On the latest episode of the Former Lawyer Podcast, I had a wonderful conversation with Kevin Ha. Kevin has a unique story compared to my other guests because he side hustled his way out of the legal profession and into a full-time blogger.
I’m excited for you to hear this conversation about how he went from Biglaw to the government to non-profit. And, how he ultimately ended up working on his website and doing side hustles full-time. Let’s get to my conversation with Kevin.
Working In The Law
Kevin stumbled upon his decision to go to law school. He graduated from college in 2009 with degrees in history and economics but couldn’t get a job. So, he reflected on what else he could do.
Because of his high-achieving nature and fondness for standardized testing, he decided to take the LSAT and go to law school. Kevin practiced law for five years and during those years, he had three different jobs in the legal profession.
Kevin was jumping around within the legal profession, trying to figure out who he was, and what he wanted to do, not thinking about whether being in the legal profession was something he wanted. He started in Biglaw, moved to government, and then went to nonprofit law.
Exploring Side Hustles
Two years into his Biglaw job, Kevin started working on some side hustles. He started with side hustles from gig economy apps like DoorDash and UberEats in 2015. Eventually, he started picking up other side hustle gigs, like dog sitting with Rover, among other things.
At first, it was all just for fun. Kevin never thought that he’d eventually be doing sid hustles as a full-time job. He noted that it was therapeutic for him to do something simple and task-oriented while being outside and exploring. Most importantly, he liked getting his mind off of the legal profession for a while.
Kevin also began blogging about his side hustles and personal finance. It started as an anonymous financial independence and personal finance blog. It was anonymous because he was also writing about his unhappiness in the legal profession.
Just doing all these things outside of the law was therapeutic. It helped him feel better and it was fun, so he kept doing it. Eventually, he thought that blogging could become his next career.
Obsession With Prestige In The Legal Profession
Kevin kept his side hustles and blog on the down-low for a long time. Part of the reason for this is because of the overwhelming obsession with prestige in the legal profession. There is a very unfortunate sense among lawyers that certain jobs are beneath them.
Personally, I think that kind of mindset is incredibly unhealthy and problematic. But, Kevin never let this ideal change his perspective. He stayed grounded and out of that headspace, keeping his side hustles secret until it was time to leave.
Using Side Hustles to Get Out of the Legal Profession
Originally, doing side hustles full time was not a part of Kevin’s long-term plan. He was just going to save his way to financial independence with the help of side hustles. Then, he would be able to do it whenever he wanted.
After being reprimanded by an ungrateful and unforgiving boss, Kevin took out his calendar, flipped it to one year from that day, and wrote, “Qut job by today.” Today, Kevin spends his day writing for his blog, Financial Panther, and doing his side hustles.
Out of the Legal Profession On Your Terms
Sometimes, people have this idea that if they’re going to leave the legal profession, they have to throw their law degree or license in the trash or need to quit tomorrow with no plan.
But, hear this. Leaving the legal profession can look a lot of different ways. There’s no one “be all and end all” way to do it.
It feels like you have no other options because lawyers tend to think in black and white. A lot of people look at decisions as potentially life-ruining. But, in the grand scheme of things, there are very few decisions that will truly ruin your life.
You can leave the legal profession, even without giving up your license. Kevin’s license is still active. I still have my license, although it’s inactive. What I’m saying is that you can leave on your terms. It doesn’t matter how you do it, how long it takes, or where you go next.
Start Your Path To Leaving The Legal Profession With Former Lawyer
If you want to leave the legal profession, and you’re in that type of headspace, I highly suggest you join us here at Former Lawyer. A great way to start is by watching my free masterclass, The Simple 5-Step Framework To Identify An Alternative Career (That You Actually Like!)?
In this master class, you’ll learn the proven framework that I use with all of my clients to help them identify an alternative career. You can watch the masterclass right now, just sign up and get the link to watch.
Once you’ve watched, message me or email me to let me know what your biggest takeaway was. I would love to know.
Until next time, take care!
