AALM: What drew you to a career in law?
NKW: I was a political science major in the 1990s! You know those kids, the ones who always argue, always have a clever idea or retort? Yup, that was me. I guess it was my destiny.
AALM: Why land use and entitlements?
NKW: When I left law school, I practiced BigLaw litigation, and it was not a good fit. Sitting in an office all day drafting documents was not fun, it was depressing and not where I excelled. But I thought that’s what practicing law was until I learned from my husband who worked as chief of staff to a state assemblymember at the time, about his collaboration with land-use attorneys in Los Angeles. I decided to transition practice areas, and I found a practice of law that I loved! I was paid to strategize, socialize, and represent clients without a courtroom.
AALM: While in law school, what kind of career did you imagine, and how does your practice differ today from those ambitions?
NKW: After law school, I was easily sucked into the big firm pipeline. I knew it would be a lot of work, but I didn’t realize most lawyers don’t last that long in big law…and I lasted longer than most! I didn’t think about professional goals, or even what I want to be doing every day. What I realized is that it isn’t just about your career… it’s about your life, what you like, and what you excel at. Today, I own a land-use consulting firm with a partner. I also created a course called the Lucky Lawyer to help unhappy lawyers figure out how they can pivot in their careers to make themselves as lucky as I feel to do what I do every day.
AALM: What are you most proud of professionally and personally?
NKW: Professionally, I am proud of the number of houses and jobs I have created in the Los Angeles area. It is a privilege to make the world a better place using your skills. I am also very proud of my learned willingness to be vulnerable… that vulnerability has allowed me to go out and create my businesses, try different things, teach, and try to help lawyers find their best lives. As for personal accomplishments, I am very proud of my amazing family and the fantastic life we lead. Trying to lead a balanced life is a constant effort and I often fail, but more often, I believe, I succeed.
AALM: Tell us about your interest in helping other attorneys find career satisfaction.
NKW: I’ve met so many unhappy lawyers and it makes me so sad because that’s such a loss for everyone. You’re not putting all of your best self and best gifts into the world and making it a better place. If you aren’t happy, everyone knows it and feels it…including those you love and those you are responsible for. At the beginning of COVID, I started offering lawyer career change guidance to lawyers that were in transition, but I realized that a lot of the advice I was giving was about stepping back, figuring out the big picture of what you want out of your own life, and I was able to convert that advice into a course that teaches you to redirect your legal career. This isn’t magic – it’s work – but if you are ready, I do believe you can find joy and gratification in your job, whatever that looks like.
AALM: Why do you think attorneys struggle to find happiness in the legal profession?
NKW: I think a lot of people aren’t clear on what being a lawyer means and what it looks like, what the work feels like, and that it is a great fit for some people, but not others. I also think that it’s very easy to feel stuck in a practice area where switching may make all the difference in the world. The thing about the law is a lot of us don’t even know what others do on a day-to-day basis. What if I told you that in many practice areas, the process is relatively the same, just with a different subject matter? It’s true.
AALM: What do you wish you would have known sooner? What advice would you share with others?
NKW: It’s never too late. I spent a lot of time thinking I made career mistakes from which I could never recover. But that was not the case. Instead of regret, take a beat, make a plan, and regroup. Then move forward toward your best life.