Does Going to Law School Mean You’re a Lawyer for Life?

Law school, medical school, graduate school, or something else. That’s the way a lot of American non-engineering college students think about their future choices. Jason Gross chose the law school route. He practiced for years as a successful litigation attorney but then decided he wanted to work in a new area. It’s a daunting thought to change fields after putting so much time into school and developing a specialization. So if you’re a lawyer who went to law school and has been working, what do you do if you want to change careers? This week we interview Jason Gross who went from being a litigation attorney to working at UCLA in development. He’ll tell you about his journey and what you can do if you’re thinking about switching careers.

BlackBoxPhD 3-Point Checklist: How to Make a Smooth Career Change

  1. When considering a career change, try to focus on the skills you have or could easily obtain. Having to learn a whole new set of skills from scratch could make the transition much more challenging.
  2. Seek out mentors. If possible, find others who have made the same change and can mentor you through the transition.
  3. Rather than focusing on a specific job title, focus instead on the type of work that you would find meaningful.  For example, ask yourself if you would like to work with children, have a job that involves a lot of travel, or work with numbers.

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Hey Jason, can you tell us your background and what you’re doing now?

I received my undergraduate degree from UCLA and J.D. from UC Hastings College of the Law.  I worked for a number of years as a litigator, with a focus on entertainment and intellectual property matters.  Last year, I made the transition to development with UCLA because I wanted to use my skills as a litigator for what I find to be more fulfilling work.  Now I have the pleasure of raising funds for UCLA Health Sciences to support medical research, patient programs, and medical scholarships, among other worthy causes.

Can you talk more about what you’re currently doing at UCLA?

I serve as the Director of Gift Planning for UCLA Health Sciences Development. Gift planning is a niche area of development that involves deferred gifts such as bequests, charitable gift annuities, and charitable beneficiary designations, but also includes gifts of property, such as securities and real estate. It has a financial planning component to it, as planned gifts have various tax savings and consequences associated with them.

Do you use the same skills as in your previous work as a litigator, or is it completely different?

There is no better preparation I could have had for my current work than my prior work as a litigator.  Not a day goes by where I don’t put most of my litigation skills to work:  namely, to be both an effective communicator and listener, to synthesize complex topics into more digestible concepts, to be persuasive, to implement different strategies depending on the donor’s abilities and goals, etc.

When you went to law school did you think you’d be practicing law your whole life? What made you realize you law school bookswanted to switch?

I never had any intention of going to law school until my senior year of college, when, as an avid music fan, I found myself following closely Napster’s legal battles with the record industry. Even after law school, I loved entertainment law and knew I wanted to be involved in the field, but not necessarily as a litigator.  There were elements of litigation that I found very enjoyable, but after a few years, I started seeking more meaningful work.  I realized I wanted to work in the nonprofit sector, and made the switch after I met a number of attorneys who had transitioned to gift planning and were absolutely thrilled about the work they do.

What was it like switching? For a lot of people that would be really tough leaving a safe position and moving into a new unknown area. Was it for you?

I found the transition very seamless, as UCLA provided me with all the training and resources I needed to be successful.  Additionally, my litigation skills were largely transferable, so the learning curve on that front was very mild.  Most importantly, I attended UCLA during my undergraduate studies, so joining the Bruin Family was essentially a homecoming for me!

What insights has your experience given you about work, life, and what’s important?

I’ve learned that inertia is easy and making extraordinary changes in your career or any other significant area in your life can be daunting.  But if you are willing to take risks, the rewards are well worth it.  Because I took a risk, I now find myself working in a field that brings me more joy than I ever believed I could find in my career.  It’s important to note that I’m not talking about a blind risk, but rather a calculated risk:  I had spoken with numerous attorneys who had made this transition before me and were able to guide me through this transition.  To this day, I still rely on their guidance.


About BlackBoxPhD

I’m Sean Young, PhD, behavioral psychologist, educator, and Director of the UCLA Center for Digital Behavior. I’ve worked with some amazing collaborators and friends on how to apply psychology in life.

I’m inviting you to online fireside chats with them to give you a sneak peak into their brilliant minds and help you improve your life, work, and relationships.

Together, we’ll interview experts in psychology, health, technology, and business. We’ll leave you with weekly take-home points to teach you about Psychology, Products, and People.

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