I’m Heading To Duke! My Thoughts On The Journey To Get To This Point

I’m excited to announce that I’m starting my LLM (Master of Laws) at Duke University this summer.

I will be moving to North Carolina solo until Christmas and then Meg and the kids will join me in the new year for an adventure.  It is my intention to stay for my Doctorate so that I can transition from my position as an Adjunct Law Professor and become a full time Law Professor.  More on this (and how grateful I am for Meg’s support in this journey) below.

This is a dream come true – and something that I’ve been thinking about for many years.

It is also something that is “right” – and in the decade that’s transpired since I graduated from law school, feeling “right” about a law-related decision hasn’t occurred often.  I want to use this blog post to share some honest feelings about my journey in the law (as this year is my 10 year anniversary from law school), as I know many lawyers who struggle to find that “right” feeling with respect to their legal career, and I have many students (I’ve been an adjunct law professor for several years now) who wonder, as we speak, whether law is right for them.

I think that law can be a very fulfilling and rewarding profession, and I’m honoured to be a member of two provincial bars (Ontario and Alberta) and also to have been accepted at such a prestigious Law School as Duke for graduate studies.  I’m also very grateful to (finally) feel right about my career trajectory in the law and Duke is a foundational piece (more on Duke below).

I want to share the path that it took for me to find the “right” fit in the legal profession, and hopefully encourage my peers, law students, or other lawyers, who may read this, to not give up on the profession (as I almost did) and like a good entrepreneur keep adjusting and iterating until you find that “right” fit.

In July of 2012 I took a two and a half year sabbatical from law.

I left the firm that I personally founded in 2008 so that I could help my wife build a business, and although the next several years that followed were full of engaging and fulfilling experiences, new and positive relationships, and the establishment of a stable “non-law” business (and income stream) which I’m immensely grateful for, I always knew that I needed to come back to law.

I’m now grateful to be on the “law” path that I always wanted to be – but it’s taken a little longer than I planned.  My legal career prior to taking a sabbatical was not negative, but it just wasn’t right.  This is the first time that I’m blogging on this subject – but something that I’ve thoughts about for many years.

Have you ever had a situation where you had no logical reason to feel uncertain or discontent about something, but you did anyway?  

Well that was my law career prior to 2012.  I graduated with my law degree in 2007 with a ton of prospects – I articled at a major Bay Street firm and later took an associate position at a major international firm.  Big law never felt right though.  The money was good, the people were intelligent, even the hours weren’t that bad (after spending several years as an entrepreneur I can tell you that it rivals big law hours easily) – but it wasn’t right.  So I left.

I then purchased the practice of a retiring solicitor and with a friend from law school started a new firm.  We had (given our age at the time and our collective number of years at the bar) quite a bit of success.  We made good money, I had lots of interesting clients, I even started to have autonomy in my life (something that is very hard to obtain in the legal profession) – but it wasn’t right.  So after 4 years I left.

At the time I left my law firm (2012) I was starting to feel like that law would never be right for me, this was highly disconcerting to me.  I really (I mean really) loved law school.  I integrated into the community, made many friends, intrinsically loved the study of law, and excelled in my classes; however, by 2012 I was starting to think that “me and the law” would never make it.  I was starting to seriously question my choice of profession and wondering (out loud as my wife will confirm) whether I would ever go back to the profession – or whether I’d spend the duration of my professional life in entrepreneurialism of some other business related venture.

I knew however that this wasn’t a settled issue – and that the law would come back – and that I had to resolve this issue or else it would haunt me.  During my sabbatical I had lunch with a friend who is also a judge.  We talked about the law and he encouraged me to give it another shot – but not to focus on the “business side” of the practice of law but rather the academic side – as this it what I enjoyed in law school.  He also mentioned how the “practice” of law can be grinding (clients can be demanding, you aren’t often thanked for your hard work, and you have a lot of external stress) but if you are academically inclined, and curious, the law can be a very internally rewarding venture.

I respect this individual immensely and after our lunch, slowly (without telling anyone) I started to get back into the law.  I didn’t immediately start practising, I just started reading my law school notes (I know, I’m a serious nerd). I also dug out some old law school case books and texts and realized that I actually really enjoy the law, and in the process of building a law practice I had let the external demands (and ambitions) drive away the intrinsic joy of what law could be.

After many months of reading law books (in secret) while I worked on our business with my wife, I really started to feel a compelling desire to come back to law.  So in 2015 I approached the University of Alberta Faculty of Law and got hired to teach a class on “Entrepreneurial Law” – which is basically the legal dynamics at play for a start-up business from “inception” to “liquidity event”.  I spent the entire summer of 2015 building this class.  I literally spent hundreds of hours creating slides, finding cases, and developing content to teach my students.  I joke that my “hourly rate” from my Adjunct Professor job is around $5 (in all actuality it’s probably less).

