From Renewable Energy Lawyer to Environmental Advocate with Tiffany Duong [TFLP012]

This week Sarah was joined by Tiffany Duong, who used to work as a renewable energy lawyer. But after a life-altering trip to the Galapagos, she now works as a climate and environmental advocate and conservation journalist. 

Tiffany has also founded the media advocacy group, Ocean Rebell. They advocate for the world’s oceans and help people to see the correlation between the world’s oceans and climate change. 

In their conversation, Sarah and Tiffany spoke about a few very common experiences for those who enter the legal profession, one of them being the golden handcuffs we all seem to find ourselves in at one point. 

So, without further delay, let’s get into Tiffany’s story.

Becoming A Renewable Energy Lawyer 

Tiffany chose to go to law school in order to make a difference for the earth, but she didn’t have a clear idea of how exactly to do that. When she graduated from college, she figured it would provide tools to be a better advocate and trusted that it would open up doors to an eventual career that lit her up. 

Law school was not what Tiffany expected. She went to law school to give her dream some teeth and legs to stand on. But law school was cutthroat and put a huge corporate cloud over her dreams. 

The whole track seemed to point to Biglaw because that was the best way to pay off your debt. So, Tiffany’s dreams went on the back burner. Unfortunately, that’s a frequent experience, where people get on the conveyor belt of law school and wind up somewhere completely different from what they really wanted. 

On her first day, she already had the feeling of wanting to leave, but she ended up staying for another five years. A big part of that decision was trying to pay off her student debt, another typical feeling among people who think about leaving the law but end up staying. 

The Golden Handcuffs

As an environmental lawyer in a Biglaw firm, Tiffany got swept up by the corporate lifestyle. She soon found herself clapped into the golden handcuffs. And whenever things didn’t feel right, she would numb the feeling with expensive dinners, facials, and other fancy things. 

Tiffany felt trapped and was burning out, so she numbed herself with nice things and experiences. This is an extremely common experience, spending money to get your mind off a job you hate. And it’s very normalized within the profession.

She went on big adventures to escape her job in Biglaw. One night, she decided to go on a diving trip in the Galapagos. She wanted more than a cover-up. She wanted an experience that would open her eyes. 

She went on the trip and was away from other people and all communication for 10 days. Tiffany loved the experience, and it helped her to see how unhappy she really was in her job. So, when it was time to go back, she resolved to quit.

Leaving Environmental Law 

While Tiffany left in 2015, she still struggles with the identity portion of being an environmental lawyer. She needed to know who she was outside of being a lawyer.

Not long after quitting her job as an environmental lawyer, Tiffany listened to a dating podcast that advised her to go on 50 first dates before getting serious with someone. That time allows you to clarify what you like and want and what you don’t like or want for your life. 

Tiffany decided to take the same approach to find her new job. She gave herself 50 inputs to start understanding who she was. Through that process, she began to clarify what she wanted her next job to look like. 

A big part of finding that was being willing to start over again, which is generally a huge barrier for most people thinking about leaving the law. In choosing to restart, Tiffany was able to approach ideas and assess the experience with her experience as a lawyer. 

Allowing herself to do that and resisting judging herself, she opened up so many more opportunities for real happiness. After quitting, Tiffany sold her home and traveled to Rio de Janeiro and the Amazon to find some pieces and figure out what she wanted to do next. 

Becoming An Environmental Advocate

When she came back, she played with a few ideas, like writing for the local newspaper and doing some contract work on the side. And while the money isn’t the same as being an environmental lawyer, the peace of mind is worth it to Tiffany. 

After spending some time away, and realizing that fieldwork in a research group had its limits, Tiffany moved in with her aunt to find her next steps. This allowed her to explore an ocean advocacy internship that she loved.

So, Tiffany joined a lobbying firm and helped to end harmful fishing practices in California. She also got the opportunity to go on a shark tagging expedition to Cocos Island to help support ocean-protective policies.

While there, Tiffany saw an ad to move to Florida to restore the only barrier reef in America, which is in serious trouble of disappearing. In moving there, Tiffany got to continue diving and expanding her skillset in fieldwork. And best of all, it allowed Tiffany to finally align her life with her values of protecting the earth. 

Since then, Tiffany’s expanded her reach to include teaching climate courses at the University of Miami Osher Institute and doing lectures to local groups about how to connect the climate crisis with what’s going on in the oceans.

