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Adam Reiser begins his day at 5:45 a.m. with a quick nutritional drink before he heads out the door to O. Henry Middle School. There, he meets his pupils — 15 or 20 fitness junkies trying to improve their cycling skills. The 28-year-old breathes in the fresh Austin air and gazes at the view of the state Capitol and the University of Texas clock tower off in the distance. It’s an exhilarating way to start any day — having the sun hit your face and spending an hour coaching and motivating people to push themselves to their personal limits. It’s a way of life that would not have been possible if Reiser had followed the career path he, his family and friends had expected him to take. Last year, Reiser was set to begin working as a prosecutor for the Harris County district attorney’s office after earning his J.D. from the University of Texas School of Law in May 2003. But instead, as February began, the Houston native prepared to open John Cobb’s Bicycle Shop Austin — a bike shop and triathlon training business just off Barton Springs Road, one of the state capital’s most picturesque strips. “It’s a long way from, ‘Your honor, I object,’ ” Reiser, 28, says. “ It’s perfect. I couldn’t imagine a better life.” An informal survey of career services administrators from Texas’ law schools indicates that approximately 30 percent of their graduates are like Reiser — they pursue a job other than practicing law after graduation or at some point later in their career. According to a 2002 report on alternative careers for attorneys by the career development office at Nova Southeastern University Shepard Broad Law Center, law grads sometimes decide not to practice because they are in search of a kinder, gentler work atmosphere where personal lifestyle and self-fulfillment considerations hold more weight and the sacrifices to be successful are not as great. A 2000 survey conducted by the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division shows that 65 percent of the attorneys they interviewed would consider switching jobs within the next two years. Why? The reasons include the inability to contribute to social good through the practice of law; too much time spent doing administrative work instead of practicing; limited advancement potential; the desire for more family time; and the feeling that they have no control over their lives. The pressure of having to reach demanding billable hours is the main reason attorneys leave the law, says David Cerami, a law firm recruiter for The Affiliates’ Dallas office. “They don’t find challenging work and it’s not the image they had when they thought of a law career,” he says. William Cobb, president of Houston’s Cobb Consulting, adds that oftentimes attorneys leave the practice to work for a client. For example, attorneys who specialize in real estate law may take a position with a developer and transactional lawyers may move to an investment banking firm, he says. Cobb says that younger attorneys get burned out on the practice due to the pressures of producing revenue and the feeling that they are not truly a part of the organization. “Not only do law students need to learn the law but they need to learn how a firm is organized,” he says. “They need to learn what the practice of law is like and what the economics of law is like so they don’t feel like it’s a drudgery doing their work.” The National Association for Legal Placement found that law school grads have a host of nonlegal career options. An informal NALP survey conducted in October 2003 showed that J.D.s found jobs in industries as diverse as banking, real estate, insurance, technology, media and sports. For Reiser, the decision not to pursue what he had thought was his dream job as a trial attorney was a matter of getting back to his passion — keeping fit. He ran track for Rice University, where he received his undergraduate degree. After graduation in 1998, he worked in sales for Reebok before beginning law school and, as an employee, was able to travel to Hawaii for the Iron Man Triathlon, sponsored in part by Reebok. The event inspired him so much that when he began law school in Austin he started training for triathlons and fell in love with the physical challenge. So when it came time for him to prepare for a life in the law, he knew he couldn’t do it. “It’s not a profession that would allow me to be an athlete and stay as physically fit as I want,” Reiser says. But breaking the news to his parents was difficult. Even friends questioned why Reiser would throw away the time and expense it took to get through law school and pass the bar merely to open a bike shop. Reiser estimates law school tuition cost him $95,000 to $100,000; he has about $60,000 worth of student loan debt. “It took them a couple of weeks to accept it. They wanted to make sure I understood the ramifications of my decision,” Reiser says of his parents. “Most of my law school buddies think I’m nuts.” As Reiser prepares for the grand opening of his bike shop he says he has a hard time seeing himself practicing law. “You have to love what you do but it’s not always enough,” he says. “It’s exciting and scary at the same time.” THAT’S ENTERTAINMENT Bill Stapleton’s story is a little bit different than Reiser’s. The 38-year-old Austin resident began working at Brown McCarroll after he earned his law degree from the University of Texas School of Law in 1994. For three years he worked in the firm’s litigation and corporate departments. In 1995, he began dabbling in sports law and signed an unknown cyclist named Lance Armstrong as a client. “I didn’t like practicing [litigation and corporate law] at all, and I was not very good at it,” he says. The firm supported Stapleton’s desire to branch out into representing the legal needs of professional athletes and even created a sports division, he says. The time he needed to woo and finesse potential clients took away from his billable hours, but he persevered. In 1996, Armstrong was diagnosed with testicular cancer but was ready for a comeback on the racing circuit the following year. Stapleton negotiated a new deal between Armstrong and the U.S. Postal Service, and the cyclist made his comeback in 1998. By then, Stapleton says he decided to pursue a new career. He started Capital Sports Ventures in his living room in February 1998. “There were a lot of skeptics,” Stapleton says of the time when he began his own business representing sports figures. “I was at a large firm, made a nice living and had security. In the end, it came down to content.” In 1999, Armstrong won the first of five consecutive Tour de France competitions. And Stapleton began to set loftier goals for his business. Today, Capital Sports Ventures is known as Capital Sports & Entertainment and Stapleton not only represents athletes but also musicians such as Grammy-award winning singer Shawn Colvin. In addition, Stapleton’s company produces the Austin City Limits Music Festival along with other festivals