Connect With Kevin
Mentioned In This Article
Sarah Cottrell: Hi, and welcome to The Former Lawyer Podcast. I'm your host, Sarah Cottrell. I practiced law for 10 years and now I help unhappy lawyers ditch their soul-sucking jobs. On this show, I share advice and strategies for aspiring former lawyers, and interviews with former lawyers who have left the law behind to find careers and lives that they love.
Today, I'm sharing my conversation with Kevin Ha. Kevin has a really interesting story and it's somewhat unique. He started doing gig economy stuff, like driving for DoorDash when he was still working in Biglaw. I'm really excited for you to hear this conversation about how he went from Biglaw to government to non-profit and ultimately ended up working on his own website and doing some of his various gig stuff full-time. Let's get to my conversation with Kevin.
Hey, Kevin. Welcome to The Former Lawyer Podcast.
Kevin Ha: Thank you so much for having me.
Sarah Cottrell: I am really interested to hear more of your story. Let's start with introducing yourself to the listeners.
Kevin Ha: My name is Kevin Ha. I'm a former attorney, I guess, although I still keep my license. These days, I'm a full-time blogger and gig economy worker/side hustler. That's who I am.
Sarah Cottrell: Awesome. What is the name of your site?
Kevin Ha: Oh yeah, my blog is financialpanther.com.
Sarah Cottrell: Okay, cool. We'll talk more about that as we go along but I just wanted people to have a sense of what you're writing about. There are so many things already, I have so many questions in my head but let's start where we always start on this podcast, which is all the way back at how did you decide to go to law school.
Kevin Ha: Yeah. I think my law school story is similar to a lot of people in which I stumbled my way into law school.
Sarah Cottrell: Very common.
Kevin Ha: Yeah. Law school is one of those professional careers that you can actually do, if you think about it, like doctors and stuff, they can't stumble into it because they had to take certain classes and that kind of thing. In law school, there are no prerequisites. You just have to get decent grades and be able to take a test pretty well. That's what happened to me. I graduated from college back in 2009, which was a great time to graduate from school. Of course, I couldn't get a job. I had a degree in history and econ, so I was like, “Well, what else can I do? I'll take the LSAT and go to law school.” That's how I ended up going to law school and becoming a lawyer.
I often like to say that the reason, in addition to the fact that I could take the test and whatever, is that being a lawyer has a very clear step-by-step process to do it. Even now, if you take anyone, you can tell them exactly what they need to do to get there whereas like, “Go to this school. Get this grade. Get this LSAT. Do this well in this school and you could probably get to this Biglaw job,” and so forth, and so forth. When you think about a lot of other careers, it doesn't have that step-by-step process like the way lawyers do.
Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. I think that's a really common experience that people have where it's like, “Oh, law school, I didn't have to take organic chemistry to get in,” and it’s a very clear path, like you said. It's not just that it's a clear path to law school, it's also like through law school, especially if you do the OCI thing and take the Biglaw track, it's just like you just have the path set out in front of you. I think for many of us, when we were in our late teens, early 20s and didn't really know what we wanted to do, that was very appealing.
Kevin Ha: Yeah, that’s exactly it. It's just like I've always been good at that thing, like following directions and standardized tests, then it turns into a game. Because of that law school, just like the idea of it was very appealing, it's like, “Oh, this is what you do to get in and this is how you do well there,” and so forth and so forth.
Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. I think it's so interesting that you say it's like a game because I can remember going through OCI. Now, this was of course pre-recession, so a little bit of a different circumstance than people going through this after that but I remember feeling like I just need to basically win as many of these interviews as I can. I don't mean that in an aggressive way. I just mean like I wasn't really giving a lot of thought to like, “The path of Biglaw at all, is this actually something I want to be doing?” It was like, “Well, this is what I should be doing, so now I need to do it in the best way possible.” Like you said, like very much that kid who got the gold stars and was good at tests, and these sorts of things and very little actual like, “Is this actually the path that I want my life to take?”
Kevin Ha: That's exactly right. We rank like, “How good is this firm?” or “How good is this city?” and so on. It's like we're all doing that. It's like a competition.
