to include food in it? What are your hopes?
Jodi Ettenberg: My hopes are really to answer the questions that my community has and I have a spreadsheet where they’ve submitted questions and I would happily answer travel questions of course, but most of the questions are a lot more dense than that. One of them said do you think God exists. I don’t think I’ll tackle that one anytime soon, but the questions are things like I said how do you find joy when you’re in grief, how do you talk to someone who’s chronically ill.
Essentially answering questions I think that don’t have one fixed answer, but are filtered through the lens of people’s experiences and it will be for starters up just a 10-minute podcast with me speaking to answer those questions and people can submit further ones if they have them for me to answer. It was really a way to be able to cultivate communication within the readership that I’m grateful to have because I’m not able to write the way I used to and people were posing all these questions that I would love to have dedicated some time to answer. So this was sort of a way to be able to do that and also feel like there’s some purpose in what I’m doing as well even if I can’t physically move the way I used to.
Craig Williams: Well your title probably does include counselor at law.
Jodi Ettenberg: The title of the podcast?
Craig Williams: No, the title of you as an attorney, both you as an attorney and as a counselor.
Jodi Ettenberg: Yes. Thank you. I definitely never expected that role in general, but I think like anything, you know you go through something intense that other people hopefully don’t have to experience that you can learn from and provide feedback for or at least help people feel more understood. I mean there’s so much information on the net these days and so much of opinions that it’s really an honor to be able to try and give people an experience that helps them feel less alone.
Craig Williams: Well Jodi we’ve just about reached the end of our podcast. So it’s time for us to wrap up and get your final thoughts as well as your contact information and your websites and so forth for our listeners, so they can reach out to you if they’d like to.
Jodi Ettenberg: Sure. I think the legal profession is a rigid one that gives a wonderful training and can provide a lot of information in life that is useful whether you stay in the legal profession or otherwise, but if you’re looking at your life experience and thinking you’re stuck because you only have one set of training,
I think that that you really need to step back and think more about the skills that you’ve developed over time, how they blend with your personality and then how you can leverage that to build a life that you really want to lead.
Craig Williams: Great and how can our listeners find you?
Jodi Ettenberg: I am on legalnomads.com and that’s the same on social media, Instagram and Twitter and Facebook are Legal Nomads as well. I have a newsletter on Substack. It’s just with my name jodiettenberg.substack.com and that I’ll be sending out next week actually. That is some personal updates, but also where I curate the best reading from the last month online where people can read long-form pieces that make them think.
Craig Williams: Great and it’s on J-O-D-I-E-T-T-E-N-B-E-R-G.
Jodi Ettenberg: That’s correct.
Craig Williams: Right. Well Jodi as we wrap up, I’d like to thank you for joining us today. It’s been a real pleasure having you on our show. I’ve learned an awful lot.
Jodi Ettenberg: Thank you so much for having me.
Craig Williams: And for our listeners, if you like what you heard today please rate us on Apple podcasts or your favorite podcasting app. You can also visit us at legaltalknetwork.com where you can sign up for our newsletter. I’m Craig Williams. Thanks for listening. Please join us next time for another great legal topic. When you want legal, think Lawyer 2 Lawyer.
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