and it is the exclusive production agency for the “Austin City Limits” television show. But Stapleton — who also has his M.B.A. from UT — says his law degree has not been wasted. “It turns out to have been the greatest education that I could have received,” Stapleton says. “If I had it to do all over again, I probably would have skipped business school and gone straight to law school. To do what I do you have to have marketing genes, it’s not something you can learn. But law school helps you think and analyze, and it gives you credibility. “Having a J.D. is an important credential.” LOCATION, LOCATION Sofia Harber Bowden is one of those attorneys who, when she actually began practicing at a large firm, questioned why she went to law school in the first place. “I guess I figured it was the best alternative for a well-rounded education,” Bowden, 31, says. “I didn’t really think of practicing law, but once I got to law school there were no resources to show me the alternatives.” Bowden received her J.D. from UT in 1998 and got a job as a clerk for Judge Marilyn Aboussie, who was then the chief justice of the 3rd Court of Appeals. Bowden says she enjoyed the environment and found the work fun. But she didn’t love the work. In October 1999, Bowden joined Baker Botts in Austin. She started in the litigation department but moved to the corporate practice after two months; she worked on securities and finance as well as real estate issues. Bowden got married in March 2002, had a great honeymoon and felt she had everything she needed; she no longer wanted to work for money. “We paid for the wedding and honeymoon ourselves and had enough left over for a house,” she says. “Once things were settled, I didn’t have the drive to [practice law] anymore.” She left the firm in May 2002 and did some contract work with Texas Rural Legal Aid. Bowden says she thought working there would help her meet her desire to help people, since she dealt with legal aid clients impacted by massive flooding that swept through Central Texas that year. “It was frustrating because I honestly didn’t think I was able to solve their problems,” she says. “I became disillusioned that I couldn’t fix everything.” Bowden says she met with a career counselor and read countless books on career changes but was unable to pinpoint what she wanted to do with her professional life. Around that time Bowden and her husband were house hunting, she found her calling — real estate. “I loved our realtor and loved looking at houses with him,” she says. “He suggested that I get into real estate.” Not being chained to an office, plus the constant change that comes with selling homes, was exactly what Bowden says she wanted. “I love that I can stop work for five minutes and play with my dog,” she says. “I’m not constricted to set work hours, and I have control over my results.” Counseling home sellers and buyers is the one element of her new career that is common with practicing law. “But now when I talk to someone it’s about their house — one of the largest pieces of security they can own,” Bowden says. “Buying a home, especially for the first time, is one of the most exciting times in a person’s life.” PART OF THE HUB Still, not everyone with a J.D. who chooses an alternative career does so because of dissatisfaction with the law. Albert Cardenas Jr. always enjoyed legal affairs and public policy. He says he viewed law school as the best route to solidify that kind of work. Before entering law school at Texas Tech, Cardenas worked on Capitol Hill. In 1994 he was an intern in the political affairs department for U.S. Rep. Frank Tejeda, D-San Antonio. Cardenas then worked on President Bill Clinton’s re-election committee in 1996 and received his J.D. in December 1998. After law school, Cardenas returned to his hometown of Laredo to clerk for U.S. District Judge George Kazen of the Southern District. But the flurry of activity that takes place in the nation’s capital was calling his name. Cardenas had an opportunity to work on then-Vice President Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign but instead he returned to his alma mater to work as a special assistant to the chancellor. He is the director of federal relations for the school and heads the Texas Tech University office in Washington, D.C., that opened in 2001. It is Cardenas’ job to ensure that Texas Tech receives its piece of the pie when the government dispenses federal funds. He seeks out research dollars for the school’s health science center and is the lead on homeland security research for Texas Tech. “You can be a pragmatic political beast,” as Cardenas describes his job, “without a law degree. But the critical reading, writing and thinking skills you hone in on in law school are invaluable and give you an edge. In addition, reading case law helps you dissect legislation a notch better than people who have a different graduate degree.” A STARTING POINT Even a few years at a large firm can help improve skills and educate a lawyer to pursue another career. Take Gary Cohen, who left his job as an associate with the Dallas office of Carrington, Coleman, Sloman & Blumenthal in December 2003 to create State Street Ventures, a private firm for people and businesses looking for venture capital of $5 million or less. Cohen says he realized the need for such a company through his legal dealings. “I spent my eight years as an attorney absorbing business,” Cohen, 33, says. “I never saw myself as a career lawyer but always believed that you learn more about the business world as a lawyer than actually working in business.” The timing to branch out on his own was perfect, Cohen says. He had paid off his student loans, had no debt and was single. “I have no one to feed but myself,” he says. Cohen begins each day at about the same time he would when he was at the firm, though instead of wearing a suit he simply pulls on a comfy pair of jeans and a T-shirt. Sometimes he parks himself behind his laptop while sitting on the couch and sometimes he peruses the daily stock reports from a nearby Starbucks. “I still do a lot of staring at the computer,” he says, comparing his new life with the one he recently left at the firm. While his long-term goal is to get the private venture firm operational, for now Cohen trades stocks and he says that he believes he eventually will make a better living than he could have in the legal profession. Still, getting his foot out the law office door was difficult. “Getting past the mental part of leaving was the hardest,” he says. “I had felt trapped and always short on time.” Now Cohen can head to the golf course in the middle of the day if he wants. Such time luxuries are countered, he says, by having to pay quarterly taxes, and finding his own health insurance and 401(k) plans — benefits that were part of his previous career. “I have control over what I do, when I do it and how much money I make,” Cohen says. “It’s really kind of exciting.”

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