Navigating Commercial Real Estate After Gaining Experience in Biglaw with Andre Ferrari [TFLP234]

Today’s podcast episode features a conversation between Sarah and Andre Ferrari. He practiced law for a few years before becoming a real estate developer. He shares his career path and how he got to where he is today. It’s interesting to see how interested he’s always been in real estate and how that’s helped him transition between multiple roles. Let’s dive into Andre’s story and advice.

State of the Real Estate Market Led to Law School

When Andre looks back, he still isn’t quite sure what made him decide on law school. He was a finance major at the University of Central Florida for undergraduate school. At the time, commercial real estate hadn’t recovered, and he was sending his resume around everywhere and wasn’t hearing back from anyone. He started thinking about law school because it seemed like a logical next step. Biglaw firms had big commercial real estate groups, so he could see if he liked being a lawyer or would at least have connections.

During undergrad studies, Andre could easily get good grades and wasn’t challenged much. Law school was a big shock at first. He faced imposter syndrome and did not love the experience through the first year. The goal was to see how it felt to be a summer associate. 

Andre participated in the summer associate program during his 1L summer. The fancy dinners and suites at concerts seemed encouraging to him, so he decided to stick with law school.

After graduation, Andre joined a firm in Dallas in their commercial real estate group. Compared to other law firms, it felt a bit more lifestyle-oriented. It was intense but not as bad as some of his classmates experienced. At the end of the day, he’s glad he had the experience with that firm, but he’s also glad that he’s no longer working there.

The most interesting parts of Andre’s job were the real estate transactions. He would always be excited to go and look at buildings, which lawyers didn’t typically do. Instead of just handling the contracts, he liked to know what the buildings looked like and learn more about the deals that executives were making. 

Commercial Real Estate After Biglaw: A Step Back?

Two things helped Andre transition out of the legal field. First, he never got caught up in the lifestyle. He had friends and peers run to the car dealership when they got jobs and overspend on nice cars and other fancy, expensive items. He focused on paying his loans off faster.

The second thing Andre did to help him eventually transition was to understand that he wouldn’t be in this space forever, so how could he make the most of the situation? He was in front of brilliant people every day, and he worked hard to put himself in situations where he could gain the most knowledge and experience. There was one partner who would allow him to draft things and lead meetings. 

Andre knew about six months into his time at the Dallas firm that this could not be a long-term career. He was new to Dallas and only knew his wife, so he started networking early. He went to events and volunteered. 

The relationships Andre built while networking were extremely beneficial when he approached the point of leaving the firm. He could have lunch with others in the industry and ask candid questions. As a lawyer, he struggled with the fact that he was optimistic and positive by nature. He found a role at a company called HFF, where he played the opposite role. He needed to find all the good things about a property and pitch it.

In addition to the positivity, Andre would be exposed to many types of real estate and clients. It was a perfect introduction to learn more about all the unique spaces in this industry. But there were also challenges. He would have to take a pay cut from $200,000 down to $55,000. It was hard with student loan debt, but now he mentors others and tells them not to focus on the money and compensation early in their career. Find what you’re passionate about, and the money will come. 

Prestige was another challenge for Andre in this transition. He came from a lower-income neighborhood, got into a great law school, and got a prestigious job. Now, he was moving into a new industry where anyone who knows little about commercial real estate assumes he’s just becoming an agent. He didn’t want people to think he couldn’t make it. He even considered ways to explain his new role to sound as impressive as being a lawyer. 

Another Transition to His Role Today

At the end of the day, it worked out for Andre. He was able to quickly progress out of the analyst role and use his experience to excel. Eventually, he worked his way up to the opportunity to become a director (which is similar to becoming a partner in a law firm.) While waiting for the other directors to vote, he was approached by a recruiter for a real estate group in Prosper, Texas.

Andre met with the company because one of the founders was on the Economic Development Committee in local government, and it would give him the chance to learn more about the civic work he wanted to do. After discussing with his wife again, he made another major transition and turned down the director’s job to try something different.

The work Andre went to do involves developing master plan communities and helping on the financing side. He’s been there for two years now, and it’s been an incredible fit with his experience and interests. Going through the two big transitions to get here helped him utilize the skills he learned in law school, at the firm, and then with HFF. 

