From Federal Public Defender to Post Legal Career In Photography and Travel Journalism with Sivani Babu [TFLP022]

From Federal Public Defender to Post Legal Career In Photography and Travel Journalism with Sivani Babu

This week I’m sharing my conversation with Sivani Babu. Sivani worked as a federal public defender before switching careers and pursuing her hobby as a post-legal career. 

She is now an award-winning nature photographer, travel journalist, and co-founder/creative director of the cross-genre travel magazine Hidden Compass. 

We talked about so many important things, including what you should consider if you’re thinking about turning your hobby into a career, the importance of embracing your fear, and most importantly, her post-legal career as a photographer and journalist. 

I’m so excited to share her incredible story with you. Let’s go!

About Sivani Babu

Sivani Babu was a federal public defender for about four years. Her parents were immigrants and big US history buffs. Sivani remembered being in the seventh grade and her father making her read The Federalist papers. 

Sivani’s father was a physician, but he was interested in the law. Sivani grew up influenced by this fascination, even though she didn’t fully understand what a legal career really is.

She was drawn to trial work in particular. She liked the public speaking and storytelling. When she eventually went to law school, she went knowing that she would practice criminal law.

Sivani’s Legal Career As A Federal Public Defender 

Sivani was gung-ho for a legal career. She went to a law school where the criminal law route was the road less traveled. But, this school had a big public interest focus, a strong public interest program, and lengthy pro bono requirements.

Sivani had a great experience and enjoyed law school and her legal career. She enjoyed being a federal public defender working in a busy district in the Southern District of Texas. Predominantly, Sivani’s job consisted of visiting clients in jails and detention centers and being in a courtroom. She found the practice fulfilling even when it was difficult. 

When Sivani decided to leave, it happened somewhat abruptly. She knew that she wasn’t going to be where she was forever. But she was planning to move to a different city. She wasn’t planning to switch careers at that point.

Finding Photography & Writing

When Sivani was in law school, she picked up photography and enjoyed it. By the time she was a couple of years into her legal career, she was also doing photography on the side. At this point, photography was still something Sivani viewed as a hobby and certainly not as a possible post-legal career. She still had a ton of work but had a lot of days where she wasn’t allowed to go into the office.

Those were days that Sivani filled with photography. She took advantage of the occasional forced vacation, even taking a trip to Antarctica. At times, she was surprised by just how everything felt different. There she was, on a sailing trip to Antarctica with a bunch of strangers. 

Over time, she got more comfortable and closer to the other passengers. On one of the last nights there, she had a life-changing moment. They went to Port Charcot in Antarctica to photograph an iceberg graveyard. The scenery was jaw-dropping, with the sunset in one direction and a spectacular moon rise in the other, decorating the sky with a purple light that lit up the snow-capped mountain. 

She went back to the boat that night and wrote about what she wanted in life. She listed more nights like that one with more people like the ones she was with and definitely more moon rises. Unbeknownst to her, this was a sign that Sivani’s legal career would end sooner or later. But, it was never supposed to be a post-legal career. 

Jumping Into A Post-Legal Career

When Sivani left her legal career, she dove right into pursuing her post-legal career as a photographer and writer, even when people tried to convince her that making money this way would be much more difficult. While it was intimidating, Sivani chose to network. She went to conferenced and emailed editors to put herself out there. 

She admitted that it was nerve-racking, but it paid off. It was a great learning experience for her, and it paid off. In 2015, she met a group of colleagues and formed a writer’s group. She was closest with Sabine Bergmann, who eventually became Sivani’s business partner. 

Over the next year, they drew up ideas for stories that they wanted to read. But, they couldn’t find anywhere to publish them. Eventually, they decided that if there wasn’t a publication suited for their stories, they would make one. A year later, they launched Hidden Compass. 

Pursuing A Hobby As A Post-Legal Career

Right now, there is a huge push to “find the thing you love and turn it into a job.” But, the truth is, not every hobby should be a job, and not everyone should turn their hobby into a career. There are valid reasons for both wanting your hobby to be a job or not. But the thing is that if you turn something you love into a career, that pressure might ruin the hobby for you altogether. 

Especially if you are unhappy in your legal career, and you want to go from something that you hate to something you love,” which is tempting. And sometimes, it may be the right move. But, you really need to think about it before leaving. 

Advice For Leaving The Law

If someone is listening right now and thinking, “I have this hobby or something that I’m doing outside of my legal career, but I’m not really sure what leaving the law would look like,” here’s some advice for you.

The first piece of advice is to make this space for your ideas. You have to make space for your ideas to run. Chaos is not conducive to thinking big thoughts. Finding little ways to create that space, where you’re dedicating your time to thinking this through a little bit is important to find your perfect post-legal career.

Her biggest piece of advice for anyone considering what it might look like to leave behind a legal career that either they hate—it’s easier to leave behind something you hate than it is to leave behind something you love or even something you just like. But, her biggest piece of advice is to embrace your fear.

As lawyers, we tend to want a plan before making a big change. It can be terrifying but don’t run from that fear. Feel it. Embrace it because it’s a great motivator. If you want to know more about how to leave your legal career for something better, join us at Former Lawyer. You’ll get all the information and support you need to find a perfect post-legal career.

Connect With Savani

Hidden Compass



Personal Instagram

Mentioned In This Article

Hidden Compass