Meet JP, blending life and work and redefining partnership in the profession

Name: JP Box 

Location:  Denver, CO

What do you do?

My days are now split between co-running a Merino Wool kids’ apparel company called Chasing Windmills and also consulting with law firms on how to connect with and inspire millennial attorneys. So my day is split between lovingly fulfilling merino wool swaddles and gowns, and then pondering the future of the legal profession.

How do you balance those two very different roles? Is there any cross over?

I don’t believe I’ve ever had those worlds crossover, except I do have some colleagues who have bought from Chasing Windmills. So I have some good lawyer clients. But for the most part, those are very separate realms and require different parts of my brain to really manage effectively. In terms of balancing them, my life is blended together on a daily basis between all those things. This morning, for example, I woke up and I started a load of laundry since we’re heading out to camp tomorrow. Then I started fulfilling orders because, after a weekend, they start to stack up a little bit. Then I jumped on here, talking about the legal profession and where we’re headed as a group.

So really my day is jumping all around from playing with the kids to working on Chasing Windmills to talking about the future of the profession. And it fits me well. When I was practicing law, one of the things that I struggled with was the lack of control that I felt. Every day I was being pulled in different directions. Whereas now, even though in certain ways my day is more jumbled, I have a lot of control over when I schedule things. And if I’m working late at night, it’s a choice that I made because maybe I went mountain biking during the day with the kids. While my days are very atypical, it works well for me.

What do you like most about what you do, specifically in terms of helping the profession understand Millennials and how they are pushing against traditional norms?

What I like best overall is that every day I always have the chance to push out a vision that I believe in. I was born in 1981, so I just barely snuck into this generation, and I’m glad I’m part of this elite club. What I’ve really enjoyed is trying to turn a perceived negative that Millennials are tough to work with, they don’t commit, they’re entitled, and all those other myths, and turn those negative perceptions into strengths and understanding that we are a group of people who are passionate and have a lot to contribute. And we do work very hard, but there’s a different way to connect with and inspire us. Being able to turn that sense of frustration into a sense of understanding is probably what I get the most satisfaction out of  — when I see that light bulb click on and someone understands, “Oh, that’s how I can better interact and create a culture where, not only are the young attorneys doing well, but the entire firm as a whole is doing well because we’ve taken away that friction point.”

Do you find that that disconnect is the biggest challenge that you’ve faced in trying to bridge that gap?

Yeah, I think that there’s a lack of understanding that there are different ways to motivate members of different generations. But there’s also some of the built-in perspectives of Gen X and Boomers that “I went through these trials and tribulations as a young attorney and I am a very smart, dedicated, talented attorney now. So let’s have this process be the ones that the next generation goes through.” Trying to take a step back and say, “You emerged well from that process, you have a successful career. Ultimately, though, I want to help you get the most out of the people who are the up-and-comers at your firm. So let’s figure out a different way to motivate that generation.”

Our profession, on its periphery right now, is starting to change very quickly. And networks like On Purpose Legal are at the forefront of that change in promoting a healthier way to look at our profession and ways that we can contribute as lawyers. Our profession as a whole can be sometimes slow to move, but I am encouraged by seeing at least pockets start to pivot into better directions.

You’re doing something very different than what most folks who go to law school end up doing. What inspired you to go to law school and what was your journey from that inspiration to where you are now?

I went to law school for good reasons and also lazy reasons. I’ll explain the lazy one first. I didn’t really think about what I wanted to do with my life very concretely until I was in my early thirties. After graduating from college, I worked for a year at a law firm, just doing a little bit of everything. For me, it was, “I don’t really know what I want to do, but I kind of like being in school and I can go back to school for three more years. And this is a socially acceptable path for me to pursue.” So part of it was that lack of direction.

But I also looked at the law, and I still do, as a means to make a real impact in different social and economic ways. We are in certain ways the makers of our democratic society. And so being able to be part of a profession that allowed me to make connections in that way was something that was very important to me. So while I didn’t know exactly what path I wanted to take, I knew that that the law would lead to a lot of places where I ultimately wanted to be.

My last year as a lawyer, I pretty much knew that I wanted to have more control over my life and move into an entrepreneurial direction. My wife and I wear a lot of merino wool apparel in our own day-to-day lives and we had newborn twins. We started looking for our kids and found a lot of New Zealand and Australian brands, but not many here in the U.S. So it was a slow process of, “maybe we could do that,” and making connections with fabric suppliers and cut-and-sew factories, trying to put the pieces together.

I think in a lot of ways, being a lawyer gave me the confidence to go out on my own and do that because, as a good lawyer, we have to understand our clients’ businesses inside and out. So I had peaked into hundreds of different businesses and saw ones that were run extremely well and others that had trouble points. It gave me the confidence to say, “Okay, I have no background in apparel, but this is something that I believe in and I think there is a market for it. Let’s take a flyer on it.” Thankfully, it’s worked out.

The thread you talked about of why you went to law school, of being able to affect change on a broader scale and on a higher level, is still what you’re doing. Is that how you continue to define success or has it changed?

I still believe in the law and I still have that idealistic sense of what we can be as a profession. I didn’t want my last experience in the law to be one of frustration. I wanted to still contribute something to our profession. As I started diving into research in the millennial generation, it gave me a lens and a language that I could apply to my experiences and articulate a vision that was going to be more harmonious, more productive, and healthier for our profession. I wanted that to be my last experience with the law.