Take the Journey

Looking back, Andre feels like everything happened to help him reach this point. He appreciates the journey. His advice for others is to try to understand what you don’t like and work on being introspective. For him, it was the conflict between his personality and the pessimistic work he had to do all day. 

If you are going to do something else, make sure you’re running to something and not away from something. When you get to the point where you’re fed up, Andre points out that many people just take the next recruiter call and jump from job to job. Instead of hitting the panic button, you should start making changes differently and prepare for a transition that can be more long-lasting. 

Do a self-inventory of who you are, what you like, your goals, and what you want your life to look like. Use that information to help guide your decisions and your path moving forward. Andre also reminds listeners that life is one big, cool journey. He didn’t even know that he’d have a second job after being a lawyer when he graduated. There are unexpected twists, and you must take the time to take the journey. 

If you’d like to connect with Andre, you can find him on LinkedIn. He’s happy to chat with anyone looking to make a change. You can also check out The Collab, an entry-level program for lawyers who are interested in making a transition to a new career.

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 on the Podcast I'm sharing my conversation with Andre Ferrari. Andre practiced law for a couple of years and now he works as a real estate developer and today he is sharing his story about that path. Without further ado, here's my conversation with Andre.

Hi, Andre. Welcome to The Former Lawyer Podcast.

Andre Ferrari: Hi, Sarah. Thank you very much for having me on.

Sarah Cottrell: I am really interested to hear you share your story for several reasons and we'll talk about those as we get into it. But before we get started, why don't you introduce yourself to the listeners?

Andre Ferrari: Yeah. My name is Andre Ferrari. I practiced real estate and M&A law at Biglaw firm out in Texas for about two years before doing a few career shifts and ultimately now I'm a vice president of transactions at a real estate developer.

Sarah Cottrell: Okay, so eventually we will get to talking about what it's like to do what you're doing right now, but on the podcast, we like to start way back at the beginning and ask people, what made you decide to go to law school?

Andre Ferrari: That's a great question that sometimes I'm still trying to figure out.

Sarah Cottrell: It's a very common answer.

Andre Ferrari: Well, really, so to set the stage a little bit, I was an undergraduate at the University of Central Florida. I was a finance major, and I was very interested in commercial real estate. At the time, the commercial real estate market wasn't doing very well. I started college in 2009, was wrapping up in about 2012. The big recovery hadn't happened yet. And I also didn't really know, I came from a fairly low-income background and didn't really know how important connections were in real estate.

So I was blindly sending my resume around and all I got was a rejection letter if I was lucky. I'm sitting there in my final year at UCF and I was trying to figure out what to do because the job hunt wasn't going very well, and I started thinking about law school just because it's almost a default.

If you're generally successful in school, it's like, "Oh, I can go apply and go do this thing and they will find the job for me." It seems pretty straightforward. Then I also thought about it in the context of, “Oh, all these Biglaw firms have big commercial real estate groups. So if I go and join one of these firms and I'm in that group, I may enjoy being a lawyer and then I can keep doing that. But if I don't, then maybe that's a way to get my foot in the door and maybe go work for one of those clients.”

Sarah Cottrell: Yeah, it is so common for so many of us who became lawyers to have made the decision not necessarily so much about because we wanted to be lawyers per se, but because law school was a helpful bridge out of something or into something.

As a result, when we ultimately end up practicing, I think for many of us it's like, “Oh, yeah, no, I needed the bridge, but I didn't necessarily want what the bridge led to initially.”

Can you tell me, when you got to law school, did you have any sense of, “Maybe this is not what I ultimately want to be doing?” Or was it like, “I'm here and this is the best path that I'm totally confident in the direction that I'm going.”

Andre Ferrari: Well, so I think it shifted around a little bit throughout my time there. When I first got there, it was a big shock. I went to a massive public undergraduate school where I didn't have to even go to class to get good grades and really wasn't challenged very much. Then when I got to UVA, I was surrounded by the smartest people I'd ever met and so the initial few days there was just like, “Oh, my gosh. I don't belong here.”

So that was the initial reaction was just this fear of, “Hey, I don't think I'm good enough to go work for some Biglaw firm that's going to expect all this stuff because I'm coming from the school.”

