In 2014, Chad McGowan, an attorney with McGowan, Hood & Felder in Rock Hill, spent his days representing the state of South Carolina in an intense antitrust case.
At night he took care of his young twins, thus making him very busy man. So when he could catch a break, he’d sit around the kitchen table with some of his buddies and toss back some beers.
Five years later, that antitrust case and bonding over beer have led to the creation of a new brewery with 65 employees. Appropriately named “Legal Remedy,” the Rock Hill brewery has so far poured 680,000 pints of beer for 180,000 customers.
“Frankly, I had no idea it would take off the way it did,” he said. “We are still growing and expect to grow another 20 percent this year.”
Armed with a law degree, attorneys like McGowan are stretching out into other fields, whether leaving the practice of law behind completely or venturing into new businesses on the side.
Whatever the case, lawyer entrepreneurs who recently spoke with Lawyers Weekly say that a law degree is an asset that has helped them with their success in other fields.
#MeToo movement strikes a chord
Whereas McGowan’s brewery is what one might call a passion project, other attorneys have leveraged insights gleaned from serving their clients to identify market opportunities that weren’t being met, and created new businesses to fill those niches.
After earning his law degree from Duke University in 2014 and spending four years in the legal profession, Andrew Jennings took what he learned from his time handling workplace harassment cases and last year returned to Durham, North Carolina, to start a new company called Ekdesk that helps other companies maintain a harassment-free and equitable workplace. Ekdesk uses computer software that, among other things, analyzes random, anonymous surveys that employees complete regarding their company culture and work environment.
“In 2017 and 2018, we saw a lot happening with the Me Too movement, and I saw some of that in my investigational practices as well,” he said. “It struck me that there is a data gap around companies being aware of these issues of harassment and discrimination, so I developed a method to help them get better.”
He doesn’t regret that he doesn’t practice law anymore, though he concedes that “I was a little bit sad when I left my firm to start this company.”
“There were cases I enjoyed working on, but I always wanted to start my own business,” he said. “And I’m glad that this business is law-adjacent. It was the right time for me, and I wanted to branch out and try this new thing while I am still young and have the time to do it.”
Why people don’t stay where they are
Leslie Turner of Charleston left her law practice for real estate and is now one of Charleston’s top real estate brokers. Before becoming a lawyer, she’d had a career in marketing before moving to Charleston to raise her two children. After a divorce, she decided to enroll at Charleston School of Law in 2008 to forge a new career path.
Turner was admitted to the bar in 2011, but it turned out practicing law and “being a slave to the billable hour” just wasn’t for her. She had her real estate broker’s license, but only on a referral basis with a local firm. The first transaction she did on her own was worth $1 million. For the next year, she juggled both a real estate career and her law practice. After six transactions, she decided go into real estate full-time. She still maintains her law license, saying that it helps her to better serve her clients.
“My law degree helps tremendously, both with sophisticated clients who have complex transactions, to first time home-buyers who appreciate me explaining the contracts in simple terms to them,” she said. “I can draft any addenda, interpret easements, and generally guide clients with a much higher level of service than most real estate agents.”
Beth Fleishman, who had practiced law since 1977, retired from Cranfill, Sumner & Hartzog in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 2015.
“I had entered the legal profession because I thought it was one in which you could use both sides of your brain,” she said.
She was disappointed to find that was not the case, or at least as often as she had hoped. So in 2001, she started a part-time antique business, Knick Knack Paddy Whack. That energized her in her law practice, but as the business grew, she knew she had to make a choice: practice law or curate antiques.
She chose antiques and doesn’t regret it. Now she travels to Europe six times a year, scouring the content for unique antique and collectibles. She’s not out of the law completely, however, and currently serves as the chair of the North Carolina Board of Law Examiners.
From beer snobs to beer jobs
Attorneys are used to conducting research, and McGowan’s success as a brewery owner came after a lot it. It started when one McGowan’s beer buddies brought over a book called “1,001 Beers to Drink Before You Die.”
“Then it was game on,” McGowan said. “We’d get the beers from the book and rate them. After a while, we realized that most of these beers were just not that good.”
He had learned to home brew during his clerkship year after law school, when he lived in the basement beneath the home of a professor, who taught him how to brew. So McGowan and his collaborators decided to dust off his home brew equipment. After much trial and error, they perfected a brew that’s now sold as Pro Bono Vanilla Porter. The men entered the beer in the Fort Mill Beertopia Home Brew competition and won. (Although the beer is called “pro bono,” you do not get it for free, unfortunately.)
After that confidence boost, the gang entered more competitions and did well, convincing them that they could make a go of turning their passion into a business. They began making two kegs a month in McGowan’s garage.
Meanwhile, the state of South Carolina ultimately recovered more than $25 million in the antitrust case in which McGowan was representing the state. His fee from that case allowed him to pay his taxes and start a brewery, which included purchasing the home of a former car dealership that had been abandoned in the 1980s. They turned the showroom into a brewpub and the service bays into the brewery.
The brewery has been a success, so much so that McGowan and his partners are opening a brew pub and taco joint in Riverwalk in Rock Hill. Most of their beers have legally-themed names like Dubbel Jeopardy and Alibi Pale Ale.
McGowan said he’s been able to juggle his law practice with his brewery with the help of other people, including his wife, who runs the day-to-day operations. He had advice for attorneys who are looking to either leave the legal field or at least take on an additional venture.
“Make sure it’s something that you really love,” he said. “You are trading law stress for a different kind of stress. You need to know that going in. And at the end of the day, our chosen sideline is beer. It’s not like it’s medical research or something important.”
Jennings, Ekdesk’s founder, said that attorneys should make sure whatever new profession or sideline an attorney chooses should align with their values and interests.
“The skills people develop as lawyers—attending to detail, writing and communicating—they are things that are integral to the legal practice, and they all carry over in anything you do,” he said.
Follow Bill Cresenzo on Twitter @bcresenzosclw