From Student to Entrepreneur, and Back

And what an education it was. I never considered myself to be the entrepreneurial “type” – whatever that means. My vision for how my career would unfold was extraordinarily ordinary: finish undergrad, go to law school, get a job through the on-campus recruitment process. And that’s what I did until my first year of law school led me to a detour. Having been exposed to the world of lawyering, I started having doubts as to whether I wanted to continue on the path that I was on.

Eventually I found myself in the company of two like-minded colleagues steeped in a conversation about artificial intelligence, automation, and the law. This led to our founding of a legaltech start-up called Legally Inc., which I worked on for a year and a half until I resumed law school full time four months ago, at the beginning of the school year.

My decision to leave my co-founders was an exercise of prioritization and risk allocation. I look forward to the next entrepreneurial opportunity, and, yes, I would do things differently a second time around.

But rather than dwelling on the things I would do different, instead in this post I would like to focus on sharing with you my thoughts as to why my entrepreneurial journey has ironically made me a better student – now that I’ve been back for a full term - and why I would encourage any student studying any subject area to try their hand at entrepreneurship! So, to that end, here are three things that I am grateful for:

1. Perspective

It is often said that if you genuinely enjoy something, you are more likely to succeed at it. It is also often the case that when you’re competing for grades and going through a rigorous hiring process you can lose your sense of enjoyment. The beauty of entrepreneurship is that it enables you to experience the subject matter that you’ve been studying, but in an entirely different and much more engaging context that comes from stripping away your thoughts about the mundane realities of learning, marks and job opportunities.

You get to reimagine, through a business plan, how you would improve a certain industry. And that’s both liberating and invigorating. After witnessing how technology can be wielded to improve legal practice, I re-discovered my passion for learning and was more driven and eager to succeed in mastering the law.

2. Time management

In a world of endless connectivity it is always difficult to maintain a balance between maximum productivity and burnout. As a law student it is often difficult to pace yourself throughout the term due to the fact that all you really have to complete are 100% finals at the end of term.

Throughout my entrepreneurial experience I learned how to work towards larger projects over longer periods of time and this was vital to my success. I became cognizant of my strengths and weaknesses and how to adjust for them; I refined my approach to managing a workload. I stopped trying to “re-invent the wheel” and instead focused on pointed tasks that were directly connected to achieving results. I took my time when it came to learning new concepts and acquiring context but I ensured that I didn’t get locked in to a task when I felt diminishing returns.

So, having returned to school with these new tools in my toolbelt, when it came to exams, instead of finishing my course summary the night before, I had already done practice tests weeks in advance and so walking into an exam was simply routine.

3. Learning how to learn

People’s brains work in different ways and understanding which method suits you best is vital to success. However, figuring that out takes some good old fashioned trial and error.

When you go through the school system, the format from which you learn the subject material and how you present your understanding is imposed on you – and we take this for granted. For example, I distinctly remember my parents being surprised upon hearing about my multiple choice “scantron” tests, contrasted with their academic experience, growing up in the USSR, included the drawing of ballots with questions that they needed to answer orally.

With the ubiquity of internet and plethora of connected devices, the potential for learning is limitless. As an entrepreneur, you don’t get a 101 textbook and so with only a rudimentary understanding, I had to figure out the business (making a business plan), technology (how different databases and systems interact), and project management aspects of a start-up, just to name a few, and part of this independent study for me included learning how I learn.

Once I resumed law school I was more creative and attentive to the workings of my mind in how I approached my course material. Specifically, I learned that for me, it’s important that I spatially understand how concepts are interconnected, so I turned my attention to turning complicated legal analyses into flow charts and indexing relevant provisions to flesh out patterns. By decomposing the conceptual element and reconfiguring them, I became confident in applying them in different scenarios.

In conclusion, I would implore students to get involved with entrepreneurship because it’s part of the most rewarding and fulfilling journey of self-discovery. Even if you don’t succeed at creating the next “unicorn”, the lessons you learn about yourself and others (teamwork deserves an article all to itself) can be applied in almost any other area in your life, especially as it pertains to self-improvement, and help you get closer to achieving - for anyone familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy – self-actualization.

Nathan Lev is a member of Founder’s Only and is a founder of Legally Inc., Legally Inc., a company that has developed AI-based messaging ‘bots to guide self-represented litigants. Nathan attends law school at Osgoode Hall Law School.

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Founder’s Only is a private group mainly comprised of founders of companies that are “further along” in their company-building journey with employees and external financing. They regularly meet at small events of 2 to 6 people (no larger and no smaller).

Written by Nathan.