There was a lot of impostor syndrome there. Then as I went through my 1L year, I definitely did not love the law school experience, but I also knew that since my interest was on the transactional side, the 1L law school experience isn't very indicative of what you're actually going to do, so I really wanted to see once I was a summer associate, what that looked like and what that felt like. So I made it a goal to get a summer associate position for my 1L summer, which is a little atypical.

But just that winter, I wrote letters to all these law firms and said, "Hey, I'm going to be in Dallas. I'm going to be in Houston these days." really, I just had booked refundable flights and hoped something worked out.

But ended up getting really fortunate and getting the opportunity to spend time with one firm in their Dallas and Houston offices and then another firm in their Dallas office.

So my 1L summer, I got to go through the Summer Associate Program. I think actually that moved me more towards, "Oh, this does seem really cool." Having come from my background and going into a Summer Associate Program where you're going to all these fancy dinners and suites at concerts and all this really cool stuff that is how the Biglaw firms present the working at the firm, which I think is a bit disingenuous to say the least, but I think that was encouraging to me.

I’m like, “Woah, I'm on board for this, this seems really cool,” so I think I moved a little bit more towards, “Oh yeah, I think I would be interested in this.” I think that's where I stayed throughout law school when it wasn't until I was actually practicing that I very quickly realized it was not for me.

Sarah Cottrell: Okay, so talk to me a little bit about that because you mentioned that you were interested in commercial real estate. That was sort of your end game in terms of practice area when you went to law school.

So when you graduated, is that where you ended up working? What was it like? What made you realize, “This might not be for me”?

Andre Ferrari: Yeah, so when I graduated law school, I joined a firm in Dallas that had a really robust real estate group, and I joined them in their commercial real estate group. I'll preface this by saying in terms of Biglaw, the firm I was at was really a little bit more lifestyle-oriented.

It definitely did not feel like a sweatshop, by any means, the experience that a lot of my other classmates had. But it was intense and it was the crazy hours and crazy demands and often lack of appreciation that I think is very typical of really all Biglaw firms.

I always say that if I was going to do it, I'm glad I did it there, but I'm also glad I’m not there anymore. I did leave with a very positive experience with them. So ultimately—and we'll get to that a little bit later—but when I joined the company I'm with now, I actually replaced our council with all the people I used to work with at the firm because they really did leave a good impression on me.

I'm definitely not the scorned “I hate all those people.” Definitely did not have that experience. But when I started, I had an experience, it was a bit nuanced, I was working on really cool things, I was really interested in the real estate transactions that I was getting assigned to.

I remember I would think, “Oh, so when are we going to go see the building?” I would just get a look back like "What are you talking about? We don't go see the building, we just do the documents."

I would actually go and drive to the buildings on my own time just because I was curious. I was interested. I thought it was really neat hearing how all these different commercial real estate executives thought about deals, and I think I got a lot of really cool insights, so there were definitely elements of it that were awesome.

But I think ultimately what it came down to was I was working on the most boring parts of really cool deals, is kind of how I landed. I realized pretty early on that that was not what I wanted to do long-term.

Now, an important context, I had a quarter million dollars of student debt, and so I needed a job that paid a good amount of money to be able to service debt at the time. My monthly payment was more than my mortgage is now.

Sarah Cottrell: Relatable.

Andre Ferrari: There was definitely that element. I couldn't just go off and chase my dream day one. But two things that I think were important for me in this stage that I think ultimately really benefited me throughout my career and helped with the transition out: The first thing was I'm not getting caught up in the lifestyle.

I saw a lot of my peers and people a few years above me that they all ran out and got the super nice apartment, went to the BMW dealership, and really just bought in right away to this very fancy and expensive lifestyle.

I definitely didn't live like a miser by any means. I had nice stuff, but I was very cognizant of being a little bit more budget-conscious to pay down the loans faster and to provide that longer-term flexibility where I felt like a lot of people that were there were almost just trapped by the golden handcuffs that people always talk about.

So that was very important for me early on was making sure I was really watching my budget and not buying into this lifestyle that then would make it difficult to leave down the road. That was very important for me.

The other thing that was really important for me in that time was as soon as I realized, “You know what, this isn't my career but I'm going to have to be here for a little bit because I need this paycheck,” I really shifted my mindset to, “How do I get the most out of my time here?”