Sarah Cottrell: 100%. It very much plays to a particular set of personality traits that lots of people who choose to go to law school tend to share. That's why you find so many lawyers who end up, whether it's in Biglaw or somewhere else, they end up in this job, they're like, “Wait, I don't really know how I got here. I just followed the path.”
Kevin Ha: Yep. I think that's why you see a lot of lawyers switching jobs a lot and this can tie into my next thing, like what my career trajectory looked like. I practiced law for five years and during that five years, I had three different jobs. I started off in Biglaw, then I went to government, then I went to nonprofit and it was like each time, I was trying to find this job that's right for me. I was just jumping around within the career field trying to figure out who I was, what I wanted to do, not really thinking that much like, “Did I really actually want to do this thing that I was doing?”
Sarah Cottrell: Yes. Literally, every week, I get multiple emails from lawyers who listen to the podcast and their stories are different but also so similar in the sense that basically they say, “I started off in X place.” Often, it's in a Biglaw firm but also other places and was there for a couple years, wasn't happy with it and went to another type of employer, whether it was in-house or government or something else. Sometimes, they then went to a third place but sometimes, at the second place, they basically realized, they're emailing me and saying, “I've realized it's actually not the type of law or the place. I just don't think I want to be a lawyer.”
People change jobs for all sorts of reasons. It's also like getting different types of experience but it's very, very common that I'll hear from someone who's in there like a second or third job as a lawyer and they basically have realized like, “Oh, it's not that I just need a different lawyer job. It's that I don't actually want to be a lawyer, so every job I go to, I'm still a lawyer and that means it's not a great fit.” Sometimes, that's something that's happened over three or five years and sometimes, I'm talking with people who are like 20 years in and they're like, “Oh yeah, no.”
Kevin Ha: Yeah, that's exactly how it happened for me. I started my career in a Biglaw firm and as soon as I got in there, I knew, “Oh, this is not great for me.” But I told myself, “Oh, it's just the work environment.” I'm working so many hours and I've got so many partners hassling me, and whatever, so I thought, “Oh well, the next job will be better, the next one.” What happened was I did my three years there, then I jumped ship, thinking like, “Oh, next, I'll work in the government.” That was my second job. I was like, “Oh, this government job will be better.” Of course, it was basically the same thing as the Biglaw except now I was making much less.
Sarah Cottrell: You're like, “Wait, what have I done?”
Kevin Ha: I told myself, I was like, “Oh, I have better work-life balance. I'll make less about better work-life balance, so it will be a better fit for me for what I'm trying to do with my life.” Of course, it just did not turn out that way. The grass was not greener, then I did it again, I switched to another job, I took another pay cut so my career trajectory, I went up in salary, then I just dropped every year after that, then again, it was just like, “Oh, this job is not what I'm looking for.”
Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. I think one of the things that really can trip people up is that whether we're talking about in-house, whether we're talking about government jobs, there's so much variation. There doesn't tend to be a lot of clarity around that. I think there tends to be this idea of, “Oh, in-house is the answer” or “Government is the answer.” The reality is there are just as many types of those jobs. There are so many variations. You can't know, “Oh, if I go here, this will be true or that will be true.” There are certain things you don't have to bill in-house but often, for example, when you're talking about work-life balance in terms of working for the government, it's so dependent on so many things, like what the type of work is and a million other possibilities.
It's also very dependent on who you're working for because you can be working in an agency or somewhere where in general, in theory, there could be a good work-life balance but if you're working for someone who's not a great supervisor, it can be not so great. For example, the last six years of my career, I was a staff attorney at a state appellate court and it was really a wonderful job in many ways. I tell people, that's part of how I knew I definitely wanted to leave law because I still couldn't see myself doing it forever. But I know that there are lots of people, even in similar roles, who have very different experiences.
Kevin Ha: Yeah. My government job was at the state attorney general's office and some people just loved it there. For me, it just seemed like another Biglaw firm to me, just the way everything was run there.
Sarah Cottrell: Tell me, from Biglaw to the government to the public interest job, at what point in there did you start to think like, “Maybe this is something more than just like I need a different legal job”?
