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    Wednesday
    May042011

    On Russian Encyclopedias, Zionist Book Coaches, and Dutch Entrepreneurs

    In a way, I have been moving towards writing this book my whole life. Here are the milestones in the process:

    My first book

    I fell in love with reading, and with books, when I was five. I was an only child, and did not even have a dog back then - so I had a lot of time on my hands. 

    I wrote my first book when I was six. It was an encyclopedia, in Russian, of course. I took a brand new notebook, and labeled each page, on top, with each one of 33-minus-letters-that-are-not-used-to-start-words letters of the Russian alphabet (learn more about it here). Probably sitting on the floor, with my tongue sticking out to the side (a sign of diligence), I started filling out the pages. 

    I don't remember exactly what I wrote in there, I think there was a lot of different animal names, with definitions and descriptions (you should try writing an encyclopedia entry on "cow" - it's harder than you think!) I do remember my mother being very amused, and showing it to other people.

    I mentioned this masterpiece of mine to my 1st grade teacher, Nataliya Alekseevna, and she asked to borrow it. We have not seen it since - Nataliya Alekseevna said she'd misplaced it. To this day, my mother is convinced she stole my encyclopedia (my mother, obviously, is a little biased!)

    Ever since then, I wanted to write another book. To make up for the loss. 

    Mr. Amsterdam

    In 2008, I fell in love with 2 meter tall blond Dutch man who lived on a canal in center of Amsterdam and whom I met on the street in front of his house, while traveling with my mother in honor of her 50th birthday. Yes, that's a true story. 

    Mr. Amsterdam was an entrepreneur who guided long-term unemployed people back into the workforce (the Dutch unemployed receive enough money to sustain a lower-middle-class standard of living, with no expiration date on their benefits. Thus, the number of people who re-enter the workforce is very, very low. He, however, had a great success rate.)

    At this time in my life, I was frustrated by the tanked economy. I was angry at my former law school for not doing anything to help people find jobs. I was paralyzed by law school debt. I was brainstorming on a career path that would provide more money and room for creativity than a standard "1st year associate in an insurance defense firm" track. 

    I had no work, no money, no startup capital, and no business experience. But I was so angry about the people who could not find work! Other people, not myself... I desperately wanted to do something, to help somehow, but didn't know what. I had no idea what. So, for lack of a better description of my frustration, I called this my "company." 

    So I lived in my transatlantic relationship.. daily phone calls, taking into account the 9 hour time difference... frequent back and forth flights.. a trial move to Amsterdam... all these crazy things we tried, to work things out, to solve the puzzle. 

    The majority of our time together was consumed by work on my company, which had no clients, no employees, no capital, no office - reading every business book I could find, talking, debating, learning about his successful company that was already doing what I wanted to do, just with a different population, practicing yoga and meditating, drawing business plans on giant rolls of paper, stretched across meters and meters of hardwood floor, imagining my future employees and debating what benefits I must offer them... It was insane, but I had to do it, I felt I had no choice. 

    This was my first exposure to what I like to call "life through work, work as life" approach, so antagonistic to the American 9-5, where "life" doesn't start until "work" ends... I became hooked. But that's besides the point. 

    As time went on, things began moving, no longer standing still. I filled in more and more gaps in my company's business plan; the transatlantic relationship was harder and harder to maintain; I was going more and more broke. In other words, things were changing. 

    One day, by a complete accident, I landed my first freelance gig (I write about that in my book). Suddenly, Modlin Legal had it's first client. I had work, and was making some money. I even had a little work to offer to my former classmates, who couldn't find work! And I could treat them, and myself, in line with the principals that I had thought about in Amsterdam.. In other words, Modlin Legal the freelance law firm, the "We Do The Work You Have No Time For" firm, had taken off. I was doing it - it was as if I was riding a bike, on my own, for the first time. 

    So it goes, as Mr. Vonnegut would have said. 

    Joel Orr

    A few years after Mr. Amsterdam, a few years after freelancing, and business plan writing, I converted the freelance firm into the wills and trusts firm Modlin Legal is today. And began growing it through networking. 

    I met Joel sometime during the summer of 2010, in a business networking group. Over coffee, I learned that Joel is an American-Jew-Zionist-raised-in-Argentina-scientist-academic-turned-book-coach-who-proposed-to-his-ex-girlfriend-of-30-years-earlier-over-the-phone-and-moved-cross-country kind of guy. Or something like that. 

    I'm sure I've screwed up parts of his biography (you can learn about him here), but for my purposes, they are not important (Sorry Joel!). The point is that he was very interesting (I LOVE people with weird life stories!), we had a great connection (I think we discussed WWII - strangely, one of my favorite topics...), and, as his n-th career, he helped people write books. I wanted to write a book - but didn't know how, or about what!  

    As our meeting was coming to the end, Joel gave me a gift - a little paperback, written by him, that outlined the entire book writing process, start to finish. I read it that evening. 

    Santa Clara University School Of Law

    In August 2010 I emailed SCU Law Career Services, asking for some resumes to consider for a position in my firm - I was ready to hire someone. I received no reply, and soon forgot about my inquiry. 

    Then, in early October 2010, in the middle of the night, one of the people in SCU Law career services emailed me, apologizing for the tragic misplacement of my email. Their assistant dean was CC'd. And here is what the dean said:

    "Perhaps your message got buried in the mix of orientation emails, but the timing is perfect for me.  Our office would like to organize a program for new attorneys about going solo on December 3, 2010.  Now would be a perfect time to start talking about it." 

    This was an invitation to speak in front of 50+ attorneys. For an hour. My reply was something like this: "I am very flattered by the invitation. I would like to talk about freelance lawyering, which is what I did before I started my wills & trusts firm."

    She loved the idea, and I began outlining my talk. In one day: I wrote the talk outline, I filled in the details, a book outline emerged, and I called Joel Orr.

    Unlike back then in Amsterdam, now I actually knew how to help people find jobs, and I was ready to do it. I had to write this book. 

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