This is the second post in a series where the attorneys of Jason Wiener | p.c. will share the path that led them to purpose driven legal practice. Each week, one of our team members will share their story. This is Jason’s story.
The following is an excerpt from a recent letter of recommendation I wrote for a client, who has decided to apply to law school. Before praising this person’s skill, abilities, disposition, and other positive qualities, I gave some context on who I am, as the reviewer.
To whom it may concern:
I write to issue a glowing recommendation for the admission of Ms. Doe to your law school. To contextualize my regard for Ms. Doe, I need to characterize my own background. I have had an unusual career path since I graduated law school in 2005. I graduated shortly after the post-2001 recession, into a slack legal market. I was overlooked for every single on-campus interview prospect I had, from both non-profit and law firms alike. I applied for and was turned down from over 100 applications for state and federal clerkships. What, then, qualifies me to give this recommendation?
I have blazed my own career path since the day I graduated. In the course of experimenting, grinding, hustling, and finding my way in the dark, I have, it turns out, pioneered a new and increasingly desirable career paths for countless young attorneys. Many aspiring law school matriculants have grand aspirations of applying their newfound skill-set to improve people’s lives or to address and hopefully improve gross social and environmental harm, or even to advance sustainable and ethical solutions to these same problems.
I struggled for more than a decade to match my ethical and moral compass to my day-to-day legal responsibilities. Ultimately, through determination and a solid helping of good fortune, I had the opportunity of a lifetime, to become a co-owner and the first in-house general counsel of an up-and-coming employee-owned solar company in Boulder, Colorado. I left the glass canyon of a mid-town Manhattan Big Law job (which more than paid the bills and gave me the security of great benefits, but little in the way of a long-term professional ladder or fuel for my soul) and moved out to sunny and beautiful Colorado, with little more than 3-years of professional experience.
My immediate mandate was manifold: (i) survey, understand, and strategically manage the entire company’s legal risk; and (ii) reduce legal spend to the mere cost of my salary and benefits. I was 29-years old at the time and I had admittedly little practical experience in complex solar contracts, securities, corporate governance, employment, and other areas of law I needed to know. In retrospect and today’s experience, I had what now validates as good instincts and a diligent work ethic. I had no budget for LexisNexis or WestLaw; I had Google and I had little to no budget for outside counsel; I did have a friendly smile and the courage to ask for mentorship and non-billable support from more experienced attorneys.
In 2014, I had largely worked myself out of a job. I had successfully managed a huge docket all by myself, with no administrative support or back-up attorneys. We had simplified the company’s operations and trained the various departments to manage risk themselves. As my job transitioned to part-time, I hung a shingle and started practicing “social enterprise” law. I have written about how far we’ve come in a recent blog post on our website.
I pursued a career in social enterprise law as my way of addressing the adverse socio-economic impacts of unbridled capitalism running amok. Through my undergraduate studies at Cornell’s School of Labor Relations, I had an academic and ideological understanding of how the dominant capitalistic system hurt people and communities. I then developed a legal understanding of how to fight social injustice. What I lacked until this endeavor was a platform to begin unpacking and working to solve these deep-seated injustices. Our work at Jason Wiener|p.c. is about maneuvering within the system we inhabit to maximize opportunities for wealth creation and income growth within under-served communities and to begin to reverse some of the devastation and oppression that capitalism has caused. Paradoxically, we use “market-based” solutions (i.e. cooperatives and social-enterprise business models), with some degree of profit motivation, to pioneer a new form of (or return to) humane capitalism. Working within the system, using “market-based” solutions allows us to effect incremental change that may, with hard work and good luck, snowball into a transformational movement. Through tireless dedication to re-humanizing capitalism, we hope to create the reality we want to inhabit.