Listen up, you disgruntled lawyers who harbor dreams of a more meaningful, creatively-charged life: Someone in your ranks has broken free. Former Big Law associate Helen Wan has turned in her ID card at her midtown office building. And she’s not going back.
Wan is living the fantasy a lot of lawyers (actually, not just lawyers) have: Writing a first novel that’s become a hit. Now in its second printing, Wan’s novel The Partner Track spotlights Ingrid Yung, a young Asian American associate on the fast track in Big Law.
Since it came out last fall, Wan’s novel has garnered loads of buzz—so much so that she’s able to ditch her day job as associate general counsel at Time Inc. to work full time on her second book. Recently, Wan also landed on the cover of the Washington Post magazine, which called her book, “a witty yet pointed exploration of the difficulties Asian Americans have advancing in corporate culture.”
Getting this kind of attention is heady stuff, but, still, how did Wan decide to forgo the saftey net of her legal career?
“As I was being invited around the country to speak to audiences about how women and Asian Americans need to take more risks in order to pursue their professional goals, it dawned on me that I was not taking my own advice,” Wan tells me. “So, I’m taking the plunge and pursuing my childhood dream of being a full-time author.”
But Wan, who until now followed a conservative career playbook (after graduating from University of Virginia Law School, she worked at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison before making her way to Time Inc.), admits that the move to the creative side was not part of her plan. “This is by far the most unscripted career move I’ve ever made. And it’s the Asian parent’s worst nightmare—your child is quitting their law job to be a novelist! Aaaaugh!!!” (Actually, being a blogger probably ranks higher as the Asian parent’s worst nightmare—but that’s another story.)
Before Wan officially quit her Time Inc. job, we chatted about how Big Law is reacting to her book. Watch a brief video of our discussion.