However for the first time in my law career I was feeling flow.  I was feeling engagement.  The law was alive again.

The moment I stepped foot in the classroom I knew I was where I was supposed to be.  I’ve never felt anything so right as being with my students and teaching them.  Finally, the law was fitting into a career that felt right.

Concurrently, I joined a firm as an independent contractor where I would only focus on a niche practice area – start-ups (although I’ve expanded to also do a lot of Franchising and some general corporate and commercial as well).  As a contract lawyer I had some autonomy to choose my files and so I set two basic rules for myself 1) I would not allow money or billable hours to dictate my experience, but rather I would focus on the law (i.e. I would not focus on money but rather on the law itself and let money be a by-product) and 2) I would not take on anything where I wasn’t prepared to immerse myself in it.  I was all in or nothing.

I started to really enjoy my practice.  I loved doing a legal analysis for my clients – dissecting their business and seeing where they needed my services.  I loved adding value and helping facilitate the process of turning an entrepreneurial idea into a tangible business.

I have been holding down these two career streams (law teaching and niche practice) for two years and they have been fulfilling years.  I got hired (in addition to my Entrepreneur Law Class) to teach Corporate Law at the University of Alberta.  I also was hired to teach Business Law at SAIT (Southern Alberta Institute of Technology).  Recently I was nominated for the top teaching award for sessional professors at the University of Alberta Faculty of Law.

I know that I am on the right path.  I know that this is where I’m supposed to be. The law is finally feeling right. 

I believe that the primary driver in finding fulfillment in the law has been my focus on the intrinsic side of each engagement – and “losing myself” in the law.  Strangely enough, by losing myself, I’ve found myself again.  I don’t think about money.  Money is a by-product of value.  I know that is easier said than done, but I am convinced this is the answer.  By immersing myself in the law it has come to life again, and as it has come to life I have been able to share it with my students in a mutually fulfilling engagement.

Ok – now some thoughts on Duke.

Law School Image

After I completed my first class at the U of A, I wanted to know what it would take to become a full time law professor.  The answer was unequivocal: I needed to go back to school and do graduate studies in law, ideally at a Tier 1 institution.  So, this past fall I applied to the top schools in the US and I got into almost all of them.

Why am I going to Duke?  Because it feels right.

From my first engagement with the people at Duke it has felt right.  It has felt “home” – honestly, and for those who read this far, and who know me well, this is an unusual feeling for me.

All of the schools that I applied to are Tier 1.  All of the schools are prestigious.  All of the schools will allow me to become a full-time professor.  But Duke feels right.  So I’m going there.

I accepted a scholarship there, and I’ve put in my Visa papers.  I’ve put a deposit down on a place to live.  I’m wearing a Duke t-shirt as we speak.  Duke is right for me.  Duke already feels like family, like I’m part of a community where I belong and I’ve only been to campus once.

I’m excited to meet new friends and develop life-long relationships.

I’m excited to have the chance to study at a world class institution like Duke.

Most of all I’m excited for a chance to be my best, at a place where “excellence” is the norm.

I’ve been reading several books over the last couple weeks on Coach K – and learning about his philosophy.  Last night I read in his book “Leading With The Heart” how he turned down mega money from the Lakers in 2004 to stick with Duke because it was family and it was home.  All I have at this point is a letter of acceptance, and I still feel part of the family.  It’s right.  So I’m doing it.

I want to tell Meg publicly how immensely grateful I am to her for her support on this journey.   She never doubted that I could find fulfillment in the law and she is 100% behind Duke and my pursuit of a full time professor position.  I could not do this without her.  I love you for this and I’ll never forget it.

So – in several months the adventure begins (technically it has already begun as I’m making list after list of preparatory “to-dos”).  If any of my (future) classmates are reading this I hope everything goes smooth for you in the move and I can’t wait to meet you and establish friendships and do my best to help you in any way that I can.

Coach K (I know you’ll never read this ha!) I promise not to stalk you (Meg thinks that my man crush might be getting a little out of hand) but I do promise to come show my support with the Cameron Crazies.

Duke Law – I promise to give you my absolute best.  Thanks for giving me this shot.

See you in a couple months in Durham!  GO DUKE!

Comments

One comment on “I’m Heading To Duke! My Thoughts On The Journey To Get To This Point”
  1. Christopher says:

    What an incredible opportunity! Congratulations!!!

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