She also continues to write freelance for a couple of different news organizations, which not only helps financially but gives Tiffany the chance to use her voice to shape the future of our planet. 

Tiffany’s Avice For Aspiring Former Lawyer  

To end the conversation, Tiffany shared a super-helpful piece of advice for anyone who’s thinking of leaving the law. While she wishes she left sooner, she doesn’t fault herself for staying so long. And you shouldn’t either.

Even if you feel like you’ve wasted your time or that your skills are only useful to the legal profession, it’s not true. Your journey is your journey, and even if you don’t know what you want to do next, it will all be worth it in the end. 

Sometimes, you can feel like you’re living an irresponsible dream, but it will be sustainable if you keep pushing for it. Don’t forget to reach out to other former lawyers because that support is invaluable during the process of leaving. 

Are you in the beginning stages of wanting to leave the law? Get the blueprint with the free download, First Steps To Leaving The Law! Grab it today and take the guesswork out of leaving!

Connect With Tiffany





Mentioned In This Article

Ocean Rebel 

First Steps To Leaving The Law

Sarah Cottrell: Hi, and welcome to The Former Lawyer Podcast. I'm your host, Sarah Cottrell. On this show, I interview former lawyers to hear their inspiring stories about how they left law behind to find careers and lives that they love. Let's get right to the show.

Hey everyone. This week I'm sharing my conversation with Tiffany Duong who worked as a renewable energy project finance lawyer for five years after law school, and then she had an epiphany about her life on a dive boat in the Galapagos Islands and she now works as a climate and environmental advocate and conservation journalist. She founded the media advocacy group Ocean Rebels. I'm excited for you to hear this conversation so let's dive in.

Hi, Tiffany. Welcome to The Former Lawyer Podcast.

Tiffany Duong: Thank you so much for having me, Sarah. This is very exciting.

Sarah Cottrell: Let's start with you just telling our listeners who you are and a little bit about yourself and then why don't you talk about how you've ended up going to law school in the first place?

Tiffany Duong: Sure. My name is Tiffany Duong. I am a recovering renewable energy lawyer from the Bay Area in California and I currently work in ocean conservation media and just generally living a blue life. I originally chose to go to law school in order to make a difference for the earth, for the planet but I didn't have an idea of how exactly to do that.

When I was graduating from college, I figured that law school would provide me with a lot of useful tools to be a better advocate and I trusted that it would open up doors to an eventual career that lit me up, I just didn't necessarily think that I would be spending all my time working as a lawyer.

Sarah Cottrell: Did you go straight through from undergrad to law school?

Tiffany Duong: I took a year off.

Sarah Cottrell: When you got to law school, was it what you expected? Was it different than you expected? Talk a little bit about what it was like for you.

Tiffany Duong: It was definitely not what I expected. I'm from California so I'm a culturally bred tree hugger and I went to law school with that in mind wanting to give that dream some legs and some teeth. I wanted to build up my own personal repertoire of skills to make me the best advocate for this planet that I could become and I found law school to be very cutthroat and corporate, and of course, this is also influenced by where I went to school, who I went to school with, who I was at the time but it was a huge corporate cloud over my very naive green dreams.

Even though I did specialize in climate and environmental law while in law school, I just found that most of my classmates and even professors and just how the curriculum was structured funneled me and everyone into Biglaw basically because that's how you could pay off your debt and the lack of any other examples or inspiration for what you can do in law I think really narrowed my view of what tools I was actually going to be using out of this law toolbox.

Sarah Cottrell: Got it. I think that's a really common experience, people describe feeling like they get to law school and almost being on a conveyor belt of just the next thing and the next thing and the next thing, and then they're at a law firm and they don't necessarily feel like they even thought that much about what it would be like. Was that your experience? Did you end up going to a law firm when you graduated?

Tiffany Duong: Yes. When I was in law school, I used to always have the thought that all the people in this room with me are some of the most interesting people I've ever met. The process of going into law school, succeeding in law school, and then going to a firm basically made us all hide or cut off or somehow dampen all the things that made us interesting so that we became these high-power corporate robots. I absolutely agreed that I didn't even feel like I had chosen that life and it was the first time that I felt I could identify with the whole midlife crisis feeling of “How did I even get here?” and I was in my 20s and early 30s. I was like, “Wow. I'm having this crisis way earlier than I should be.”

Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. I completely understand what you're saying. I had a very similar experience. You're saying you had this crisis moment, was that basically as soon as you got to the firm you were like, “Why am I here?” or was it more of a progressive realization over time?

Tiffany Duong: No. I ended up working at three Biglaw firms always in renewable energy project finance which is a very niche practice within corporate law that does great work working in wind and solar. I always followed the same practice group. I had a very small group which was great, but even from day one, I never felt like I really fit in.

I felt like a little bit of an imposter and I knew that people were in it for the money and the prestige of even within the green space, having the biggest solar farm or the most megawatts installed which was awesome. But I couldn't share their same motivations necessarily because I had come in with a very green heart, green naive and also green eco heart about this work. I never really felt like I fit in.

I remember the first day of corporate practice, they flew us to headquarters in New York and I was wearing this suit that was crisp and new and this briefcase that didn't really have anything in it. I was like, “Okay, I look like a lawyer but I don't see how I can make it past a year. This is not who I really feel like.” But I stayed for five and it just happens that the conveyor belt just takes you on a ride and you don't even realize it at first.

Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. I was going to say can you talk a little bit more about that? Because it sounds like from the very beginning, maybe even before you graduated from law school, you were thinking, “Hey, maybe this law firm life is not for me,” but I think that it's common that people have that experience and also that they end up staying for quite a while. Do you want to talk a little bit about why you ended up staying for so many years and just what the dynamics were of that?

Tiffany Duong: Sure. A big part of it was I wanted to at least make up as much money as I had spent on school. I knew how much I had spent for school and I couldn't fathom and I couldn't see any other realistic opportunities to help chip away at that without working in a firm and that I know that was the experience of most of my contemporaries. Then once you start, people talk about the golden handcuffs, and for me my experience of that wasn't so much that I felt like, “Wow, I have so much cash now that I can do all these fancy things,” but whenever things didn't feel right, I began numbing those real parts of me in order to get through my day.

I would eat out at a fancy restaurant, which I enjoyed doing but I did it way more than I needed to because at the time, I was starting to burn out and I just didn't realize it or I was just being untrue to myself and I didn't realize it. I would numb all these parts of me through buying things, buying experiences, or just spending way too much in order to feel normal again.

That led me into this corporate lawyer lifestyle where because it was my day-to-day, I didn't see how I could maintain that in any other job, so then I didn't really know what to do. I felt trapped. I was just going through the motions of my life. I was good at what I did. I loved my supervising attorneys. I just wasn't happy. But I didn't have the capacity to figure out why or what I could do to change that.

Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. I think you mentioned going to restaurants. My husband and I both worked as lawyers, and he still does but I do not, and I know early on, we were spending a lot of money especially going to dinner at nice restaurants but one of the reasons was if you got an email that was like, “Hey, can you do this thing?” you knew that you could say, “Oh, I'm at dinner, I can get to it in an hour or two,” and so it was almost a way to create a little bit of space where you knew I'm not going to be working for this two-hour chunk or one hour whatever.

Getting out of jobs that created that level of misery I guess created the possibility, you just don't have to spend that same amount of money. I'm not saying that we had to, I'm just saying it sounds like maybe there was a somewhat similar dynamic of you spending money to make the experience tolerable and the more intolerable the situation is job wise, the more money you have to spend. When you get out of it, you're like, “Oh, I don't actually need those things in my life the way that I did before,” because it's almost a means of surviving.

Tiffany Duong: Yep, absolutely. I bought my first house when I was working and it was in downtown L.A. It was one of those fancy apartments. Because I was just wrapped up in this lifestyle, I was like, “Yeah, I need a $50 throw pillow,” that's not even comfortable. Of course, I did the matching pair and then “Oh, yeah sure, that vase looks nice,” and if I ever host a fancy dinner party, which I never did because who had the time to plan that, but I need this water pitcher for that reason in case I do. It was just ridiculous and all those things.

For me, I used to be like, “Okay, I need either a facial, a haircut, or something,” and those would be those little moments of self-care that I would carve out of my day to just feel human again and spend way more money than I needed just to feel like I was being taken care of a little bit. I always had the thought that my skin wouldn't look so dead and I wouldn't feel so dead if I wasn't working so much, but if I wasn't working so much, I wouldn't have the money for these treatments. It became this silly vicious cycle. Now all of that just seems clutter to me.

Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. It's almost like an escapist, essentially, using things like that, which generally involve spending money to feel like you're escaping from an experience that is just really unpleasant for at least a little bit. I feel like there are a lot of people out there who are working as lawyers and are having that experience just from my own observation.

Tiffany Duong: I'm sure you've talked to a lot of them on your podcast.

Sarah Cottrell: I think within the profession, it's very much normalized, especially if you're in certain types of jobs, essentially that that is the normal way to live life. I think it can be really hard if you're in that, I know we've talked about before on the podcast, the lawyer bubble, to break out of that and realize that there is a different way.

You said you recognized this was happening but didn't really know how to make a change or what change you would make. What happened that brought you to the point where you actually decided, “Hey, I don't want to be a lawyer anymore and I'm actually going to leave”?

Tiffany Duong: Yeah. One of the golden handcuff things that I did to myself while I was practicing was to choose bigger adventures to go on in order to actually feel alive. I leaned into my inner adrenaline junkie a lot. There was one deal I was working on where I got this email at 3:00 AM saying, “Oh, Galapagos scuba diving trip.” I had just gotten an email from a partner saying, “Oh, have it done by 6:00 AM,” and it was already 2:00 AM or 3:00 AM and I was just like, “You know what, forget it.” Stronger words. I emailed back to the trip organizer and I was like, “How much is it? Sign me up. I'm going.”

It was really that trip which I originally had just taken as one of those space-creating experiences with money that really opened my eyes because when I was there, I was out of communication of my cell phone and emails, I was on this boat that was floating in the middle of the ocean, and we saw no other humans for 10 days. I saw more sharks than humans which I'd just never been somewhere like that, so off the grid and so unreachable. I had breakdowns every single day on the bow of the ship just because it was so beautiful and I was so genuinely alive and stripped down.

It helped me really see how unhappy I was for the first time. I held up a mirror and I saw and I couldn't hide anymore behind all the veneers that I was so unhappy. Then after that, I came back from that trip and basically just on the airplane when we landed back in LAX, I was just like, “I can't go back to this life. I can't go back. I'm too unhappy. I'm not myself.” So I made a resolution to myself to quit and I did.

Sarah Cottrell: That's super awesome. I have a couple of questions related to that, and I know it's something that a lot of the guests on the podcast have already talked about, but one is several people have talked about this working through this issue where being a lawyer became a part of their identity even though they didn't really necessarily even want it to be, when they left having more of a struggle than they expected—and I know this has been true for me—with just not having that “Oh, I'm a lawyer,” which is an easy thing to describe when you meet someone and they know what it means and it communicates some number of things, I'd love to hear some about that.

Then the other thing that I've talked with most of my guests about—because I think this is one of the things that really holds people back the most—is dealing with the way people react, whether that's people within your firm or wherever you're working as a lawyer, family, friends, law school classmates, those are two big questions but to boil them down, one, talk just the identity piece and then the other, how you dealt with and what advice you might have for people in terms of dealing with other people's opinions about leaving the law.

Tiffany Duong: Yeah. I agree. I left in 2015. Next year August will be five years out which will be as much time in practice as out, and I still struggle with how to fit that lawyer piece within my identity. It shifts with every new experience I give myself and every new building block. It's almost like a piece in the Tetris puzzle, and before, I was leaning on it as the single biggest block to help me move forward, but now I see that it's the same size or even smaller than some of my other pieces and experiences that I've built. With each new iteration of myself that I create, I rejigger the puzzle to see where it fits in.

I went through a period where I left it out completely and I didn't really tell people until they got to know me that I used to be a lawyer and that I used to do some pretty big work just because I wasn't ready yet to let that be a part of my story again. I needed to know who I was outside of lawyer Tiffany because I had lost her for so many years. Now where I'm at, I can actually see and appreciate how some of the skills that I got as a lawyer are being used in my day-to-day and have helped me. I can accept that part of my past as fitting into this new puzzle I'm creating.

That said, it changes every time I have a new experience. I reconfigure all the pieces to see how they're going to fit and present myself in that way. I think for me, the biggest benefit has been giving myself the freedom to reimagine that part of my past. However, it's most useful for me at the time whether that's not at all and not including it or including it as a vital part or just part of the past. Your second question was how to deal with advice from others and their opinions, that was a doozy.

Sarah Cottrell: I think it is for everyone.

