I Changed Careers From Sales to Law at 39 so I Could Spend More Time With Family

Estimated read time 5 min read
  • At 39, Edwin Schwartz made a career switch from sales to law.
  • He made the change so he’d have more time to spend with family.
  • Schwartz said he was one of the oldest people in his classes, but that age came with some advantages.

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This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Edwin Schwartz, a trial attorney based in Orange County, California. This essay has been edited for length and clarity. Business Insider has verified his employment and legal license.

Sales was never a dream job.

I graduated from the University of Southern California with a bachelor’s in business administration in 1992. I got into sales, and spent most of my twenties and thirties in the field. I worked with several software companies, and later at car dealerships selling Lexus and BMW cars.

In the software businesses, my teammates and I were working 70 to 80 hours a week and sometimes even bringing pillows to sleep in the office. The car industry was kinder.

I had 50-hour weeks, but was often working in person on evenings and weekends, which is when most people buy their cars.

A big part of my income was commission-based. Customers could show up a few minutes before closing and I would be stuck working late. I was missing out on time with my wife and holidays — the Fourth of July and Christmas ski trips.

I was making between $120,000 to $150,000 each year. The first time I broke $100,000, I went out and bought myself a Breitling watch without having to pay with a credit card. The pay was good but could swing a lot — one year I made $15,000 in December and $1,500 in January.

Time for a career change

Family picture of four people

The birth of Schwartz’s twin daughters were a big reason he pursued a career transition.

Edwin Schwartz

I was about 15 years into my career when a couple of things compelled me to make a change.

At social gatherings, when people asked me what I did, I wasn’t very proud of saying I worked in sales. I also realized the industry preferred younger people and that my value would not increase with time and experience. But most importantly, my twin daughters were born and I knew that I would not be able to watch them grow up if I continued in sales.

I have a lot of attorneys in my family, and I always had preconceived notions about law. I wasn’t a big writer in school or a fan of reading, and I thought lawyers were never happy.

But I could not imagine working at a dealership for the next thirty years. The lawyers around me seemed to be doing well financially. I also thought I would be able to bring my work home and spend more time with my children. So I decided to go for it.

A career in law

I signed up for the Law School Admissions Test and started looking at colleges with evening programs. I didn’t tell anyone except my wife in case it didn’t work out.

I told myself I only had to do well enough for one college to let me in, and I got an offer from California Western School of Law. I started law school when I was 39.

I was one of the oldest people in my course and I was worried I didn’t have the stamina to study long hours like my classmates who were right out of college.

But being older gave me an advantage. I had experienced filing mortgages, filling credit applications, and I knew about worker compensation laws just from being an adult. I was also calmer than my younger peers when things didn’t work my way — I knew it wasn’t the end of the world.

Sacrifices along the way

Juggling law school, my full-time job, and my family was challenging.

I was still missing out on vacations and not seeing my kids as much as I liked. In the mornings I would wake up very early, and hold one of my daughters, who were toddlers at the time, while I studied. It was a grind every single day.

But I saw the sacrifice as short-term — I told myself that once I became an attorney, I would have more time with them. I was working towards a job where I did not have to be physically away from my family all the time.

I took out loans to help with the tuition and graduated with $302,000 in student debt, which I am still paying off today.

Man taking a selfie near a district court sign

Edwin Schwartz transitioned to becoming an attorney after a six-figure career in sales.

Edwin Schwartz

I passed the California State Bar exam and began my career as an attorney at 43. My background in sales helped me start my own practice, where I worked for five years before joining a law firm where I work now.

I have roughly doubled my income since going back to school. I also feel that a career change has increased my job security and job longevity.

As a trial attorney, there are still times I have long days at work. But I’ve never found it unmanageable compared to the other careers I had. Finding my path later in life helped me not lose sight of how lucky I am to be able to do what I do.

Have you switched careers after 35 and have a story to share about the process? Get in touch with this reporter at shubhangigoel@insider.com.