Kevin Ha: It was definitely once I hit the non-profit. The non-profit, it was like what the state bar association was doing, like editing. It was like law adjacent work. Everyone who worked there was a lawyer but they were all non-practicing lawyers. When I knew that I didn’t like even doing that, that's when I knew there's no way that I can keep doing this for the rest of my life. At the time, I'd been doing other side hustles, like exploring things outside of my legal career and seeing what was out there. It was just like once I couldn't do that one, it’s when I knew there's no way I can keep working this type of job.
Maybe it's just like the office environment because all these things I've always done on the side, I've always liked working for myself and I look back on them like, “Well, if I had been like a wills and trust lawyer, maybe I could have liked it because then I could open my own practice, been doing my own little thing, and maybe I would have liked doing that.” But just working in this office environment just didn't work for me. Whether it's law, whether it's just being in an office doing that stuff, I don't know what it was exactly but that's when I knew I couldn't do it.
Sarah Cottrell: Talk to me more about the side hustles because I know that's a big part of your story. When did you first start doing that?
Kevin Ha: I was always doing these gig economy apps. They're silly ones. They're things like DoorDash, Uber Eats, these things. I started doing it in 2015. I was two years into practicing and I started doing them just for fun. They made me a little bit extra money but mainly, it was just like I was doing these things where I was delivering food and stuff on my bike, so it was just like a way for me to get exercise and get paid while I was doing it. It was almost therapeutic for me to be doing something simple, very task-oriented like, “Do this one task, do this thing,” being outside, exploring the place and just let me not think about the job that was like my whole life.
I was doing that and I started picking up these other little side hustle gig economy stuff. I started dog sitting with this app called Rover and picking up these other things. Then I started blogging about it, like writing about what I was doing on my blog where I was writing about side hustling, personal finance, and that kind of stuff. Just doing all these things outside of the law, it was therapeutic. It helped me feel better. It was fun, then as I kept doing it more, I started realizing like, “Oh, maybe this is something I could actually do as my job.”
Sarah Cottrell: Okay, I have so many things that I want to talk about. First, your blog when you started it, was it anonymous or was it not anonymous?
Kevin Ha: It started out anonymous. The main reason was I started the blog as a financial independence personal finance blog. The Financial Independence movement, if your listeners don't know about it, it's basically the idea that if you work up a bit, save enough money, eventually, you can retire early. I fell into that world because the way I think some people do where it's just like they're really unhappy with their job and they're just looking for a way out, and you discover like, “Oh, if you save enough money, you don't need to work anymore.” That's how I started writing about that. But of course, since I was writing about like, “Oh, I don't want to work a job anymore,” I didn't want to put my name out there saying like, “I don't want to work anymore,” so it was anonymous at the beginning.
Sarah Cottrell: Okay, here's the other thing that I would love to have a conversation about. You said you started about two years in and from what you said, that was when you were still in Biglaw.
Kevin Ha: Yep.
Sarah Cottrell: We talk about on this podcast a lot, the fact that legal profession in general and Biglaw specifically is obsessed with prestige, and what is or is not like the “right thing to do” and I also think there is a very unfortunate sense among many Biglaw lawyers that certain types of jobs are beneath them, and I feel like just what I know about my own experiences in that environment is that if someone were to find out that you were doing some gig job, that they would just be like, “What are you doing?” Tell me about your thought process related to that. Did people find out? Did they have reactions? Tell me about that.
Kevin Ha: You're absolutely right.The prestige thing, I was prestige obsessed. Just like a lot of young lawyers, when I started out, I'm so proud of myself for being in this big firm and going to this good law school, and all that, so when I started doing these gig things, I didn't tell anyone that I worked with. The only people who knew about it were my friends outside of the law firm. It was just because I didn't want people to look down on me for doing something that is beneath what a lawyer should do because a lawyer is not supposed to go deliver food on their bike. I did keep that a secret. But in terms of what it did for me, I think it was helpful because it kept me grounded. I didn't get too full of myself because I was doing things that regular people were doing. It kept me from just thinking like, “Oh, I'm this big shot lawyer. I'm above this type of work.”
Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. I tell people and always have told people that the job that most prepared me for before Biglaw, because I went straight through from undergrad, was working as a waitress at a country club.
Kevin Ha: Oh yeah.
Sarah Cottrell: Because food service is no joke and I think everyone can learn a lot from doing those sorts of experiences, and also specifically in that context, you learn a lot about, let's say, client management, especially if you envision the client being the partners that you work for. There is this sense sometimes, especially in Biglaw, where people sacrifice a lot to be there and there tends to be this almost like a moral dimension that gets placed on the type of work that you're doing like this work is somehow “better” than other work that they could be doing.
I think that's super unhealthy and really problematic. You see that come out sideways in really, really bad ways. When you said just like keeping you grounded and out of some of that headspace, I can see how that would be really helpful to prevent you from getting sucked into some of the really problematic ways of thinking about the job and what the job means about you that can often happen in those environments.
Kevin Ha: Yeah, absolutely. There's definitely a lot of identity with being a lawyer. Obviously, we identified with our jobs a lot but then the identity of like, “I'm a lawyer. I'm better than you because of that,” I think that doing these things and still doing these things helped me out a lot with thinking of my place in the world.
Another thing, every young lawyer is dealing with these student loans and one of the things that doing these low level side hustles did for me is that since it helped me keep grounded, it helped me avoid massive lifestyle inflation. Yeah, I had some lifestyle inflation but not a huge amount, especially compared to a lot of my colleagues who would graduate at the same time as me. Because of that, it helped me to save more money, pay off my student loans.
When I made the move from Biglaw to government, I paid off my student loans. I did that in two and a half years. I paid off all my student loans and that gave me so much more freedom, and flexibility once I had that weight off my shoulders. I think that all of the side hustling, it’s like the money I made from it wasn't a huge deal in paying off the student loans, the money from a side hustle, because that all came from the Biglaw job. But the mindset I have like, “I don't have to be this big shot lawyer all the time,” I think was beneficial.
Sarah Cottrell: Yes, I think that mindset piece is huge and you mentioned just before this, the identity piece, which is literally the next question that I was wanting to ask you because it comes up on the podcast all the time. People talk about one of the big struggles in terms of ultimately deciding to leave the law is that they really identified as a lawyer to a degree where it was like, “Who am I if I'm not a lawyer? Am I actually valuable?” I think that is especially reinforced in the Biglaw context where people really do feel like, “This is who I am.”
There’s all sorts of myths perpetuated like, “You would never be happy anywhere else. If you were anywhere else, you'd be bored.” Just all of these things that's just like now, being not in that environment, it's hilarious how wrong it is, I mean speaking from my own experience, it feels very real. It feels very real. I'd love for you to talk a little bit about that. Did you struggle at all with that identity piece? Do you feel like just your decision to do these gigs totally broke you away from that?
Kevin Ha: Yeah, I mean even now, I struggle with it because I get asked a lot like, “What do you do?” When I'm out and about, and I'm telling people what I do, it's like I often will just say I'm a lawyer, I mean because I'm still a licensed attorney, I still keep that license up and I can't get myself to let that lapse, so I just still do the CLEs and everything because I am so tied to that. I just don't want to let it go, I guess. I still struggle with that because I don't know, like I'm a writer, I'm a blogger, I'm a bunch of things now but it's often just simplest for me, just saying I'm a lawyer because it's very clear and you can see what that is.
Sarah Cottrell: That's so interesting. I definitely relate to that. I still have my license, I'm inactive, so I do not have to do CLE but there is a sense of like, “I went through the bar exam. I will never let this piece of paper go even if I have to pay $50 a year to keep it legitimate.” Tell me a little bit about it because you're one step more since you're keeping it active.
Kevin Ha: Yeah. For me, it started out just like when I went off to do this whole blogging and side hustling full-time, and I quit my job as a lawyer, it was my backup plan I just needed to keep in case I have to go back. Even now, I'm always terrified because we're lawyers, we are always thinking in worst case scenarios all the time. I can't help keeping it because like, “Oh, if something happens and I need to get a job again, I need to have this law degree, so I can do it.” Even though there's probably zero percent chance I will ever go back to working as a lawyer, I just still have to, just in case.
