By Brittany N. O'Neil, Esq. • November 17, 2017•Careers
In this segment of Lawyers-Turned, we meet Attorney Vanessa S. Perlman. Vanessa is the Founder and CEO of Mockingbird Travel, LLC. She candidly answered questions for Ms. JD readers about following her passion, instead of the traditional legal path. In this interview, Vanessa provides insight about overcoming obstacles and finding your own unique path.
Q. In one sentence, describe the purpose of Mockingbird Travel, LLC?
A. Mockingbird Travel is a socially-conscious international tour company, offering small-group escorted tours that provide travelers with authentic travel experiences and the opportunity to give back to the places they visit.
Q. When did you create Mockingbird Travel, LLC?
Q. What is your current role at Mockingbird Travel, LLC and how many employees are within your company?
A. I’m still a one-woman shop, so I hold ALL the roles. My title is Founder & CEO. Not enough women claim that CEO title, and they should!
Q. When did you know that you wanted to create Mockingbird Travel, LLC—before law school, during law school, or after law school?
A. A decade after I graduated from law school.
Q. Can you describe your career path toward creating and establishing Mockingbird Travel, LLC (prior education, career experience, influential events, courses)?
A. After six years of practicing law, I was unsatisfied and unfulfilled by my work – so I quit my job and went back to school. I received an LL.M. in global health law and international institutions from Georgetown Law, a degree I planned to apply toward policy work in the field of global health. However, after a few more years had passed, I realized that while I loved the field of global health, I still wasn’t excited about the career path in front of me.
I created Mockingbird Travel to combine the two things I’m most passionate about: travel and global health. Although Mockingbird is a for-profit company, I commit to donating a portion of the profits from every tour to a global health nonprofit organization. I focus this philanthropy on organizations that are working in – and directly benefiting – the places we visit. So in addition to having an amazing vacation, my clients know that they’re giving back.
Q. How influential have mentors and role models been to you throughout your career?
A. I’ve worked with some great people over the years, and there are many successful people that I admire. But I’ve never had a formal mentor relationship; I seek help on discrete issues as they come up, and that’s worked for me. I’ve seen a lot of other new entrepreneurs fall into the trap of becoming “addicted” to advice – they ask so many people for so much advice that they no longer trust themselves to make decisions. Similarly, with role models, there’s a danger of becoming discouraged by comparing yourself to other (apparently more successful) people. Those feelings can drag you down – and your business with it.
Your path is unique to you; what other people have done can be instructive, but ultimately you have to chart your own way. If you want to live an authentic life, being true to yourself and doing what you love, you have to be able to trust yourself, the choices you make, and the path you’re on.
Q. What has been your biggest hurdle or challenge in establishing Mockingbird Travel, LLC?
A. Patience. Everything takes longer to get going than I would like it to. I still practice law part-time for a steady income stream, and sometimes that work has to take precedence over Mockingbird. I can’t possibly do everything I would like to do to build the business – at least, not all at once – so I have to prioritize, prioritize, prioritize, and let things build slowly and organically.
Q. How do you continue to persevere or move forward when experiencing challenges?
A. I remind myself why I started this thing in the first place: what my goals are, what I really want from my life. I think often of something Paulo Coelho wrote in his introduction to The Alchemist; to paraphrase, he observed that many people give up right before they’re about to achieve their goals. I don’t want to be one of those people.
Q. As a self-proclaimed introvert, how do you approach networking or customer services?
A. Fortunately, the legal profession is a social profession; all the receptions and networking events that are routine in law firms are really good practice for introverts. I start my networking with people I know, and focus more on asking for referrals, instead of making cold-calls. Most introverts are comfortable with one-on-one communication, so customer service is easy compared to walking into a huge room of strangers. But I’ve also found that it’s easier to start conversations and connect with others when you’re sharing something you’re really passionate about.
Q. What advice would you give to current law students who know they want to pursue a non-traditional career?
A. Take non-traditional classes – courses that will give you skills and knowledge outside of the law. Look for summer positions and externships in your area of interest, instead of the traditional law firm clerkships, and definitely focus your networking there. Most importantly, don’t let yourself be diverted from your goals by people who want you to follow the traditional route. There’s a lot of pressure to pursue judicial clerkships and Big Law jobs, but if you know that’s not what you want, stick to your guns!
Q. What advice would you give to other lawyers who are looking to make a career change by pursuing a non-traditional career?
A. Certainly do as much as you can to lay the groundwork for your new business or career before you “quit your day job.” But at a certain point, you have to make the leap. You’ll never be 100% prepared, or know everything you need to know, and there will never be the “perfect” time to start – so if you keep waiting for that, you’ll never make the change. You have to go for it anyway. Don’t let your fears make your decisions for you.
Thank you so much, Vanessa, for sharing your wonderful words of wisdom with Ms. JD on this segment of Lawyers-Turned. Be sure to check out the Mockingbird Travel, LLC website for more information at https://www.mockingbirdtravel.com.
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