14 Fascinating Legal Late Bloomers

14 Fascinating Legal Late Bloomers

posted in: Essays | 3

Q.  What’s wrong with lawyer jokes?

A.  Lawyers don’t think they’re funny, and nobody else thinks they’re jokes.

How we love to hate lawyers!

But in researching this blog, I’m struck by how many phenomenally creative folks start out in law.

Recently I profiled Sharon Kay Penman, who quit law to write historical novels, and Charles Perrault, the law school graduate who brought us Tales From Mother Goose. Even Jules Verne has a law degree!

Here’s a list of fifteen more legal Later Bloomers whose artistic endeavors might surprise you:

Historical Legal Eagles

1.  Goethe (1749-1832) practiced law for two years before his first book took the world of Romantic prose by sturm und drang (sorry, couldn’t resist). He’s now considered one of the greats of Western literature.

2.  Francis Scott Key (1779-1843) thrice served as District Attorney for Washington DC. During the War of 1812, he saw the British shelling of Baltimore’s Fort Henry. The scene inspired him to write The Star Spangled Banner, America’s national anthem.

3.  Lew Wallace (1827-1905), an attorney and army officer, served as the military judge during Abraham Lincoln’s assassination trial. He also penned the novel Ben-Hur, filmed in 1959 with Charlton Heston.

4.  Wallace Stevens (1879-1955) spent decades as in-house counsel for Hartford Insurance Company while writing poetry. In 1955, he won the Pulitzer Prize for his Collected Poems.

Former lawyer Hoagy Carmichael wrote some of the most popular American standards

5.  Hoagy Carmichael (1899-1981) earned a law degree from Indiana University and hung out his shingle for a few years, until a little ditty he wrote climbed the charts. Stardust has become an American standard and remains one of the most-recorded songs of all time (even Ringo Starr covered it).

6.  Otto Preminger (1905-1986), an Austrian lawyer’s son who wanted to work in theater, negotiated with his dad to keep his allowance. He simultaneously attended law school and took acting lessons. During his five-decade film career, Preminger directed over 35 movies.

7.  John William Corrington (1932-1988) taught college English for almost 20 years before going to law school. He graduated at 43, but left his practice four years later to pen soap operas, including  Another World and General Hospital. He also scripted The Omega Man and Battle for the Planet of the Apes.

You Might Recognize These Folks

8.  John Cleese studied law at Cambridge, where he met medical student Graham Chapman. They helped found Monty Python’s Flying Circus, the cult British comedy troop. That’s Cleese in the post image, demonstrating his innovation for the Ministry of Silly Walks.

9.  David E. Kelley left a Boston law practice after selling his first screenplay. You might recognize him as Michelle Pfeiffer’s husband and the creator of Picket Fences, Chicago Hope, The Practice, Ally McBeal, and Boston Public.

10. Nina and Tim Zagat share a Yale Law School pedigree and a love of good food. At 42, they quit their respective firms when their restaurant guide, The Zagat Survey, took off.

Around The Internet

11.  Marci Alboher helms Civic Ventures, “a nonprofit think tank leading the call for encore careers” (and great resource for Later Bloomers). She graduated from Washington College of Law at American University and practiced for ten years.

12.  Frannie Billingsley says, “I spent years pretending to be just like everyone else — pretending even to myself — and after college, I went to law school, just like everyone else.” She now writes lyrical fantasy books for children and young adults.

13.  Jonathan Fields ditched his job at Debevoise & Plimpton at 30 to become a $12 per hour yoga instructor. He created an innovative NYC yoga studio and sold it seven years later, then wrote Career Renegade: How to Make a Great Living Doing What You Love (another amazing Later Bloomer resource).

14.  Gretchin Rubin graduated from Yale Law School and clerked for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor before penning biographies of Winston Churchill and John F. Kennedy. Recently The Happiness Project, based on her blog, hit the New York Times’ bestseller list.

Later Blooming isn’t about a particular age. It’s about the aha! moment that transforms everything that follows. These Later Bloomers all embraced a creative field after investing enormous amounts of time and money in law school and/or legal careers. Some chucked their former lives, but others, like Wallace Stevens, followed two paths.

I’m an evening legal assistant in a well-known firm. Several years ago, I transitioned my stressful six-figure career as a corporate trainer into an easy job processing briefs and merger agreements.

I chose this path to my Later Blooming and I can thank a few awesome attorneys (who know exactly what I do and will be named one day) for making it possible.

How about you? Is it time to step back, rewrite the present, or move on in order to bloom? Is there a second path?

Acknowledgments: Lisa Firke pointed me to Frannie Billingsley and Gretchen Rubin to Marci Alboher. Post image: BBC

Artwork: Goethe in the Roman Campagna (1787) by Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein

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