Michelle is a lawyer who has never practiced law but has found her legal education handy in her career as an entrepreneur. She has designed greeting cards for Chelleline Cards, a greeting card and stationery company that she started before law school, sold Soviet vintage on Etsy, and most recently, founded The Rad Dad Box, a subscription box for new dads and their children. She also illustrates in her spare time, most notably for her series of parenting comics, Milk Rice Comics.
Q. Could you please tell us a little bit about yourself and your life at law school? What extra-curricular and co-curricular activities were you involved in?
I wasn’t involved with many extra- or co-curricular activities in law school, mainly because I was either working or interning during my studies. I had lived and worked in New York for a few years prior to attending law school there, so I didn’t feel as strong of a need to socialize and meet new people as some of my classmates might have felt. I was mostly studying or working during that time.
Q. Your designs have been featured in many publications including TimeOut New York, Uppercase Magazine, and Stationery Trends, amongst others. As a law student, did it appear to you at any point that you would venture into another profession, aside from the Law profession? Where do you draw the inspiration for your work from?
In all honesty, I always had a “Plan B”, even before going to law school. I actually had applied to Ph.D. programs in English at the same time as law school, and I chose law school because it seemed like the “safe” option, with a higher likelihood of finding a stable job. I was very nervous about starting law school and felt that that decision was going against all of my instincts. When I started working on the greeting cards the summer before law school, I did not think about turning it into a career, but the idea that I might pursue a different career was always there from the very beginning.
With Chelleline Cards, I drew my inspiration from a variety of sources: fairy tales, childhood memories, scenes from everyday life. It was a very enjoyable and fulfilling process!
I also want to add here that I actually put Chelleline Cards on hiatus in 2016, when my first child was born. I took a self-imposed maternity leave to figure out where I wanted to go with the business, and ended up starting a new business: The Rad Dad Box!
Q. What was the transition from a law graduate to something as unconventional as illustration like? What factors did you take into consideration while making the switch?
I think the transition was easier for me than for other lawyers who had been practicing for a while. I actually did not have a job when I graduated in 2010, in spite of having a relatively high GPA at a reputable NYC law school. I spent that first year after graduation working for a law professor at my school, and then my boyfriend (now husband) found a job in Montreal, so we moved there together and got married. Since I couldn’t practice law in Montreal, I decided to switch to the greeting card business full-time.
Q. What were some of the challenges that you faced as a part of the process of making such an unconventional career switch from the legal field and how did you overcome them? Looking back, do you think you would want to have done anything differently?
In the beginning with Chelleline Cards, I really needed validation from other people and would be very upset if someone made a disparaging remark or otherwise indicated that they didn’t believe in me or thought the card business was a pipe dream. To counter these negative feelings, I would make notes whenever someone complimented me and compiled all the nice comments in a Word file on my computer to read whenever I felt upset. That helped a lot.
With The Rad Dad Box, the hardest part at the beginning was getting the sales. Even though I had experience in business from Chelleline Cards, many of those skills couldn’t be applied to the subscription box, so it was like starting over from scratch. I literally made 10 sales in the first two months of starting the business. It was very discouraging. When I got my first six month subscriber, I told myself, “Okay, let’s give this six months and see what happens.” Six months later, we were shipping over 100 boxes!
I can’t say there’s much I would have done differently with Chelleline Cards. I wish that some of the online wholesale platforms that currently exist had been around when I was working on Chelleline Cards full-time – it would have made my job a lot easier! Maybe it would have been better to also focus on direct business-to-customer sales (it was primarily a B2B business, where I was selling to brick and mortar stores). Ultimately, handmade was just not scalable.
With the Rad Dad Box, there’s plenty of things I would have done differently. First, I would not have spent so much money on Facebook Ads in the beginning. I also would have chosen to work with experienced wholesale partners who knew what they were doing. I would not have invested so much money into inventory at the start (I did eventually sell everything, that’s the benefit of selling non-perishable items!).
Q. Has your legal background helped you in anyway in your current professional journey? Are there any unexpected skills that you brought in from law school to your career today?
Yes, my legal background has helped me a lot! Most notably, when I first filed for a trademark for “The Rad Dad Box”, I was rejected! Rather than spending thousands of dollars on a trademark attorney to help me challenge it, I used my legal skills (which I had paid over a hundred thousand dollars for) to figure out why I was rejected and to amend my application. The trademark was approved the second time! I also have drafted contracts for the business, and have used my legal knowledge to get a negative customer review taken down. There are many more instances where my legal education has come in handy in business, but these are just a few.
Q. Could you tell us a little bit about your ventures ‘Chelleline Cards’, and the ‘Rad Dad Box’? What would a typical day in your life look like?
When I was working on Chelleline Cards, a typical day would involve me working on orders and client contact. When we were living in Montreal, I would also spend one week per month visiting stores in Montreal and taking orders. I also would spend a week working on new ideas or illustration projects.
With The Rad Dad Box, I actually have never had the opportunity to work on this venture full-time, as in 5 days a week, 8 hours a day. I’ve always been juggling this business with children, which means that I usually work during their naps or after they’ve gone to bed. When my first child was younger and before he went to school, we had a babysitter who would watch him two days a week, which gave me more free time. A typical “day” usually involves a lot of customer communication, checking for new orders and sending off instructions to my warehouse team, PomCo Fulfillment, to pack and ship them, and curating for the next month’s box. I would love to spend more time on marketing, research, and business growth strategies, but due to my situation, I am limited at the moment as to what I am actually able to accomplish.
Q. Most of our readers are students of the law or are law graduates. What advice do you have for those who want to take up a career based on their passion but feel limited to the conventional career options in the legal field?
One night, post-law school, during the time when I was working for my law professor, I went to a Chinese restaurant. At the end of the meal, I received a fortune cookie. The message inside said, “Whatever you want to do, do it. There are only so many tomorrows.”
I feel that this has been a guiding principle for me in the years since law school. If you’ve decided you don’t want to practice law, and you have an idea of what you’d like to do, you should do it. Many people – namely, parents – may tell you that you spent a lot of time and money on your legal education and you need to “use your degree.” However, as I mentioned earlier, you’ll find that a legal education is useful, no matter what you do, and even if you don’t practice law, you will use your degree. All education is useful, whether or not you end up pursuing a career in it.
I will add, though, that if you want to work in the legal field for a few years, that’s totally fine. You probably will save a lot of money, which you can then invest into your business venture (or it can be used as a cushion if you go into an alternative career that pays less).
Find out more about Michelle Lin –
- Website: https://raddadbox.com
- Instagram: Instagram.com/raddadbox ; Instagram.com/milkricecomics
- Chelleline Cards: chelleline.com
Disclaimer – All views and opinions expressed in this interview are personal and belong solely to the interviewee(s) and do not necessarily represent those of the LAABh Foundation or the individuals and institutions associated with LAABh Foundation.