I really didn't take for granted how amazing the opportunity to be in front of all these really brilliant people that worked with me at the firm and our clients and the types of transactions we were doing.

I made a big focus to put myself in situations where I could really make the most of the experience and learn. I gravitated towards a specific partner that he didn't work on the really cool flashy deals, but working with him, he would just let me draft things and he would let me lead a client meeting and I just got all this experience early on, whereas the other associates that were working on the flashy deals, all they were doing was running checklists.

So if I was there and all I did was run checklists for two years, I really wouldn't have gotten much out of the experience. Whereas by the time I was there for two years, I felt like I could actually draft documents and think the way you kind of need to when you're looking at things from the legal perspective. Those are the two big important things during that time.

Sarah Cottrell: I actually was just interviewing someone a couple of days ago for the podcast and that episode will be releasing shortly before this one. One of the things we were talking about, so many lawyers have an interest in some industry or area of work, but they don't pursue working directly in that area. They go to law school, and then they become a lawyer related to that.

What did you say? You felt you were working on the most boring part of the interesting deal.

Andre Ferrari: Yeah.

Sarah Cottrell: I think that is so common for people. I've talked to so many people and worked with so many people who, for example, went in-house for a company where they really like the product or the thing that the company is producing and the thing that's really interesting, and then ultimately it's like, “Well, but I'm just doing lawyer things and therefore I'm being the lawyer, and in fact, what I really want to be doing is something more on the business side.” This comes up for people so often.

So I just think it's a really important thing to highlight because sometimes I find when lawyers are thinking about making a move before they leave law, there is this sense of like, “Well, maybe if I am able to be adjacent to something that I find interesting, it will make it better.”

For a lot of people, it does make it better. But ultimately, often the result is, "Oh, but I'm still practicing law, and that's actually not what I want to be doing with my time."

Andre Ferrari: Right.

Sarah Cottrell: Okay. Talk to me about what happened next. You're at the firm for two years. What was your next step?

Andre Ferrari: Well, I think it really was a bit of a process. I'd say it was probably around the six-month mark that it was pretty clear to me that this just wasn't a good fit for the career I wanted to have.

I was very new to Dallas. I grew up in Florida, went to law school in Virginia. When I moved to Dallas, the only person I knew in Dallas was my wife. Something I did that ended up being just infinitely helpful for me was I joined some local organizations and really started networking early.

Commercial real estate was pretty easy to do that in because there are some really well-established organizations in Dallas that cater to that and have specific, they call it the Young Guns Program. It ended up benefiting me in just so many different ways. I joined one in particular in Dallas. It's called the Real Estate Council.

I would just go to events and start meeting people and volunteering. Really at the law firm, it was really under the guise of, "Hey, I'm networking. I'm not from here. If I'm going to be a partner, I'm going to be expected to bring on clients down the road. I need to start building these relationships.”

And the law firm loved that. They were like, “We have a hard time trying to get young partners to get into business development, and here's the first year setting up lunches with people at our clients,” and all that.

But that ended up being just really helpful because I'd say probably, a little bit after the year and a half mark when I felt comfortable that I can make the jump soon, but I need to figure out what it is that I want to do because commercial real estate is very broad and very big.

What I did was I took a lot of the good relationships that I'd built from this local organization out to lunch and I was very candid and just told them, "Hey, these are the things I really enjoy about my role, and these are the things that I really don't like.”

Based on what you know about the different roles in commercial real estate, what do you think might be a good fit for me?" There was one particular company at the time, HFF, that kept coming up, and I thought it was really interesting because it had exactly what I really loved that I was mentioning earlier, that you got to work with a bunch of different executives at these clients and understand how they approach these really cool transactions.

It had that element of it. The element that I struggled with a lot as a lawyer was I'm just by nature a very positive optimistic, benefit-of-the-doubt person and really my entire job, as one partner put it, is, “Look at every sentence and figure out how it could go wrong.”

It was very counter to my personality whereas where I ended up going next is company HFF. I was going to be a debt and equity analyst basically pitching real estate transactions to lenders and equity providers.

There, the role was almost the opposite. It's like you needed to find all the good things about the property, the transaction, and really more of a sales-type job. So that was awesome because it really combined the two things.

I was getting this access to all these really intelligent people doing cool things while doing everything with the positive spin. I talked to a ton of people and found that this seems like a really good fit.