Tiffany Duong: Yeah. I think people love you and want the best for you, especially if you're leaving law and you don't know what you're going to do yet, it's very hard for them to be in your corner when you don't even know which fight you're trying to go into. For me, I needed space to really figure out what I wanted to do next. For me, that meant actually physical space the same way that Galapagos dive trip gave me space away from my world. I ended up deciding to just take a year off and I moved to Singapore and then to South America to just live there without trying to define anything for that period.

It was really hard because people would be like, “Oh, what are you moving for? Are you volunteering for something?” and you get very used to, as a lawyer, having something of merit to show for your time, so I really struggled with just being like, “Oh, I just want to live in Rio for the heck of being in Rio.” I think the physical separation for me allowed me to hone in on what was my own opinion. Sometimes when I approach what others want for me, I just have to ask them for a little bit of space, even if it's not physical space, but just understanding and grace that I'm still figuring it out and I'm okay with that.

Sarah Cottrell: This episode of The Former Lawyer Podcast is sponsored by my free guide: First Steps to Leaving the Law. Look, I know that there are a lot of unhappy lawyers out there who are overwhelmed at the thought of leaving the law and literally don't know where to start. You can grab this guide and take the guesswork out of it. Go to and start your journey out of the law today. Seriously, you can get it and start today.

Yeah. I think that you're right. I know a couple different people have already mentioned that on here but so often, I think you basically are going to get two reactions from people to the extent they react. One is from people who care about you and love you and maybe are worried or afraid for you for whatever reason and so even if they're not necessarily responding in the way you would prefer, you can at least understand where it's coming from.

Then the other are just people who randomly, maybe acquaintances or whatever, just have general thoughts about what you should or shouldn't be doing. I think with that category of people, you just have to learn to be like, “Well, they can think whatever they want but they don't have to live my life.”

Tiffany Duong: Yeah. I think what was a turning point for me was with everybody, but especially with the people who care about me. If they're like, “Are you ever going to find something that you like again? Are you ever going to want to work again?” For me, it was really sitting with the thought of “Well, I'm more okay with disappointing them than I am about disappointing myself,” and so allowing myself to just sit with me until I figured out what lit me up and what really drove me to wake up day-to-day and what work I wanted to leave this earth with helped me create that safe space for myself.

Sarah Cottrell: Talk a little bit more about how you went through that process of figuring out what you want to do. Because I know one of the things that often holds people back from leaving the law is basically not knowing what they want to do next, either because they went straight through to law school and so just literally never considered other career options or even if that's not the case, they've been doing it so long they just don't even know what else they would do. I think it would be really helpful if you could share a little bit about the process that you went through to figure out what it was that you should be doing.

Tiffany Duong: Yeah. Pretty early on in quitting, reframing my life, I listened to this podcast that was about dating but that you could apply to anything. It was basically saying go on 50 first dates before you even try to get serious with someone because you need those 50 inputs to understand what you need, what you want, what you don't want. I took that approach with my quitting and my reframing of my life.

I made a Google Excel sheet with 50 numbered points and I told myself that I have to give myself 50 inputs to begin understanding who I want to be. That could be anything from reading a book to applying for a position that felt remotely interesting or to cold contacting somebody doing work that just for some reason seemed cool.

Through that process, I really was able to start seeing the trend of “Okay, I want to be more in the field than behind a desk.” Part of that was I moved to the Amazon Rainforest and I lived there for a month and a half working at a biodiversity research camp. That taught me “Okay, my field work limit is probably about two weeks before I'm like, okay, that's enough bugs, and not showering for now.”

What has been so helpful for me is when I do something like that Amazon fieldwork experience, the failure of it to click, I didn't want to stay looking at spiders for a year which is what the researcher I was working under had done and wanted to keep doing. But the failure of that to click with me, I took as a success as a wonderful input.

I know that I don't want to totally revamp and become a scientist per se, I like being in the field, but I like being able to leave. For me, the biggest benefit when you don't know what you want to do and the fear of that is to approach it more like an opportunity to rebuild your life in the exact way you want, and that means approaching things as inputs and opportunities to learn about yourself rather than “What if I do this and I hate it?” That's awesome. It's like what if you date this guy and you hate him? Then it's like, oh, then you'll never date that kind of guy again.

Sarah Cottrell: Yeah, I think it's really wise to frame experiences that way because, especially as lawyers, I think very much we're all trained to be risk-averse and I think in general, people who choose to go to law school tend to be relatively achievement-oriented. The idea of doing something and not working out or not being what you imagine I think is very easy to frame that as, “Oh, that's a failure. I didn't love every single thing that I chose to do, therefore it's a failure.”

