October 25, 2014

Is There a Better Exit Strategy Than Death?—Part I: The Interviews: Jaimee Reed—Getting Out, Starting Over

Editor’s Note: This article appeared in the August 2014 issue of The Colorado Lawyer. This is the final part of a 5-part series on Legal Connection. Click here for the introduction, click here for an interview with Kyle Velte, click here for an interview with Roxanne Jensen, and click here for an interview with Kevin Rhodes.

Sandgrund-ReedBy Ronald M. Sandgrund, Esq., InQ.

InQ.: Jaimee, how old were you when you first felt that practicing law was what you wanted do as a career? How old were you when you first had serious thoughts about exiting the full-time practice of law? What prompted this change in your thinking?

Jaimee: I was a 22-year-old college junior when I started thinking about a legal career, and I was 27 when I started thinking of leaving full-time practice. I first had serious thoughts about exiting full-time when I was 33. I had a baby that year and my perspective changed, so I started thinking about different ways to use my law degree.

InQ.: Did you eventually leave the practice of law completely?

Jaimee: Yes, and it was a smooth transition. My clients were very supportive, as were my co-workers. It was a positive experience all around. I stayed at home for a couple of years before I decided to pursue a career as an insurance broker, which required passing a licensing exam. My husband had been in the insurance industry for many years, so I was already familiar with and interested in the field, and it was a natural transition for me.

InQ.: At any point in the process of implementing your plan, did you think about reversing course?

Jaimee: No. I enjoyed my new career and I liked the quality of life. For me, leaving the practice of law was about quality of life and being able to spend a lot of time with my family.

InQ.: Some say that the biggest obstacle to retreating from the full-time practice of the law is the inability to imagine what life would be like not practicing law full-time. Others say it is a fear of not being able to fill the time. Others say it is a fear of not having enough money later in life. What do you think of each of these suggested impediments and how, if at all, did they affect your thinking?

Jaimee: I did wonder whether I would miss the practice of law because, for many years, that’s what I did and that’s who I was—it defined me. But, after I stopped practicing, staying at home with my child really changed my perspective on life and what really matters—being engaged with and raising my kids was very important to me. I now have time for my family, networking events (which I love!), helping in my community, and volunteering, all while still working. I think some people who have known me a long time were shocked because I was a natural “lawyer”—even as a child. I promised them I would keep my license active in case they needed any free legal advice!

InQ.: How did your significant other react during the course of your exploring options other than the full-time practice of law?

Jaimee: He was extremely supportive and wanted me to find something I truly enjoyed. His only advice was to find something I would enjoy doing day in and day out. Period.

InQ.: How happy were you when practicing law full-time? How happy are you now?

Jaimee: Before I had children, I wasn’t unhappy practicing law. When I was practicing criminal law, I had a great time. All of us then were young and childless. When I transitioned to the civil side and started a family, things changed. I wouldn’t say I was unhappy necessarily, but I wasn’t fulfilled. I am very happy now.

InQ.: How much did financial considerations influence your decision to retreat from the full-time practice of law?

Jaimee: It was a concern, but it came down to the fact that I had to make a decision and prioritize my life. In making my decision, I think I gave financial considerations just the right amount of weight.

InQ.: Do you ever feel you wasted time and money on a law school education?

Jaimee: Not really—law school and my experience practicing law gave me valuable skills—such as negotiating and reasoning—that were helpful, as well as “people skills.” Also, my knowledge as a former litigator that other insurance brokers do not have helps me navigate the field. I value the education I received and the transferable skills I’ve honed over the years.

InQ.: If you knew back in college what you know now about yourself and the practice of law, would you still have gone to law school?

Jaimee: Well, I met my husband while in law school, so I would definitely do it all over again!

Conclusion

Even though each of these dialogues and those appearing in Part II are merely vignettes among the many stories lawyers have to tell about exploring exit strategies in their own lives, some commonalities emerge. First, to paraphrase something former CBA President Mark Fogg said, “Marry well,” which I think is simply a shorthand way of saying, if you have a significant other in your life, he or she needs to share your life’s vision and support your efforts to achieve fulfillment. Second, “Don’t live large,” meaning moderate your accumulation of material things and unnecessary debt, so that you have greater freedom to change your trajectory, reprioritize your life, and find greater happiness.

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