The other good thing about it was it provided a ton of exposure to a lot of different types of real estate and a lot of different clients. So it was kind of a good step to, you know, I didn't know, "Hey, do I want to do hotels, apartments, or residential?" I didn't really know any of that yet so it provided a really good step there. But it wasn't without challenges by any means. The first big one was the money. At this point, I'm making $200,000 plus at the Biglaw firm. The starting salary at the job I was looking at was $55,000.

I have student loans and a mortgage so that was a hurdle that I really had to get over. There was commission potential, but at the time, negative lawyer, I was like, “I'm going to underwrite that as zero, and hopefully I can get some extra money here, but I can't count on it.”

That was a big challenge. I remember talking to my wife about it and talking to my mom about it. They didn't want to tell me I was crazy. It was weird that they were thinking it.

There was that element of it and a tip I give a lot of people I mentor nowadays is, “Don't focus on the money and the compensation that early on in your career. Really focus on finding what you're passionate about and finding the right opportunities to learn and the money will come.”

I've seen people make career decisions in their 20s over $10,000 extra salary, and it could cost them millions in money down the road because they picked the wrong opportunity that doesn't give them the learning that they would otherwise get, and just day-to-day satisfaction.

That's what, to me, is ultimately the most important thing is how much am I enjoying my life? That's a tip I give a lot of younger people. Don't just chase the dollars early on, chase the learning. Then in your 30s, 40s, and 50s, the money will come.

If you're working hard at something you're passionate about, you're going to find a good way to make money off of it. So that was one of the things I had to really buy into myself at the time.

Then the other big challenge I had there was the, how do I call it, the prestige. I think so many people get caught up in the “This is my identity.” For me, coming really from my background, it was like, I came from really poor neighborhoods and I got into this really good law school and then I got a prestigious job. It's a big firm working on billion-dollar deals and it all sounds really good.

Then because the role I was going into wasn't very well known about outside of commercial real estate, I knew people were going to think I was becoming a real estate agent.

In my head, I had to really grapple with the fact of, “Okay, I have this prestigious thing that people are impressed by, and now I'm going to go do something that people don't even really know.”

And they're going to assume that, “Oh, Andre could it make it as a lawyer, so he had to go do something else." That was a bit of a challenge, getting over that. Looking back at it, I feel silly. I'm just like, “Why did I care so much about that?"

But in the time, it was very real. There was a sense of my identity tied to the fact that if I had told people what I did, they would be like, “Oh, wow, that's cool.”

Sarah Cottrell: Yeah, for sure. I mean, I think of that honestly, first of all, it's something that almost every lawyer who decides they might want to leave has to deal with, at least on some level. In many ways, I think it's so much more difficult than figuring out what it is that you want to do, which isn't to say that that is easy per se.

There is some really deep-seated stuff that goes into the way that we feel about who we are and our identity. For sure, I think the legal profession definitely really feeds on the idea of prestige, especially when you're still practicing.

Like you said, when you look back, now you are like, “That was silly.” But I think when you're in it, it feels extremely real. It is something that I mean, pretty much every lawyer who I've ever worked with who's planning to leave has to deal with it.

In fact, I've even worked with some people and they've been on the podcast who thought, "Oh, I'm fine with that. That's not going to be a problem for me," and then ultimately were like, "Oh, yeah, no, this is actually difficult. This is something that really has to be overcome."

Andre Ferrari: Yes. It's just very relatable to me. I remember going to the weddings after and trying to think through, when you're meeting the people at your table and, “Okay how do I hype up my new role so they understand that it's actually almost as fancy as my last role?”

It sounds so silly when you're saying it out loud, but it really is so real in the moment. I think it's a challenge that, frankly, having talked to lots of people about this can keep people stuck.

They're just like, “I don't want to give up the fancy title.” It's really tough. I think the other tip I'd give for people is to not be afraid to take a step back because that was part of the challenge too. So the role I was going into was the role of analyst. There's typically a right out-of-school, right out-of-college role. I was signing up to have someone that was living in a fraternity house six months before boss me around about how to put together a PowerPoint.

At this point, I'd gone to some fancy school for three years, done billions of dollars of deals that were in the news for two years. That was a little bit of a challenge as well. I was like, “I'm taking such a big step back.”

