Want to Quit Your Law Job and Travel the World? This Entrepreneur Did
Here at The Girl’s Guide, we’re a sucker for lawyer-turned-entrepreneurs. (I wonder why.)
Today, we’re excited to introduce you to Elizabeth Leonard, a Penn Law grad who left her public interest law job to create Blue Bridge Project, which provides life-changing travel experiences to high-school students.
Ever wanted to chuck your law job and travel the world? Well, Elizabeth actually did it! Here’s her story:
You have an interesting background, in that you went to law school, worked as a public interest lawyer, then started the Blue Bridge Project. This path from law to entrepreneur is one that’s happening a lot these days. Was this your plan when you started law school, or did it develop afterwards? How did you decide that entrepreneurship was right for you?
I knew going into law school that I wouldn’t love litigation (I was probably the only law school student who enrolled without seeing a single episode of Law & Order!) but I certainly did not know that I would start my own business within 3 years of graduation.
I went into public interest law because it afforded me the quickest path of learning what it was really like to be a “traditional” lawyer.
I liked working as a public interest lawyer, particularly when I interacted with clients, but the glacial pace of litigation was frustrating. I quickly realized that I was definitely a “people person” and drafting briefs in the privacy of my own office day after day got lonely for me.
Prior to attending law school I led service-oriented trips around the world for high school students and was always passionate about the power of transformational travel for students.
Deep down (wherever that is!), I knew that building my own programs was a personal aspiration but I didn’t have the confidence to run my own business. Moreover, I was (and still am!) terrified of failure.
Law school definitely attracts risk-adverse people, and I count myself as one of them! When I look around at my classmates, almost all of them are on a “traditional” path and I worried that leaving law so quickly after graduation would be detrimental to my career.
I am not exaggerating when I say that in the first few months before I left law, I spent as much time dealing with the emotional aspects of starting my own business as I did the practical aspects!
The path to starting out on my own was not planned and it has not been easy. That said, it is immensely gratifying!
What are the three most important skills you learned in law school that you apply to your work as an entrepreneur?
- Critical thinking: Law school taught me how to thoughtfully sort through a lot of information and quickly distill key points. As an entrepreneur, I utilize this skill daily. On any given day I am thinking through the pros and cons of various insurance packages, writing web content, negotiating with service providers, and drafting business contracts. This is not dissimilar from the experience of preparing for class during all three years of law school. I spent hours at the library sorting through cases and concepts and in order to preserve my sanity (and maintain a social life!) I learned to efficiently synthesize all of this material. I could not get through my to-do list every day if I hadn’t honed those skills in law school.
- Crisp writing and concise speaking: Law school taught me how to write clearly and speak concisely. I practiced these skills during legal writing seminars, mock-trials in clinical settings, and on issue-spotting exams. I use these skills daily in my work as an entrepreneur, whether I am drafting a one-sentence blurb for BBP’s homepage or on the phone with a parent. The ability to clearly and concisely express yourself is critical to disseminate your message and this applies universally, whether you are advocating on behalf of your client in a mediation or making a presentation to parents about summer programs.
- Confidence: As I said earlier, a huge part of starting my own business was having the confidence to leave the security of a full-time job and become my own boss. In the first week of Civil Procedure, I was asked “What kinds of cases do federal courts hear?” At that point—and I am not kidding—I didn’t know the difference between the federal and state court systems! Despite not knowing the answer, I survived. Plowing through the toughest days of 1L year and enjoying the remaining two years of law school (yes, it’s true, I liked law school!) gave me the confidence that I could build this business.
Another critical confidence booster for me is having the support of my law school friends.
One of the reasons why I loved law school is that I spent three years with intelligent, worldly, motivated, impressive people who I now call friends! Even after just three years in the profession, these high-achieving women are becoming respected and talented lawyers.
Each of them has supported Blue Bridge Project and me, whether they are help me research employment issues, brainstorming names, or editing press releases. For me, having the unconditional support of such a talented group of lawyers has meaningfully contributed to the realization of Blue Bridge Project.
Could you talk a bit about what you do in the average day at work, and how it’s similar to (or different from) what you thought you’d do when you started law school?
I don’t have an average day at work, which is why I love it!
Getting a business off the ground involves wearing many different hats and each day brings new challenges.
It is a welcomed change from the monotony of being a litigator where I felt like each day was similar.
My day-to-day is more similar to being a law student than a lawyer. In law school I transitioned from a large IP lecture class to a small public health seminar while answering emails about the wine club I started and checking citations for my journal (admittedly, the worst task in law school!) Currently, I spend my days switching between sales, marketing, operations, and logistics.
Segmenting my day into completely different tasks keeps me intellectually engaged and I now wonder how the weeks pass so quickly!
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Thanks, Elizabeth, and good luck with Blue Bridge Project!
Elizabeth Leonard is the Founder and President of Blue Bridge Project (find them onFacebook at Blue Bridge Project). She has worked in high school student travel for over 8 years and has led students on trips around the world. She is a graduate of Dartmouth College, where she majored in International Relations and Spanish, and Penn Law School where she pursued public interest law. Elizabeth was the first recipient of the Penn Public Interest Fellowship and used her funding to advocate on behalf of people with disabilities as an attorney at Disability Rights Advocates. She is an active member of the State Bar of California. As a teenager, she traveled with a group to a remote community in Costa Rica and she credits this experience as the inspiration behind founding Blue Bridge Project. Her passion is providing similarly life-changing experiences to other students. In her spare time, Elizabeth can be found on her yoga mat, experimenting in the kitchen, or romping with her Labradoodle Walter.
Want to read about more lawyer-turned-entrepreneurs? Here you go:
- Wondering if Law’s Right for You? A Lawyer Turned Positive Psychology Expert Shares Her Insights
- Trying to Figure Out Your Legal Career? Expert Advice From a Career Guru
- Will You Be a Happy Lawyer?