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From Court to School to a Writing Career I Love

By Nancy Stein
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My Bench Trial Win at 19

At age 19, after winning in court on a traffic ticket, I dreamed of becoming a lawyer. I was speeding, but I didn’t go through the stop sign. Luckily, I saw the police car behind me while applying my lip gloss. I simply hadn’t heard his siren with my music blaring. I decided to fight the ticket.

My case was the second one. It came right after a person accused of going through a stop sign and speeding lost against the very same officer. I was nervous but well-reasoned and presented a compelling argument that convinced the judge to find in my favor. If I was speeding and the officer had to slam on his brakes, how come I didn’t hear his tires screech?” “If I was speeding,  why didn’t he give me a speeding ticket? He said I was 15 miles over the speed limit.” The officer also accused me of being rude. To that, I replied, “If I was a police officer and some kid went through a stop sign, was speeding, AND spoke rudely to me, I would have gotten that driver for everything I could.” That did the trick. The judge banged his gavel and announced his decision. I didn’t quite get what he said so he smiled and said, “You won, honey.” Those were very different days. You certainly wouldn’t hear that now, even in traffic court.

My Early Career

I met my husband during my first year of law school, married that spring then graduated two years later. During law school, I worked part-time at Matthew Bender in the Bankruptcy book division editing legal treatises. I had some serious health issues while in law school and spent six weeks in bed and a year recovering. I graduated on time, but I was no longer at the top of my class. Although I value the education I got in law school, I wanted a different life than Biglaw practice. I knew endless hours of work at a mid-sized law firm likely wouldn’t be worth it for me or doable either.

Before graduating, I interviewed for a post-law school bankruptcy clerkship with the bankruptcy judge in Poughkeepsie, but the trip was too far. My husband had landed a top-level, dream job on Long Island and the bankruptcy court judge wanted me to live near the court. Winters are tough and a 2 ½ hour commute each way would be too challenging even if just for a year or two. I was disappointed, but what could I do?

When the opportunity to work in-house at a real estate brokerage firm arose, I jumped at the chance. I worked both as a commercial real estate broker and as in-house counsel. The company was small and it wasn’t doing well. I applied for an editor’s job at The New York Law Publishing Company then owned by Jimmy Finkelstein. That company was later acquired over and over again. It eventually became ALM and I worked there for 22 ½  years. I stayed that long because the people were great. I went from editor to senior editor to acquisitions attorney to managing editor and then to managing editor and marketing liaison. The work was manageable with health issues and three kids.

Benefits vs. Dollars

Although it paid far less than a law firm, working in legal publishing gave me a lot of freedom and a great work/life balance. I especially knew the decision was right when, years later, when my daughter was in her twenties, she said, “You know, Mom, you gave up a lot working for ALM instead of at a law firm and I want you to know how much I appreciated that. You were also there for me. Thank you.” The legal publishing industry gets it. The people in the industry see the value JDs bring to the table.

When ALM decided to leave midtown and move downtown, I knew I was not going to be happy losing my office, working in an open floor plan, and adding an extra half hour to my commute.

I looked into other options and went to Biglaw in the role of global rankings manager. It was a brutal change going from a mom-and-pop place where everybody had worked for years and we had a true sense of camaraderie to a competitive cutthroat environment. I was not happy, but the person who recommended me for that job said don’t worry I know a job that you’ll be happy with. So, a couple of weeks later when Lawdragon’s founder Katrina Dewey came to New York she met me and hired me on the spot. It was a great job. I made amazing contacts but that was 2007-2008 and the financial crisis made times pretty scary.

Landing in the Right Spot

I decided to make a change. Leveraging my legal knowledge, marketing experience, and journalism skills, I went out on my own. My first big break was writing for Jaffe PR. I got lots of experience and started to get great projects on my own. I built a reputation and a business writing for many of the Am Law 100 law firms (check out my website, which I finally created during COVID). Leading law firms and other businesses retain me to write website content including bios, practice descriptions, industry descriptions, and many other types of pages. I write articles, newsletter content, blog posts, annual reports, rankings, recognitions and award submissions, and all types of collateral marketing materials, and I have spearheaded and managed complete website overhauls. I love what I do and have an excellent work/life balance.

Helping Others Leave Law

In the summer of 2022, I met with ex judicata founder Neil Handwerker and later his business partner Kim Fine. Neil asked me to join him in their venture and I’ve done just that. I’ve written articles, interviewed people who have successfully transitioned from law to other careers, and I continue working on content focused on helping lawyers change careers so they too can live their best lives. 

Nancy Stein

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