But like you said, first of all, that's an unrealistic level of pressure to put on yourself and you're not going to learn unless you're willing to do things that maybe will “fail” or just not be the right fit. I think that's part of what sometimes can keep people trapped in the law even if they are really unhappy because you have to reframe the idea of what failure actually is.

Tiffany Duong: Yeah. absolutely. For me now, failure means living a life that I'm unhappy about regularly. There's always going to be sh*t in every job and everything you have to do but it's really choosing what the flavor of sh*t that you want to have every day—that metaphor is from Mark Manson. It's one of my favorite authors—but it's like every work has a sh*t sandwich and you choose the flavor that's palatable to you. I love knowing that I've created my own sandwich and that I am happy to eat it every day. I like the difficulties that come with the life I've chosen and I never could say that before.

Sarah Cottrell: Yes. I think that's really important because I think sometimes when people hear me talking about leaving the law and how it's okay to want to be happy, that sometimes there can be this mistaken assumption that I'm trying to say you should just be happy all the time. Some of the messaging out there around jobs I think is very unrealistic, because it does have this every single moment should be easy and wonderful, it should never be hard, and you should never have any experiences that are negative. The reality is that you're a human person in the world, that's not going to happen.

A job is a job, so even if it's something that you love, there are still going to be things about it that you don't like. But just because that's true doesn't mean that some things will be more tolerable to you than other things. Just because life can be hard and will be hard and you will have difficult moments in your job doesn't mean that you should stay in something that just feels intolerable and difficult to you all the time. I think that is a really important insight.

Tiffany Duong: I was also going to say a big part of my finding what I want to do is also being willing to start over again. When I left, I was a mid-level associate five, six years up and because my practice was so niche, there weren't that many people doing what I did and you can start to feel like those things matter.

In choosing to restart my life, I've been an intern again and I've put myself in situations where as a 30-something, I've been surrounded by 20-somethings and that's a whole different bag of weird, but it's been wonderful because I can approach it and really assess the different situations with my lawyer experience, with my 30s experience and analyze it in a way that I couldn't at my 20s.

But I know a lot of people have some hold up about going back to being an intern after “mattering” why would you move down, but for me, allowing myself to do that and not judging myself for what would seem a demotion actually has opened up so many opportunities to have wonderful experiences that have led me to real happiness.

Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. I think that's really good because I think it can be so easy to artificially limit yourself because of certain thought processes like that. The other thing that I know is a big impediment for people when they're thinking about leaving the law even though they're very unhappy is the financial piece. Can you talk a little bit about how you approached that part of things and your thought process around it as you were deciding to leave?

I think it would be especially interesting to hear in your situation since you said when you first left, you didn't really have a specific plan in terms of what you were going to do next. I think it would be really helpful for people to hear how you thought about that piece of things.

Tiffany Duong: I had saved up money because, like I said, I knew from day one I pretty much wasn't going to be here long term so I had saved up some money. Then I decided to sell my house which was actually the biggest freeing factor financially. I put a lot of work and money into getting that house and the day that I closed escrow, I was celebrating, people have asked me, “Oh, do you miss it?” and I was like, “I don't because I recognize that in order to keep the house with all the fancy stuff and the vases and pillows meant I had to stay in a lawyer lifestyle.”

When I decided to quit, I was like, “Okay, that means I have to give up this house.” I don't have kids and that also has given me a lot of freedom to move to places in the country and the world that are a lot cheaper.

I chose to go to Rio de Janeiro and to the Amazon as part of my quitting and finding myself peace. It's a lot cheaper to live there and so while I was there, I could actually live off my savings and off of what profit I had made on my house just to give myself the space to figure it out. Then when I came back, I toyed with writing some contracts on the side for just side money. I started freelance journalism for the local paper and I've ever since then just been hacking together a life that is enough.

It's definitely nothing close to what I was making as a lawyer but I'm okay with that because all of the non-financial gains I've gotten of my peace of mind, my freedom, and my time back, I find worth it. I guess being willing to tolerate the instability of that kind of a lifestyle of a freelancer, gig economy person has allowed me the space to build that life.

