Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang has openly talked about his aborted career as a corporate attorney in which he “spent five unhappy months of” soon after getting a law degree.
Before joining Davis Polk & Wardwell in 2000, he had scored 178 out of 180 on the LSAT and attended Columbia Law School. Once he was in, however, he did not feel quite at home.
“Working at a law firm was like a pie-eating contest, and if you won, your prize was more pie,” Yang was quoted as saying in a recent feature with The Washington Post.
The piece highlighted how he lasted only five months working in “Biglaw” (country’s largest law firms) after realizing that it was not something that would make him happy.
“It felt very purposeless and empty,” Yang said. “I was looking out at New York and thinking, ‘Wow, is this why my parents came to this country?’
According to Yang, he tested himself to see whether it was just money he was after.
“I went to Bloomingdale’s and bought my family cashmere scarves and some other nice gifts. Then I brought them to them that weekend, and they seemed to like them,” he said. “And I thought: Is this enough for me to do a job I don’t like? Definitely not.”
“After a case unexpectedly settled in the middle of the week, I took the rest of the week off, bought a first-class ticket to Vegas, at the airport, and won about half of it back taking money off of people there for some sort of convention. It wasn’t enough.”
He noted that while he did make a lot of money, he felt it was pointless, so he eventually left Davis Polk & Wardwell to find what he really wanted to do.
“I thought, ‘Shouldn’t I be someone who builds something?’ That made more sense to me. But how do you get there? I figured there was no way to figure it out except to do it.”
In a self-written piece published on CNN, Yang explained how it took him many years before he found his calling.
“I left the job and worked at a few start-ups before becoming the CEO of an education company that focused on preparing college students for admissions tests. At that company, I saw firsthand the best and brightest all preparing for the same degrees and jobs. They’d get an MBA and then work for a management consulting firm, or a JD and then work at a law firm. With my own experience in the back of my mind, I knew that this wasn’t a good move.”
In 2011, he started Venture for America, a nonprofit that placed recent graduates in cities such as Birmingham, New Orleans, Cleveland, and Detroit. Yang’s NGO provided the means to create jobs while supporting local businesses in the areas.
“I wanted to create a path for smart young people to go out and build things, not toil away on corporate mergers that just shifted money from one millionaire’s account to another,” he said.
“We picked these towns because they were struggling by most obvious measurements. They had lost manufacturing jobs to automation and were facing high levels of economic insecurity, unemployment and drug overdoses. However, looking at these numbers on a spreadsheet was very different from stepping off of a plane and seeing these struggling communities in person. I thought, ‘I can’t believe I’m still in the same country.'”
This realization is what Led Yang to the path that he is in today, running an impressive presidential campaign that continues to grow by the day.
Studying law has somewhat become an asset for the presidential nominee hopeful as this has reportedly made him more “structured and detail oriented.” He did note, however, that the careful analysis taught in law school can get in the way of an entrepreneur who needs to make decisions quickly, which for him often involves instinct over data. To arrive at a viable middle-ground, Yang said he had to “unlearn” some of what he learned in law school.