And looking at my friends that hadn't gone to law school, they were five years into their careers. I was accepting a role that was an entry-level right out-of-school role typically. I just had to make my peace with that.

Ultimately, it could not have worked out better. I was able to progress very quickly in that role. Because of the experience that I had both going to law school and the way of thinking that I learned in law school and all the experience I got at the law firm actually practicing, one thing I always highlight for people is that it's very easy to think that you have a very limited skill set just limited to commercial real estate law because you were a commercial real estate lawyer.

But I've been shocked to find out how applicable very unrelated seeming things are in my career and that has been something I always tell people because it was just something that's constantly and continues to surprise me throughout my career, just all these different experiences that seem unrelated, but actually you're cumulatively building a really good skill set.

Sarah Cottrell: Oh, yeah, absolutely. I think especially if you're working in a law firm, it's so easy to basically discount everything about yourself and what you do because you see it as like, “Well isn't everyone like this? Doesn't everyone do this? Doesn't everyone have this kind of experience?”

It can be hard to see your experience, knowledge, and expertise for what it actually is. I think this whole process of leaving law can require a lot of work around ego.

I think a big part of it is, to your point earlier, so many people who go to law school were naturally gifted in school or just were those kinds of people who were like, “I'm going to achieve. I will do what needs to be done.”

There are so many external markers of prestige at the legal profession that I think for people with that kind of background, it really creates the sense of like, “This is what makes me valuable.”

So it's not just about, “Oh, I'm going to change jobs,” it's also often like, “Oh, I need to fundamentally shift how I understand who I am and where my value comes from.”

Andre Ferrari: Yeah. I think that's really one of the biggest challenges for a lot of people. I've always been someone that I don't really care too much what people think of me. I've always been on the far end of that in comparison to my peers. But I mean, I fell into it exactly like everyone else does.

Sarah Cottrell: Yes, you are not alone. If you're listening, and you're like, “I relate,” you are not alone. It's why it comes up on the podcast all the time. Okay, so can you tell me what happened next in your story?

Andre Ferrari: Yeah, so I spent three years working at, it's effectively investment banking for real estate transactions would be a way to simplify it, but I worked there for three years and they had a role called a director, which is kind of the equivalent to a partner at a law firm, and it's a big deal and it requires all the current directors to vote to make someone else a director and all that.

I was actually right at that stage and they'd actually done the vote to move me to become a director. So now I was just waiting a few months until I could go do that. I have had a recruiter reach out to me on LinkedIn, which I typically ignored, but he said something that caught my eye because I had just moved to this small town called Prosper here in Texas.

He said there was a real estate group in Prosper that wanted to meet with me. So I decided to take the meeting because one of the founders was on the Economic Development Committee in local government.

I was like, "Oh, I'll meet this guy and see if I can use it to help get me into some of the civic stuff I want to do." But ended up having an amazing conversation and realizing that the role they were talking about was actually a really good fit and that the company was a really good fit.

So similar to when I was leaving Biglaw to go work at HFF, I'd have the same conversation with my wife and with my mom about how I worked so hard to get to the director role at HFF and now I wanted to go jump and do something I'd never done before which was developing master plan communities which I'd had a ton of experience working with developers on the financing side and had learned a lot about development through my work at HFF but this really was a completely different role in the same industry.

It ended up working out. I ended up coming here about two years ago and it's just been such a great fit because I really think that my time at the law firm, my time at HFF really gave me the opportunity to learn what excited me, what didn't excite me, what I liked to do, what I was good at.

I really think my current role is just a culmination of all this stuff I've figured out about myself through these other roles and really plays into all that very well. I remember being at HFF and thinking, “Man, if I would have just done this straight out of school and not bothered going to law school and then spending two years at a law firm and having to pay back all this money, I would just be so much further ahead in my career.”

Now I just realize it was all just part of the journey and everything just worked together almost like that movie Slumdog Millionaire where just all these random things happen and then it creates this awesome result.

That's really what it felt like for me. I love the role I'm in now. I technically am also our general counsel, but that's more of a fact of I'm the only attorney that works at our company, so I'm the de facto general counsel.

But no, it's been really great and it really helped me appreciate the journey. I think that's something I really would like people to think about and realize that it's easy to think, "Man, if I give up law, then that means I just wasted all this time doing this thing.”