In terms of how I define success, I saw a bumper sticker when I was at a crossroads in my life. It said very simply, “At least I tried.” I wanted that sense for my life, that at least I tried to do something that connected with my heart and my soul and something that I believed in. For me, success really is putting your genuine, authentic vision out there and making connections with people as a result of that. Whether it’s helping somebody understand Millennials or whether it’s bringing a bit of nature into the nursery from the earliest moments, if I can make genuine connections with people in a way that connects with who I am as a person, then I feel like I’m having success on a day-by-day basis.

While you work with a lot of firms, what advice would you have for an individual who is having a similar experience where practicing law has become an area of frustration? 

If I could talk to my 28-year-old self, one of the things that I struggled with for a long time was this paralyzing sense of fear that if I take a different path, it’s just too scary to really take that first step. I think a lot of us feel that there are no other options, that we have to fit into the culture as it is or else we’re not going to be successful. What I have found is there is a lot more room, even within firms, to assert yourself and to show who you are. There are different ways of practicing law that better align what you do with what your values are and what you want your day-to-day life to look like.

There are a lot of resources out there like the Modern Law Practice Initiative. CAMP (Colorado Attorney Mentoring Program) also does a lot of great work with professional identity. My hope would be that people don’t feel stuck in a situation that doesn’t connect with them, and that they realize there are ways to practice differently. A lot of actions are scarier before you take them than after you take them. It took me a week of going into my law firm when I knew that I was going to start this new business and not talking to the partners at the firm. Finally, I got the courage to walk into one of the partner’s offices and told him what I was doing. To my surprise, he looked at me and said, “I wish I had tried something else when I was your age.” I had a great conversation with him, and he said, “If this doesn’t work out, you have your job here again, but I wish you the best.” It was something that I was dreading, but it became a real boost of confidence for me as I headed into a new direction.

What is your go-to wellbeing activity?

The thing that re-centers me most is swimming, which I wasn’t able to do for the three months because of everything being closed down. But our health club has an outdoor pool that I go to at 5:00 AM now when no one else is up at that time. So much of the time I’m plugged in, whether it’s listening to podcasts or doing work, there’s always some noise coming into my ears. So literally putting my head underwater and being able to hear nothing and just swim is something that re-centers me. Yes, it’s a good workout, but for me, it’s also a meditative experience. Especially with the amount of stress that we’re all living through as we’re juggling this new normal, figuring out ways to recharge is very important to stay sane and be productive.

What’s a podcast you’d recommend?

I have to throw out the Modern Law Revolution podcast, our Modern Law Practice Initiative podcast through the Colorado Bar Association.

I am a big podcast listener, and it really depends upon my mood. Some are political, some are sports, some are more cultural. One of them that I’ve really liked a lot that helps me refocus from time to time is The Rich Roll Podcast. He’s an ultra-athlete, so he does ultramarathons and ultra-triathlons. He has interesting guests from that realm but also more broadly thought leaders and deep thinkers in various fields. The episode with Dan Buettner was one that I recently listened to. Dan studies blue zones, which are places where people live the longest across the world, and identifies the similarities they have from vibrant communities and cultural life to healthy eating habits. That’s always a good one that gives me something to think about, but also removes me from the day-to-day stresses of what’s happening in our world and lets me ponder different things from afar.

If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing about the legal profession, what would it be?

The one thing that I wish we could change would be focused on the community – creating a more vibrant, diverse, inclusive community that really embraces the partnership aspect of what we do. As lawyers, we all aspire to partnership and there are certainly financial rewards to that. But I think we have to come back to look at each other as partners in every sense of the word and be advocates for each other, support each other, and create a profession where we have this massive support system to help us through difficult professional times, difficult personal times, and really have that community as the strength and as the differentiator for our profession.

What is one new thing you are hoping to learn from others in this community?

I want to continue my journey where I see more possibilities for our profession, more ways to be connected, and more ways to practice. In a lot of ways, I really thought that my experience practicing would be markedly different from D.C. to Denver and from a big firm to a small firm. But I found that they all operated very similarly and had similar hierarchical structures. One of the things that I’m always drawn to is destabilizing those structures and seeing what else is out there. From this community, I want to learn more ways to live your most authentic life and to create a practice that really suits whatever the individual lawyer wants to get out of life.

And what is one thing you are looking to share with others in this community?

One thing that I’ve been harping on for a couple of years now, which is becoming a reality by the circumstances that we’re living through, is the notion of moving from work-life balance to work-life blend. We’re no longer pitting our work against our lives as mutually exclusive concepts that have to be balanced against each other but really helping others embrace the notion that work should be an interesting, enhancing aspect of our lives. It’s all part of the same puzzle that we’re putting together, from our professional responsibilities to our personal responsibilities, to things we do for fun.

There are forward-thinking law firms that have been implementing the notion of a blended life. But now, in the past couple of months, we’ve had no choice to figure out, “Okay, how do I remain productive? How do I supervise attorneys out of the office? How do I work with people across Zoom from their home offices, from their home kitchens, or wherever they’re doing work?” If I can help shed some light and help others come to an understanding that, yes, we can be productive this way and we can structure our lives in unique ways, then I see that as a positive movement forward.