That's why I started keeping it, then why I still keep it is yeah, it just falls into the whole identity thing where it's like well, I spent three years of my life in law school, five years of my life practicing, so it's like most of my adult life was spent doing something law related, so I just am still so tied to it. Maybe in another 10 years, I'll forget about that. I quit my job in 2019, so it's been a decent amount of time that has passed since I last had a legal job but it's like not that long ago, so it's still very much a part of me. It's hard to wipe that away.
Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. One of the many reasons why we talk on the podcast a lot about the value of therapy, but also I think a great point for people to hear because it's like sometimes, people have this idea of like, “If I'm going to leave legal practice, that means I'm going to burn it all down and it has to be this certain way like, I have to throw my law degree or my license in the trash,” or “I need to quit tomorrow with no plan versus having some longer term plan.”
I just think it's so important for people to hear it can look a lot of different ways and it can look a lot of different ways in terms of the process of leaving. It can also look a lot of different ways in terms of like, “You can keep your license active. You can go inactive. You can decide to just let it go entirely.” It's not just like there's one way to do it and if you're going to do it, it needs to be this way. That's your only option. You have no other options because I think often, lawyers tend to think in these very absolutist black and white terms.
Kevin Ha: Yup, I agree with that. I think a lot of people do this where we think that if we make a decision, it'll be a life-ruining decision.
Sarah Cottrell: Yes.
Kevin Ha: I think there's very few decisions you can make in your life that are going to ruin your life. Most decisions, if we think of them as like you're going to end up out on the street and how close does it get to that level, if that's like a 10, most of them are like a three. It's like we're not really making it that big of a decision when you actually look at it. When I quit my job in 2019, I was very freaked out about that. I was like, “This is a big deal,” but then as I think about it more, it's like, “Well, what's the worst case scenario? I can still get a job. Would it be harder for me to get a job as a lawyer again? Probably, but it's not impossible.”
People need people to do work. We know that. I think that yeah, a lot of us just fall into this like, “This is going to be a life-ruining decision. This decision here is the one that will either make or destroy my life.” We get that a lot from just thinking about the way law school works where it's like our entire grade is based on one test and we think like also our entire career track is based off of the first semester's grades in law school because I know, I went into law school, I was like, “If I don't get this many A's in my first semester, I'm done. I will never get a job as a lawyer ever.” I know that's not true now but back then, that's seriously how I thought it was. I seriously thought that it would be over, like that's it. If you don't get a 3.8 in your first semester, it's over.
Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. I do think part of what contributes to that, part of it is this false sense but part of it, especially with the number of law schools that we have, the number of graduates every year, and the number of available jobs that require JDs, depending on where you go to school, you could legitimately have a situation where there's a question of like, “Are you actually going to be able to get a job that requires a JD?”
I think it just contributes even more to this sense of like, “Oh my goodness, if I get a job, then I need to hold on to that thing and I need to not let go of it no matter how terrible it is, no matter how wrong it is for me,” because somehow, most lawyers are conditioned to feel like they should just feel lucky to have a job. Even if it's just utterly horrible, abusive, and toxic, they should just feel lucky to have a job. The idea that they can think about something better for them, again, this is not me being like, “Oh, those lawyers--” 100%, this is where my brain was as well.
The idea that you could just recognize like, “Hey, maybe this isn't the thing for me and maybe I should think about doing something else,” is much harder when you are in this mindset of like, “I should just feel lucky to have this job. Every decision I make could potentially end with utter financial ruin and wreckage, and just life-ruining awfulness.” When you feel like every decision that you make has that level of significance, which I totally agree with you, I think law school trains you towards that type of thinking, of course, there are all these people who feel completely stuck in these situations that aren't good for them because they've essentially been told like, “You don't have other options.”
Kevin Ha: Yeah. I wonder how people are now because most of the people, like my formative years, the recession and everything, so all of us, we're lucky to have a job. I'm not as in tune with the younger lawyers now. I don't know how they're thinking about things because obviously, the job market's very different for them than it was back when I was entering that course.
