From Lawyer to App Developer Entrepreneur: Tips on changing careers

Victorian Musonza currently works as a solo practitioner, a litigation support analyst and runs a startup app business with her husband.

Tell me a little about your professional career as a lawyer?

“I did litigation support work for about a year and then moved down south and started my own practice in Charlotte North Carolina from 2008 until 2013 and then came back to NY and have been doing a mix of litigation support work and solo practice work”

What were your areas of practice?

“My areas of practice were mainly taxation and bankruptcy.  Since I moved back to NY I don’t do bankruptcy because I’m not really interested in doing it anymore.  I also have a one year old daughter so mostly focusing on taxation”

What are you currently doing?

“I started a business with my husband this summer.  We started an app development firm trying to put applications out on the Apple and Google markets.  It’s free apps that are a source of advertiser driven revenue.  Right now they have a music application and one game out and are in the process of working on other games in the pipeline”

Tell me more about the music application that you started?

“Its called ZimVibes and it focuses more on African and Caribbean music”

What made you want to start the app business?

“My husband is an app developer by profession and he wanted to develop an app and then decided that we would start this business.  Instead of him putting this app out in the world.  The apps are more his idea and the games are my idea”

Did you do any research before you started this business with your husband?

“Yes and no.  I have his practical knowledge and reading on apps that are popular, what’s failing and what’s buzzing.  I have a cousin who is a big gamer and plays a lot of app games on phones.  I use him as a resource for ideas that work and things that don’t work about the game and what needs to be fixed.  I get feedback from people who would use our apps to see what they like, what they don’t like and what they are looking for”

Do you think that the key to career shifts is asking for help and advice?

“Definitely I think that it is essential to pair yourself with someone that has a different background than you because I think sometimes when lawyers are trying to transition out of law they are stuck on doing another area of law.  To get out of law you have to use the skills that you have and maybe pair up with someone who has a totally different skill set and can give you a different mindset.  Also, a different venue that you can help them in because as a lawyer you can pretty much help anyone in any type of field whether its real estate, production, IT whatever.  You can take that expertise that you have and help other people but not alone unless you’re going to go to school and figure out a new trade all together”

What are the transferrable skills from being a lawyer that helped you?

“I think just being able to draft contracts, incorporate a business and have that entrepreneurial spirit can help you go into another business.  There are some attorneys that I know that have talented abilities.  I have friends that draw things, paint things, make things in addition to that and those people who are already artistic can transition but its getting the courage to be able to do it”

Do you think that courage is the key to stepping out on your own?

“Yes you need courage and drive definitely”

Has changing careers has allowed you to adapt to change considering how regimented the law can be?

“Yes because when your entrepreneur things change because when I was in North Carolina I had a full office and staff.  There are different hats that you have to put on.  Theirs the boss hat and you have to do your books because there are so many things that you have to do besides actually practicing and dealing with clients.  You have to have business savvy because I’ve seen great attorneys fail because they weren’t business savvy.  They weren’t able to mange their office and staff and things went awry or they weren’t able to manage their books and it went awry.  You have to have that entrepreneurial spirit it cant just be I know that I’m a great attorney and I can write this motion or argue this brief.  You have to know how to maintain books, when to cut costs, when to get more help because if you don’t have that king of mindset you will end up not in a good place and jaded”

Were their any mistakes that you’ve made along the way and if so what were they?

“I think the biggest mistake that I’ve made right before we moved I decided to take a compliance position in house at a retail company.   I got to a point where I was burnt out from solo practice all of the pressures of not just practicing but maintaining an office, dealing with different personalities, clients can be crazy sometimes, opposing counsel can really get under your skin.  It was just the stresses of law I thought that going into a compliance position and being under someone else’s wing would be less stressful but I realized really quickly after a month and a half that it wasn’t for me.  I think once you’ve become your own boss its difficult for you to go into the fold especially when there are a lot of things that you don’t agree with.   How the business is run and you have very little say so in how it is run and you’ll have different personalities there that you have to deal with.  Also, you have a boss that you’ll have to respond to and you may not always agree with that boss and their actions.  I think I didn’t truly value what I had at that time until I went back to practicing on my own.  I lost some business because I was out for two months but I started to gain some more business”

How do you think people can avoid those mistakes?

“I think you have to listen to yourself if you know who you are and what you want you have to go after it and work hard.  It’s not going to be easy especially in New York.  Someone in Westchester or long island may be able to get more business than someone in Brooklyn or Manhattan.  I think you have to know what you want and go after it and it might mean some sacrifices because I may have to move here because there are more opportunities for me here”

Did you do any networking?

“Yes I did a lot of networking in North Carolina with attorney and joined a listserve”

Did you do networking for your solo practice or the app business?

“I did more for the solo practice”

What are your long-term goals?

“To get out of law all together including no solo practice.  Focus exclusively on the app business and grow that into another even bigger business with people and employees full time because doing things part time it takes forever to get done.  If we had a full time staff and my husband was able to focus on it full time we would be able to grow a lot quicker and transition out sooner.  He an I both work a full time job and then coming home to work on the other business your not going to have that much time to really focus on that”

Any final words of advice or encouragement for anyone considering a change from the law?

“I think you have to know what your strengths are and what your talents and abilities are and just go with it.  I think a lot of attorneys get hopeless because they think that they’re relegated to only one thing, which is law.  Every successful attorney that I know is not practicing law; presidents of companies or people who do real estate or are in politics or own other businesses.  These are people I actually know who can see other lawyers that are in the limelight none of them are practicing, which should tell you something that you have to take what you’ve got and do something else with it”


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