Sarah Cottrell: I think that is really helpful. I know an episode that released, I want to say it was a couple weeks ago or maybe it was this week, anyway, unimportant, the point is Alex Davis was talking about the fact that when she first left, she did some contract legal work while she was building up her own business and how there's this, especially amongst lawyers, this, “Oh, why would you ever lower yourself to do that kind of work?”

That's just a completely wrong perspective because the reality is in doing that kind of stuff, you are often creating the opportunity to do the things that you really want to do. As with so many things, I think leaving the law and putting together a life that works for you is, at least a significant portion of it, just learning to not allow yourself to be governed by what other people think.

Tiffany Duong: And also not to judge yourself based on who you were but more the life you want to lead. If it's going to help you get there, who cares?

Sarah Cottrell: Yes, 100% I totally agree. Talk a little bit about specifically what you're doing now and how you ended up there from that first year.

Tiffany Duong: Sure. Right now I live in the Florida Keys. I guess I'll go chronologically, it'll make a little more sense. I came back from my year off of finding myself, and during that time, I knew I liked field work but not all the time so I moved in with one of my aunts, which is another thing that financially, it sucks to move home and it sucks to rely on people, especially when you're like, “I'm an adult, I should be better at this.”

I moved my boyfriend with me so it's not like, “Oh, fresh out of college,” and there's a whole bunch of ego and self-judgment that could go there, but my aunt had rooms that she wasn't using and she said it was okay.

Allowing ourselves to do that gave me the space to take an ocean advocacy internship that turned into a job for very little money, but that allowed me to see, “Oh, I love this arena of work,” and so I joined this lobbying firm and I helped end harmful driftnet fishing in California and I went on a shark tagging expedition to Cocos Island to help support policies that would help protect oceans.

While I was there, I saw an ad to move to Florida—I actually saw it on Instagram, so you never know where you're going to find your next inspiration if you allow yourself—but I saw this ad to become a scientific diver to restore corals and so I moved to the Florida Keys to restore the only barrier reef left in the US and it's currently dying.

Moving here, continuing to dive, and expanding my skill sets within diving field work have been really amazing and have just aligned me to know that I need to always be by the ocean and I need to be working to protect it in every avenue that I can. Then after home basing in Florida and doing that diving, I've expanded my reach to include teaching climate courses at the University of Miami Osher Institute and also doing lectures to local groups about how to connect the climate crisis with what's going on in the oceans.

Then I also continue to write freelance for a couple different news organizations, local as well as national, which just helps not only keep the money flowing in but helps me hone with each story and each person I meet the message that I want to leave and the voice that I want to use to help shape the future of our planet.

Sarah Cottrell: I love that. I really love your story and I think there are so many parts of it that so many lawyers can identify with and have experienced similar struggles. For those people who are listening and are either sure they want to leave the law, they just haven't done it yet for whatever reason, or even are just thinking, “Hey, I'm unhappy. maybe that means I should leave,” what advice would you have for those people?

Tiffany Duong: I would say it's okay to be scared, it's okay to not know, and to doubt yourself. The journey will be weird and uncertain almost all the time but if you trust yourself, persevere, and keep going towards what lights you up, you'll find your way eventually. It'll be a messy trip but it'll be worth it.

Sarah Cottrell: That's so good. I love that. As we're getting to the end, is there anything else that we haven't talked about that you would like to share with the listeners and the possibly aspiring former lawyers who are listening to the podcast?

Tiffany Duong: Yeah. I would say while I wish I could have left sooner, I don't fault myself for doing so, because your journey is your journey and it's okay to not know and that it's all worth it in the end. You really can live what feels like an irresponsible dream life and it will be sustainable if you just keep pushing for it, and to reach out because there are a lot of recovering and recovered lawyers out there who want to see other people be happy too.

Sarah Cottrell: I love that so much. If people want to connect with you, Tiffany, where can they find you?

Tiffany Duong: They can email me at [email protected] That's my maybe turning media company to focus on ocean issues and to just keep exploring what I can do. But I'm happy to talk with anyone. I love helping people find their happiness.

Sarah Cottrell: Awesome. Thank you so much for joining me today, Tiffany. I really appreciate you sharing your story.

Tiffany Duong: Of course, thank you for having me. It was a pleasure.

Sarah Cottrell: Thanks so much for listening today. I absolutely love getting to share these stories with you. If you haven't yet, subscribe to the show, and come on over to and join our community to get even more support and resources in your journey out of the law. Until next time. Have a great week.