April 18, 2019

Is There a Better Exit Strategy Than Death?—Part I: The Interviews: Kyle Velte—Less Stress, More Time With Her Children

Editor’s Note: This article appeared in the August 2014 issue of The Colorado Lawyer. This is the second part of a 5-part series on Legal Connection. Click here for the introduction, and stay tuned for more interviews.

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

The Inquiring Lawyer (InQ.): Kyle, how old were you when you first felt that practicing law was what you wanted to do as a career?

Kyle: I did not think about practicing law until after college and I entered the working world. I had planned on being a college professor, and I was taking a few years off before applying to PhD programs. I worked at the National Organization for Women in Washington, DC, where one of my jobs was to run the internship program. As part of that program, I took interns to a U.S. Supreme Court argument. One of the arguments I saw was Romer v. Evans. When I saw Jean Dubofsky argue on behalf of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender plaintiffs, I then and there decided to go to law school and become a lawyer.

InQ.: How old were you when you started practicing law full-time?

Kyle: I had two judicial clerkships after law school—one at the age of 28, the other at 30. (I completed an LLM in between clerkships.) I entered a firm when I was 31.

InQ.: How long did you practice law full-time?

Kyle: Nine years.

InQ.: How old were you when you first had any serious thoughts about exiting the full-time practice of law? Did something in particular prompt this thought?

Kyle: A few years into practice—around the age of 35—I began thinking about exiting to teach law. My pre-law school plan had been to be a college professor, so teaching law always loomed in the back of my mind as something I would like to do.

InQ.: How old were you when you first started making concrete plans to exit the full-time practice of law, and what was your thought process?

Kyle: When I was 40 years old (eight-and-a-half years into practice), I had the chance to teach an adjunct class at the University of Denver School of Law (Denver Law). I did that while continuing to practice full-time. I loved teaching. My thought process was to try adjunct teaching first, before deciding to make the big move, to see if I really did like it as much as I expected to. I did.

InQ.: Why did you want to leave the full-time practice of law?

Kyle: For several reasons. Although I was in a regional, mid-sized litigation firm, where my focus was commercial litigation, with fantastic colleagues and interesting and engaging work, I was growing tired of litigation as a whole. The constant conflict and stress, the travel, and the unpredictable and sometimes very large number of hours (particularly around trial) began to wear me down. In addition, I have children and wanted a more consistent, less stressful job to spend more time with them.

InQ.: Did you develop any sort of plan as to how to accomplish this goal?

Kyle: My plan was to try to teach as an adjunct first. I was able to do that, which in turn led me to my current position at Denver Law.

InQ.: How long did you expect it would take you to implement your plan?

Kyle: I wasn’t entirely sure. I had planned to continue teaching as an adjunct while practicing for at least as long as it took me to write and publish a law review article, which is highly encouraged to enter academia. However, I didn’t have to wait even that long, because my current position opened just a few months after I finished teaching my first adjunct class. I just got lucky on timing. The position I’m currently in opened in the fall of 2011, and I finished teaching my adjunct class in April 2011. I saw the opening, applied, and by November 2011, I was a full-time faculty member of Denver Law’s Legal Externship Program.

InQ.: What sort of obstacles cropped up, if any, impeding the plan’s implementation?

Kyle: The biggest obstacle was financial: figuring out how to manage a significant pay cut.

InQ.: How well did you manage this obstacle, and what strategies did you employ?

Kyle: I worked with a financial planner and figured out a way to make the financial transition.

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

Kyle: Only briefly, when the financial obstacle had not been overcome. But I never reversed course. Except for a pro bono matter that ended in March 2013, I have not practiced law since November 2011.

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. Still others say it is a concern 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?

Kyle: The first two concerns never entered my mind. I knew that I would find enjoyable and fulfilling work in teaching law. The money issue was the biggest challenge, and it gave me great pause.

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

Kyle: As a single parent without a significant other, making this change was a particular challenge for me. No matter how wonderful a private firm is, litigation never stops, and when you’re in trial, everything else in your life comes to a standstill. Now that I am out of practice, I have a very predictable schedule; my stress level is way lower (which makes me a better parent); and I’m much more involved in my kids’ lives, volunteering in the classroom, chaperoning field trips, being home at night to help with homework, etcetera.

InQ.: What sort of activities have you embraced to fill the time you formerly devoted to the full-time practice of law, and how satisfying have those activities been?

Kyle: I still work full-time, so there is no need to fill any time. In addition, because I am no longer a litigator and no longer have a billable-hours requirement, I have been able to do more than when I was practicing. I now sit on four boards of directors and I am active in specialty bar associations.

InQ.: During your decision-making and decision-implementing process, what mistakes, if any, do you feel you made?

Kyle: Looking back, I don’t have any regrets and don’t feel like I made any mistakes.

InQ.: What, if anything, would you do differently?

Kyle: Nothing!

InQ.: What assumptions did you make that turned out to be mostly or wholly incorrect?

Kyle: I had assumed that it would be difficult to find an opportunity outside practice that would still be engaging to me and also one for which I would be qualified. However, I also assumed that if I were to find such a position, I would be able to find a fulfilling and satisfying professional experience outside practice. The first assumption was wrong: there are, contrary to my assumption, many non-practice opportunities that are engaging, interesting, and fulfilling, and for which practicing attorneys will be given serious consideration. My assumption that I could be professionally satisfied outside practice was completely accurate. In fact, I’m more satisfied now.

InQ.: Did any tensions arise between you and others, including your children, as a result of you retreating from the full-time practice of law?

Kyle: No.

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

Kyle: I was content while practicing and sometimes happy. I am extremely happy with my career now, and often think to myself: “I really love my job and am so lucky to have it.”

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

Kyle: As noted above, it was an obstacle—and a scary one—but I overcame it and have learned lessons about what I really need to be happy.

InQ.: In retrospect, did you give financial considerations too much, too little, or just the right amount of weight?

Kyle: Just the right amount.

InQ.: How, if at all, did having children affect your decision-making process?

Kyle: It impacted it for sure, because I had to make sure that I could still provide for them. Once I figured that out, I knew that leaving the practice of law would be a big benefit to them, as well as to me.

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  1. […] This is the second 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 stay tuned […]

  2. […] This is the third part of a 5-part series on Legal Connection. Click here for the introduction, click here for an interview with Kyle Velte, and stay tuned for more […]

  3. […] 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 […]

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