From Lawyer to Literature: Changing Careers After 30 Years of Law

By Alyssa Weston

Joe Young realized he needed a change after being an attorney for 30 years and to follow his passion — English.

“I had felt for far too long that I was tied into what I was doing and never really considered my happiness and what I wanted out of life or what would interest me the most,” he said. “I just saw myself on a path and could not deviate from it, and I learned that’s just the wrong way of thinking. There are many opportunities out there.”

Young, 61, was one of the Penguins commemorated by Youngstown State University during the fall 2018 graduation ceremony on Dec. 16, all of whom were eager to kickstart or change their career.

“My dad graduated from YSU yesterday with his master’s in English,” Emily Young, Joe Young’s daughter and YSU alumnus, wrote on a social media post. “What I want you to know is he spent 30 years as a lawyer. A few years ago he decided he had spent long enough doing something that didn’t make him happy, so he pursued something he truly loved.”

Emily Young wanted her followers to know they are never too old to make a change.

“Have courage, ask for help when you need it and follow your dreams. I have never been more #YandProud,” she wrote.

Joe Young, a licensed attorney and part-time faculty at YSU, said he’s always liked literature and reading.

“Over the years of practicing law, I started to get a little bit dissatisfied, and I think that’s just the adversarial nature of the practice of law. It can wear on you over time,” he said.

Joe Young graduated from Northwestern University in 1979 with a bachelor’s degree in English. He also completed the requirements necessary to teach at the high school level.

“I did that sort of as a ‘pack up’ because my primary plan was always to go to law school. To this day I’m not really sure why I had that idea, but I wanted to be a lawyer,” he said.

After graduating from law school in 1982, Joe Young was hired by a law firm in Youngstown where he worked for over 30 years.

In 2008 YSU offered him a position to teach a legal research class in the Department of Criminal Justice and Forensic Science, and he has been teaching that class almost continuously ever since.

“In teaching the legal research class, I learned that I truly enjoyed the classroom and interacting with students much more than I did the practice of law; and, eventually I got to a point where I said ‘I need to make a change,’” he said.

Joe Young said because English writing and literature have always been a passion of his, he decided to go enroll in the College of Graduate Studies to pursue a master’s in English.

“The practice of law was exciting. I had wonderful partners that I worked, with but it can be a very demanding profession,” he said “I had a lot of enjoyable experiences [practicing law], but just realized I wanted to do something else,” he said.

Although he had to get used to the different style, approach and format of scholarly writing versus legal writing, Joe Young said his experiences as both a lawyer and part-time faculty member helped him with communication in the classroom and his ability to give presentations.

When he decided to enroll in the graduate program, Emily Young was enrolled as an undergraduate at YSU.

Emily Young said when she was younger, she remembers her dad as a “big time” lawyer that went to work in suits every day. She’s been inspired by his career change.

“It reassured me that whatever major I was picking when I was 18 really didn’t matter because I can change my mind at any age,” she said. “If I decide that what I’m doing isn’t what I want to do in 30 years from now, it’s really okay.”

Joe Young said he is a different person now than he was when he got his bachelor’s degree in the 1970s, and for him, undergrad was an entirely different set of experiences.

“I’m more mature now than I was as at 18 years old, and I think that this time around I applied myself a lot more than I did as an undergrad,” he said.

Now that he’s graduated, Joe Young is hopeful he will get a full-time teaching position at the college level.

“I’m much happier than I was,” he said.

According to Joe Young, he is influenced by younger people from whom he learned it is okay to change the path you are on.

In his opinion, he recommends anyone who has a strong interest in changing careers or taking their lives in a different direction that they do so.