Sarah Cottrell: Back in your day. Back In my day, I graduated from law school in 2008, so it was just barely pre-recession. It's a very different thing. I honestly could not even attempt to speak to, I don't know, are there people in Gen Z who are old enough to be lawyers? I'm showing my age.
Kevin Ha: Yeah. I look at these college kids, they graduate and they can have their pick of jobs, like a lot of them do or at least, before they were. When I was graduating from law school and college, and stuff, it was just like, “Please, any job I can get, I will be so happy with it.” There's probably a difference now. I bet you there's a generational difference.
Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. I think that's true and I also think to a pretty great extent, depending on even your experiences in terms of your upbringing and those types of things, it can feel more or less safe to make a decision that is financially unstable. If you experienced a lot of financial insecurity in your upbringing, then I think people can hear someone talking about doing something that creates additional financial instability. Not everyone has the same capacity, emotionally, mentally, temperamentally to take on that level of risk for reasons that make sense is what I'm trying to say. It's not just in people's minds or it's not just imagined. People's lived experiences can be very different.
Kevin Ha: That's something that I don't mention enough in my own personal story because you're absolutely right about that because I was in a much different position, like when I did ultimately quit, I paid off my student loans, which was made possible because I was earning a good salary in Biglaw, then I'm married, I have a spouse who has a good job so that gives me a lot of financial stability right there, then I've been working on my side thing for three, four years before I made the move, so that had already established myself. It's like a very different thing than just saying, “Oh, you don't like being a lawyer, you gotta just quit.” Because I get that we can't sugar coat that or gloss over that. Sometimes, we do have advantages that make it easier, harder for us to make these decisions.
Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. I just like to mention that because I never want people to listen to conversations on this podcast and think like, “Oh, I'm just wrapped up in prestige, that's why I'm not willing to quit my job tomorrow,” and meanwhile, they have all of these considerations that legitimately make it like this would not be a good choice at this particular point. Again, it goes back to that idea of like there's so much more nuance and there are so many more possibilities in terms of like if you're wanting to leave, and if you're not happy, what that could look like and how that needs to look for you in your specific circumstance.
Let's go back a little bit to when you actually quit your job because we didn't talk a lot about the specifics of that. Tell me about the lead up to that. You went from Biglaw to government to non-profit. By the time you get to the non-profit, it seems like it's more than just a specific job. How long did it take you to realize, “I'm actually going to leave here and leave here for another legal job”? I know you said it was legal adjacent. At what point was the plan all along ish to make the blog/side gigs the thing? Talk to me about that.
Kevin Ha: When I started doing my side hustles and stuff and writing on the blog, I was hoping I could make something of it but I didn't think it was going to be my full-time thing. My whole thought in how I was going to get out of the legal profession was I'm going to save my way there. I'm just going to keep saving as much as I can, then I'll be financially independent, then I can go do what I want.
When I started that job, I was doing fine there, then I remember I had one really bad day where I got into work at nine or something and my boss came, and basically said, “Hey, you can't be coming at nine. You gotta be here at eight because that's when the office opens.” It just really bothered me because I was always staying later than most people and getting the things I needed to get done. I just didn't like getting hassled about not being at desks, sitting there in the morning, so I wrote in my calendar for a year later, “Quit job by today.”
Sarah Cottrell: Nice.
Kevin Ha: I worked at that job for two years. That was about a year into that job where I realized, “Oh, I need to just make a switch.” That's how that transition happened. I hit my goal the next year to quit my job. When I wrote that “Quit job,” I wrote, “Quit job and go all in on blog by this date, a year in the future.”
Sarah Cottrell: Let's talk a little bit about what you've been doing since you quit and what it means to go all in on blogging, and I think just just a little bit about what that looks like for you.
Kevin Ha: It's just like writing. I spend my day writing new posts and trying to figure out what people are looking for. I do some research to figure out what people like and write things on those topics. That's the main way I make my money, then usually, in the afternoon or something, I'll go and do some gig economy stuff, so I'll turn on my food delivery apps and do some deliveries, then that will be giving me a little extra income. It gives me an income floor that I like to think of like my own little basic income thing, then I put those together and that's my full-time income.
