Pathways to Purpose Driven Legal Practice – Jason’s Journey

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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