A few years ago, after watching one too many Law & Order episodes, I decided to go to law school. I had vague ideas of what I might want to do with my life, and law school seemed like a decent jumping-off point for a guy in his late 20s with a sociology degree and a bizarre-looking resumé. What I quickly learned was that law school was a very particular kind of beast. I don’t pretend to know much about accounting programs; in law school, though, you’re not judged by how well you do in your classes. Instead, you’re actively pitted against your classmates: a 3.95 GPA means nothing if you’re not in the top 10% of your class. While this is stressful enough, there’s also a subtle form of brainwashing I identified — and fell for — during that all-important first year: Big Law (large, corporate law firms).
I was actively convinced that if I didn’t secure a position as an associate with a Big Law firm advising on multi-million-dollar M&A transactions or handling high-stakes corporate litigation, I was going to live a failed, miserable, destitute life. Yet, during spring break of that first year, I realized — somewhat painfully and somewhat liberatingly — that I didn’t want to practice law — not in any traditional sense, anyway.
I knew I wanted to find creative solutions to complex problems. I started to see, however, that most practicing attorneys don’t do that. Clients generally don’t want their attorneys to be creative; clients want their attorneys to be organized: file this document by this date and make sure there aren’t any errors. Sure, there are those (corporate structuring attorneys, international corporate tax lawyers) that must come up with clever, imaginative solutions for highly perplexing issues. But there’s like seven of those positions in the world. I had to ask myself, “Why am I learning these incredible skills in law school if I’m not really going to use them when I get out of here?”
Nevertheless, I pressed on. Despite finishing well in law school, I decided to forego the bar exam for the time being. I secured a good job working in compliance and anti-financial crime at a bank. Then I received a call from an accounting firm.
Before coming to HORNE, my only point of reference for an accounting firm was Tilton & Radomski of Parks and Recreation fame. I couldn’t imagine a more boring place to work than an accounting firm. I was skeptical: why would an accounting firm be interested in an almost-not-quite-lawyer? Then, in one of my interviews — while I was still very much on the fence — the interviewer sitting across from me said, “We need people who can think critically and ask the right questions.” I was cautiously excited; I didn’t win “Most Inquisitive” in 6th Grade for nothing.
A place that wants me to push back when necessary? To ask, “Why?” Every day? Where the status quo is the enemy? Nearly a year in, I’m thriving in a way I hadn’t seriously considered possible. Regulatory compliance? All in. Risk management? Let’s do it. Tax? Well, let’s not get carried away.
If I’m going to serve my clients effectively, I’m not simply encouraged to think critically and creatively. It is absolutely vital. I am constantly tasked with thinking inside the box, outside the box, and around the box to provide real-time, effective insights and strategies to my clients. From anticipating conflicts and reconciling state and federal laws and regulations, to more nuanced matters like potential exceptions to rules governing tax increment financing, client issues are not getting easier and more straightforward. I cannot simply tell my client what the problem is or what the solution might be. I have to explain what everything means and why it all matters.
Am I practicing law? No. Am I using legal skills that I’m continually honing and mastering? Absolutely.
I’m not a practicing attorney. I work at an accounting firm. And I love what I do.
About the Author
Jason Moorhead is one of many on the journey to build the Wise Firm. He is a creative and critical thinker who is ready to leave his mark on the accounting profession.