Sarah Cottrell: When you say research, are you talking about SEO based research?
Kevin Ha: Yeah. I used to write a lot, just like whatever I was thinking but I've been doing this for a while now, over five years now, so I realized, “You gotta do those posts, those SEO type posts.”
Sarah Cottrell: We've talked about SEO. I've had a couple other former lawyers on who are doing work specifically around SEO for general marketing or for law firms and I also have done, like for the first year of Former Lawyer, I did zero SEO, then once I started actually learning about it and focusing on it, that's actually how a lot of people find me because there are a lot of people who go on Google and are like, “I hate being a lawyer, what else can I do?”
Kevin Ha: I think that's how I found you.
Sarah Cottrell: Yes, very common or like, “Alternative careers for lawyers,” or something like that. It's so interesting because literally, I'd just more or less write all the things that I thought or would have been looking for when I was back at the law firm. I'm sure with financial stuff, there are endless numbers of questions that people may have. As we're getting close to the end of our conversation, is there anything else that you'd like to share from your story or any advice that we haven't talked through yet?
Kevin Ha: Yeah. I guess one thing has changed in my life a lot in the last two years. My wife and I had a son in 2020. He's two now.
Sarah Cottrell: Oh, that's intense. We have two kids. They're three and six.
Kevin Ha: Oh yeah, so you know.
Sarah Cottrell: Yeah.
Kevin Ha: I can't imagine how I would have done this when I was practicing full-time, like how I would have juggled kids and everything because right now, controlling my schedule more, I still work a lot but it's like being able to have more flexibility in my life has made it so much better for me from a family standpoint of getting my kid to daycare, getting them home, all that stuff. I just don't know how I would have done it before. I know people do like to make it work but anyone who does that, who's able to make this work and work a full-time demanding Biglaw job, I'm like, “Wow, you are amazing, whatever you're doing.”
Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. We've seen so much talk about this, especially since the pandemic started because to parent and to work a full-time job, especially one that is demanding in terms of hours where there's not a ton of flexibility, where you may not be working for particularly understanding people, I mean it really has created just totally untenable work situations for people and that's part of why, especially it's been seen a lot with women leaving the workforce but every single person who I know, especially, my kids are younger, so I tend to know a lot of parents of kids who are younger because that's the demographic, like one, it's generally just hard even outside of pandemic life, like you said, just being present and doing all of the stuff that has to be done, all the appointments, and everything, then with the pandemic on top of it, I know there are people, especially in Biglaw who have really been suffering.
Kevin Ha: Yeah. Anyone who's able to balance all of that is just props to them for being able to do it because I've struggled balancing all of that and I do my own thing.
Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. It's interesting that a lot of people have this experience. It can be various life circumstances but we've talked several times in the podcast specifically about people having the experience of either having kids while they were practicing and realizing like, “Oh, wow, this is not a fit for what I want my life to look like,” or the experience that you've mentioned where it's like having kids after leaving and just seeing how different that experience has not been in the environment that they were in when they were practicing.
Kevin Ha: Yeah, exactly.
Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. Okay, cool. Well, Kevin, for people who want to find you on the internet and learn about all of the Financial Panther things I guess, where can they find you online?
Kevin Ha: They can find me at my blog, financialpanther.com. You can always shoot me an email, hit the contact form if you have any questions and I'm always happy to talk to anyone who's trying to figure out what they want to do with their career.
Sarah Cottrell: Awesome. Thank you so much, Kevin, for sharing your story.
Kevin Ha: Yeah, thank you for having me.
Sarah Cottrell: Have you watched my free masterclass, The Simple 5-Step Framework To Identify An Alternative Career (That You Actually Like!)? In this master class, you'll learn the proven framework that I use with all of my clients to help them identify an alternative career. You can watch the masterclass right now, just go to formerlawyer.com/masterclass, sign up, and get the link to watch. Once you've watched, message me or email me and let me know what your biggest takeaway was from the class. I would love to know.
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