It won't be until a few years later that you really realize, “Oh, no, that wasn't the most fun thing I've ever done, but I can see all the different ways it helped me in what I'm doing now that I'm actually passionate about, and it helps make me better at what I'm passionate about.”

Sarah Cottrell: Mm-hmm, yeah. The other thing I really want to highlight from your story is I think you said by six months at the law firm, you knew like, “Okay, I want to be doing something else.”

I hear from people all the time, I mean like, weekly, who are four months, six months a year in, and a big question that a lot of people often have is essentially like, “Is it too early for me to actually know whether this is not the thing for me?”

I also hear literally weekly from people who listen to the podcast, who are 5 years, 10 years, 20 years, 30 years into their career as a lawyer, who tell me, “Sarah, I literally knew the first week, the first day, first year, I knew in law school that this wasn't for me. Here I am because of various things, a lot of the different pressures that we've talked about X number of years later and I should have trusted myself.”

I'm wondering if you could speak to that at all because I'm sure there are plenty of people who are listening who are in that position of not having practiced very long relatively who feel like, “But can I trust this sense that this is not for me?” What would you say to them?

Andre Ferrari: Yeah, I think that's a great point. I think the important part there is really understanding what it is you don't like and trying to be introspective. It's a great way to also learn about yourself.

But I ask myself that question a time because any entry-level job that pays a lot of money is going to be a lot of time and a lot of work and there are certain elements that are a little bit unavoidable in certain things, but if you're looking at the actual work, the actual day-to-day and thinking, “No, it's the work. It's what I'm doing.”

For me, the big thing was such in conflict with my optimistic personality that I had to sit there and be pessimistic all day. I was like, “That's really not a fit.” I remember one moment after my first year, I had a review and it went objectively really well.

They were like, “You're doing amazing. The fact that you're already thinking about business development is so impressive. There's absolutely no doubt to us that you're going to be a partner here.” I remember when they said the partner thing, my gut reaction was like, “Oh, that'd be my nightmare.”

Sarah Cottrell: Yeah, that's a sign.

Andre Ferrari: That's not the appropriate reaction if that really is your path. But I just remember thinking—because I've always been a hard worker and I think a lot of people that go to law school, that's a big part of them—but I remember thinking when I'd be at 3:00 AM working on, it would be on some conference call in the office. For me, I was like, "Oh, that's fine. It's fine that I'm in my 20s on a conference call at 3:00 AM."

But right next to me was a 62-year-old partner that was also on the call at 3:00 AM. That was a big thing where I was like, “Okay, that's not where I want to be at that age or at that stage in my career.” So that's the other thing I'd say to people is talk to the people ahead of you in the path, look at their lives, and think about, “Is that the life that you'd be comfortable with?” Does the way the people a few years ahead of me spend their time align with what I want my life to look like?

I think that's a really cool thing you have at a law firm is just it's so regimented and like it's first year, second year, third year. You can actually look at your life a few years ahead just by knowing, “Well, that person's a fourth year.”

Sarah Cottrell: Mm-hmm. If you're like “No, thank you,” then that's a sign. That's a pretty big sign. Oh, the other thing I wanted to mention was, so you mentioned how being optimistic is your nature.

It felt like your nature was in conflict with the type of work you were supposed to be doing. I think this happens so often for people who become lawyers and then feel it's not a good fit.

Basically, things that are true about them, whether it's their personality or just their natural strengths, are not valued necessarily in the practice of law. So many lawyers instead of saying, “Okay, I'm going to look for something that is a better fit,” feel like, “There's something wrong with me. I'm too optimistic. I should be more pessimistic.”

I think it's so important for people to hear, “Hey, maybe it's just that a better and different environment would be better for you. It's not that you shouldn't be an optimistic person. It's that you should find an environment where someone who has that bent or has that personality is able to thrive.”

On the flip side, a lot of people who became lawyers are very good, speaking from experience, at not being optimistic and being very pessimistic and thinking about all the things that could go horribly awry.

If you're that type of person and you're listening, the problem with that in the context of lawyering is often that you're really good at lawyering, and it's really bad for you because it takes your natural tendency and makes it, well, speaking from my own experience, it just amps it up to a degree that is not helpful for your mental health. I guess what I'm saying is both optimists and pessimists might want to leave the law and either way I support it.

