Entrepreneur Article
Entrepreneur.com
Business Law
Thursday November 1, 6:00 am ET
By Geoff Williams


Even business owners may have trouble grasping the
concept at first: lawyers who give up their practice to
become entrepreneurs. After all, who hasn't
daydreamed about standing in a courtroom and nailing
a murderer, getting him to break down and confess to
a horrific crime?

And yet you have people like Ramy Abu-Yousef, 31,
who has happily ditched the lawyer life to go into the
restaurant business--and he's not alone. The
evidence may be mostly anecdotal, but there's no
shortage of attorneys turned entrepreneurs, and
maybe that shouldn't be a surprise. After all, what's
one of the first pieces of advice an entrepreneur hears
when they start a business? Get a lawyer. From the
get-go, the attorney-turned-entrepreneur has an edge.

Abu-Yousef, born and raised in Iowa, became the
black sheep in the family by going into law. His father
was a doctor, and his brother, sister and brother-in-law
were all physicians. Becoming an attorney was
unthinkable, but eventually his family got used to the
idea. And so when Abu-Yousef decided after six years
of practicing law at some of the most prestigious firms
in the country to open a restaurant, his parents in
particular figured their son had lost his mind.

As it turned out, Abu-Yousef, who cooked as a hobby,
nearly bought a restaurant in Manhattan Beach,
California, but backed out at the last moment, realizing
that he was more interested in advising restaurants
than actually running one. "It's not as simple as having
good food and better ideas," says Abu-Yousef. "It's
about management, marketing and all sorts of little
things that one wouldn't even think about."

Abu-Yousef recruited some of the top people in the
restaurant industry to work for his company,
Restaurant Innovations, and while it may have looked
odd to outsiders at the time, he took a 50-hour-a-week
job as a chef at a top restaurant in New Zealand--a
corner of the world where the restaurant industry is
growing rapidly.

In a little over a year, Abu-Yousef is employing 12
people and is bringing in more than $1 million in
revenue.

But more importantly, Abu-Yousef observes in an
e-mail, sent from New Zealand, "At my law firm, I would
be looking forward to getting home around the time I
walked into the office in the morning. Here, I am
excited to get to work in the morning and sad to leave
at the end of the day."

Rusty Shaffer is equally glad to be working on his own
business, instead of as a lawyer, but he doesn't regret
a minute of law school. "If I could, I'd encourage every
entrepreneur, even if they don't practice, to go
through that exercise of becoming a lawyer," says
Shaffer, 44, who was an entrepreneur, quit to become
a lawyer and then became an entrepreneur again.
In 1989, Shaffer started his company, Optek Music
Systems, Inc., which used computer software to teach
people how to play the guitar. But he was a little ahead
of his time, and by 1998, just as the computer age was
really beginning, Shaffer shut down his business.

"The first year of law school, no, I didn't know that I was
going to reopen my business," says Shaffer, who
nevertheless hedged his bets and kept one web page
up saying that he was re-engineering the product. Over
the years, he would get occasional e-mails from people
asking him to restart his product--the Fretlight guitar
series--and although Shaffer had become a patent
attorney, by 2004, he decided the lure of his old
company was too great and re-launched it. Today, he
has a business that's bringing in millions of dollars
annually.

Other attorneys simply take everything they were doing
as an attorney and turn it into a business. Such is the
case with Helene Taylor, who, from an outsider's
perspective, had a glamorous life as a family attorney,
licensed in California and Hawaii. Like her TV
counterparts, Taylor, who is based in San Francisco,
was often in the courtroom, trying to help wives
navigate acrimonious divorces.

But behind the scenes it was hardly glamorous. "There
was much conflict that I experienced, that I don't in my
current profession," says the 38-year-old
attorney-turned-entrepreneur. "It was an emotional
charge every day, and I feel like I'm using my education
and experience in an even more positive way."

Taylor created the Modern Woman's Divorce Guide, an
online portal that "empowers women going through
divorce," she explains. Taylor, who works out of her
home office, projects revenues of around $250,000
next year and is working to make her site "the leading
online resource for women who are separated,
divorced or facing divorce anywhere in the United
States."

But she takes issue with the idea that being a lawyer is
cooler than being an entrepreneur. "Being a trial
attorney, it's like putting together a puzzle, because a
case can have so many different pieces, and you have
to put them all together," she says. "But as a CEO, you
have to have your hands on everything in the company
and put the pieces of that puzzle together, and being a
lawyer has helped tremendously in doing that. But both
professions do have their own glamour associated with
them."

True, but the general public will never figure that out
until Hollywood does what entrepreneurs have been
clamoring for, for years: create a really good one-hour
drama about a crime-solving CEO who provides both
good customer service and nails the bad guy in the last
10 minutes.
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