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Whether first-year associate Julian Neiser of Pittsburgh’s Meyer Uncovic & Scott was barking orders to new Marines after high school, jamming with his band, Swappin’ Jake, in college, or pounding out copy as an Associated Press reporter, law was always in the back of his mind. Neiser, 32, is one of a growing number of individuals who have decided to pursue a legal career as a second, third or fourth career. More than 58 percent of the 2001 first-year class did not take the conventional route of college, directly followed by law school, according to a survey of the largest law firms in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh conducted by The Legal Intelligencer and the Western Pennsylvania Legal Intelligencer. Instead, they chose to explore a spectrum of professions before settling in as a lawyer. Fifty-one percent of the non-traditional first-years spent one to three years between college and law school exploring other professions, 33 percent spent four to nine years, and 16 percent spent more than 10 years. The way the years between the B.A. and the J.D. were spent varied. Thirty-six percent worked in the business world, almost 15 percent were in school obtaining a master’s degree or other advanced degree, and 12.4 percent worked in the legal profession. Among this year’s batch of first-year associates are former teachers, waitresses, secretaries, carpenters, Peace Corps members, stay-at-home parents and golf pros. One new associate said he “worked on the great American novel and lived on ramen noodles” before embarking on his legal career. THE MARINE After high school, Neiser joined the Marine Corps for six and a half years. He said the routine 16-hour days helped prepare him for the four years he spent plugging away in the night program at Pittsburgh’s Duquesne University School of Law while holding a full-time job. Neiser had his first brush with the law after graduating from the University of Pittsburgh with a bachelor of arts in English: An article he wrote on the law won a Golden Quill award, and the clip was passed on to The Associated Press. The AP liked what it saw, and Neiser became a full-time reporter with the news service before joining the staff at The Business Times in Pittsburgh. But in 1997, Neiser decided to make a third career change, and he enrolled full time in the night program at Duquesne. He juggled a career as a private consultant as he plowed through school, working up to 50 hours a week while cramming information on civil procedure and torts into his head. That he graduated on time was due largely to the support he received from his wife and from Meyer Unkovic & Scott, Neiser said. “I went to law school when I did because the time was right,” Neiser said. “My wife supported me. It has to be done that way because it is an incredible commitment.” THE TV REPORTER Terry Malen, a Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis first-year associate and 2001 graduate of the Villanova School of Law, said she agreed that a strong support network is essential. Malen found support from other women in her class who were also seeking law degrees while balancing careers and families. “I met all sorts of women in law school who started their career late in life,” Malen said. She said she was inspired by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and 3rd Circuit Judge Dolores K. Sloviter, who sought their law degrees at a non-traditional age. Before studying law, Malen was a television reporter for an NBC affiliate in Texas. “Some of it I loved. It was a fantastic job, and I covered fascinating things … the crashing of drug planes, the Legislature, politics and farming. The year I started, oil prices fell, and the state of Texas was reeling!” she said. But Malen, who graduated from college with a degree in political science from Arizona State University, felt that law was giving her a tug. “I guess I had always been interested in that area. Political science often leads people to a political career. I knew that a legal education would give me all sorts of career options,” she said. Malen waited until her children were in school full time before going for her J.D. While cramming for the LSAT and the bar exam with two children to take care of was difficult, she said she kept O’Connor and Sloviter — her inspirations — in mind. “They are women who did it years ago when it was more difficult to do that sort of thing,” she said. THE NURSE Terry Yandrich, a first-year at Pittsburgh’s Dickie McCamey & Chilcote, said she drew support from her fellow students at Duquesne when she was a nurse by day and a law student at night. “There were very few younger students in the night program, so almost everyone that I went to school with was coming into school as a second career,” she said. “They become your family. You go to work all day; you don’t even go home. You go right to school.” Yandrich, who has a master’s degree in nursing, said she became interested in law after witnessing nursing-contract negotiations. She went on to teach nursing with an eye toward the law. “While teaching, I tried to impart everything necessary to the students to protect themselves from a lawsuit,” she said. THE ENGINEER An undergraduate degree in chemical engineering at the Moscow Institute of Oil and Gas might not seem a precursor to a career in law. But Marina Volin, a member of the first-year class at Caesar Rivise Bernstein Cohen & Polotilow, built her legal career from her first profession. Volin worked at the Institute of Chemical Physics in Moscow before coming to the United States in 1990 to work at the Fox Chase Cancer Center. After her father, a chemical engineer, died, Volin noticed that her mother still received profits from her father’s patents. It inspired her to become a patent attorney. Volin attended Temple University’s Beasley School of Law full time. She said the support network of professors and her fellow students helped get her through the three-year program. “There were quite a few people who were my age and had prior careers. … I had support from everyone, including professors,” she said. “Their doors were always open. I could just talk to them. They were open for any discussions, be it professional or something that bothered me aside from school.” THE POLICEMAN Gilbert Carlson, a first-year at Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young and a 2001 graduate of the evening division of Widener School of Law’s Delaware campus, was a police officer for 21 years in Whitpain Township, Montgomery County, before he was bitten by the legal bug. In some ways, making the move to law wasn’t such a stretch. Working as a policeman, Carlson said, “exposed me to legal decisions and to statutes and ordinances.” “I found that those of us in school who had that background had an advantage,” he said. “We had exposure to court decisions, and most of us had a very high degree of involvement in the judicial system just from the standpoint of testifying in court.” But he also said his experience working on a police force had been unexpectedly invaluable in the area of real estate and banking law he now practices. “It helped me prepare, just from the standpoint of being able to think quickly on my feet,” Carlson said. All of the first-years who spoke to The Legal Intelligencer agreed that attending law school later in life helped better prepare them for the rigors of the legal profession. Neiser, who plans to focus his practice on litigation, said the Marine Corps taught him presentation skills that law school did not. “The ability to present yourself in front of a group of people isn’t something you can learn in the classroom, especially [compared to] when you are responsible for training 70 guys in everything from brushing their teeth to shooting a machine gun. You really learn how to take people from point A to point B, every step of the way,” Neiser said. Yandrich said that her nursing background might have helped her land her associate position at Dickie McCamey. “They were most interested in my nursing background,” she said. “I am now working for the medical malpractice division because of my health care background. It was a good fit for both of us.” She said her interaction with doctors and other hospital personnel prepared her for reviewing medical records and visiting physicians. However, making the transition into uncharted territory after 23 years in another field also had its challenges, she said. “I still have a lot to learn about the legal process,” Yandrich said. “It is difficult to feel not competent when you start a new career later in life. I’m always used to being a perfectionist, and now I find myself having to ask people questions.”

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