But yeah, I think the idea of “Is there something that's inherently true about you that is in conflict with your work environment?” look for something that's a better fit. Don't think that you need to fix yourself.

Andre Ferrari: A point I think is important to bring up that was actually told me by my partner at that law firm is that if you're going to go do something else, make sure you're running to something and not away from something.

I've seen people make the mistake of just absolutely hitting the panic button and just being like, “I can't do this anymore.” Then they pick up the first recruiter call that comes in and then they go work somewhere else, say in-house at a company, then that experience isn't good. But then they feel like they can't leave that job because they don't want to look like they're just jumping from place to place, and it creates a little bit of a spiral.

One thing that was very important for me that really did help me through the difficulty of it was just really being convicted of like, "Hey, I think I've found something that I have genuine interest in that really does align much better with my personality and, hey, I could be wrong, but I did feel like I was running to something than just running completely away from something.” I think that really helped really all the different elements we talked about that were challenges today.

Sarah Cottrell: Yeah, I think that's really good advice. Also, if you are someone who was like, “Get me out of here, hit the panic button,” it's never too late to start making a change in a different sort of way.

I've worked with many, many lawyers who, for example, we talk in the Collab, which is my program about like, in-house is not the answer, or is in-house the answer? Sometimes in-house is a good move for people for a period, potentially long-term, but often people make a move and they're like, “Oh, wait, this is still being a lawyer and I still don't want to do it.”

That doesn't mean you're bad or wrong, it just means like, “Hey, let's figure out a way for you to make a different choice, move forward in a different way, and not guilt yourself and shame yourself as so many lawyers are really good at doing.”

Okay, Andre, as we're getting to the end of our conversation, is there anything else that you'd like to share that we haven't touched on yet?

Andre Ferrari: Really, I would just encourage the listeners to do a self-inventory of who you are, what you like, what your goals are, what would you like your life to look like, and use that to really help guide your decisions on whether it's leaving law or whatever it may be.

Because I think that's the really important thing. I think that's why some of what you just said happens if someone goes in-house and realizes, “Oh, well, this is still being a lawyer.” So I think the key there would have been understanding, “Oh, I just don't want to be a lawyer, not just I don't want to be at this firm.”

So I think it's really important to understand what you want. The other big thing I'd say is life is just a really cool journey. When I graduated college, I had no idea that my second job existed.

When I was in my second job, I'd never even thought about going into what my third job is. So things are really unexpected in life. I think this should offer a lot of hope to people because I think it's very easy to sit there in your fancy, high-rise office with your door closed trying not to cry and think, "I want to leave but I just have no idea. There's nothing else out there I can do."

That's just totally wrong. There's so much stuff out there that if you take the steps to try to find what you're passionate about, you could very well end up in something you didn't even know about. That's been the really cool thing for me is just riding the way of a life and I think that should hopefully offer a little bit of hope because I think that is a big challenge for people just sitting there thinking, "Well, I want to leave, but I have no idea what I'm even passionate about or what I'd want to do.”

I think if you really take the time to take the journey, you'll find it. I can't emphasize enough how rewarding it is for me, how happy I am with the decisions I've made and where I am today because of that but it took a lot of courage, it took a lot of putting my ego aside, and none of it was easy per se, but definitely worth it.

Sarah Cottrell: I love it, and I literally could not agree more. Okay, so Andre, if people want to connect with you, where can they find you online?

Andre Ferrari: Yeah, easiest thing for me would be just LinkedIn, just Andre Ferrari, like the car, and just reach out to me. Part of the reason I wanted to come on this is I think it's just such a worthy mission. I've seen so many people that didn't leave the law just because of fear of the unknown.

If I can chat with anyone and anything I said today really resonates with them and I can help in any way, I'd always love to.

Sarah Cottrell: Amazing. We will link that in the show notes and the blog posts for the episode. Andre, thank you so much for coming on today and sharing your story.

Andre Ferrari: Thank you very much.

Sarah Cottrell: Are you sick of just thinking about it and ready to take action towards leaving the law? Join us in the Former Lawyer Collab. The Collab is my entry-level program for lawyers who are wanting to make a change and leave the law for another career. You can join us at Until next time, have a great week.