Wela Quan is an author and legal cartoonist. Formerly a corporate lawyer in both Toronto and New York City, she left practice to realize her dream of becoming a writer by authoring, illustrating and self-publishing the New York Bar Picture Book a visual study outline for the New York state bar exam. She is the creator of www.nybarpicturebook.com and the in-house doodler for www.quimbee.com.
Let’s start with the basics. Did you always imagine yourself going to law school?
Yes, I always knew I was going to go to law school though it was never to become a lawyer. The degree was always going to be a way for me to get the credentials I needed to go into foreign affairs. I thought I would become a diplomat or work for the UN.
What did the journey from big law to your lawfully uncommon career look like?
The journey was really unclear. I had no idea what I was doing (and still kind of don't haha!). All I knew was that I wanted to write my picture book and so I quit with the intention of writing the book and figuring out what to do after the book was written. It took me all together about 10 months of full time writing to get my book done. After that I took on consulting work to pay the bills and have been juggling paid work with my writing ever since.
What got your juices flowing or tickled your fancy while at law school?
Professor Jukier's contracts class. I thoroughly enjoyed learning from her and she really piqued my interest in contracts. My law friends and I still talk about "two ships passing in the night". She doesn't know this but I actually drew the Peerless ships in my picture book as an homage to her.
What made your blood boil or made you snooze while at law school?
Legalese made my blood boil and still does which is why I am trying to fight it with my comics. I don't get bored easily so nothing made me snooze. If a class was boring there was always wasting time on the internet instead of paying attention...
Do you still see law all around you?
Yea. It's why I write about it and draw it.
You are at a coffee house speaking to a first-year law student. What advice would you give them?
Few things in life are free so drink up me hearties! Also to try everything. I literally did everything I could under the sun at law school including clerkship, clinic, law journal, paid research work, etc. I think the more exposure the better so you can figure out what sort of legal career you want. I always knew I wouldn't be a practicing lawyer post graduation but I am happy I got to experience the gamut of working in different kinds of law jobs so that I could be certain it wasn't for me.
What does a day in THE Life OF WELA look like? Give us the rundown!
Not that exciting to be honest because it's normally just me in my home office in-front of my computer. I really need the quiet space to do my creative work so working from home suits me the best and I am at my peak when there's no one around. Sometimes I go days without leaving my apartment and my partner has to remind me to go outside for some fresh air.
If you were given the blessing and curse of an extra hour every day to do whatever you wanted, what would it be?
Assuming I still had enough energy to use that hour effectively I would dedicate it to learning something I can do with my hands. All of my work is so cerebral that I feel like if the apocalypse comes all of the skills I have would be utterly useless. I took up knitting a couple years back but I don't really see how that would be useful. Maybe I would learn to identify edible herbs or learn to build a shelter. Realistically though I would probably just end up sleeping another hour if I had it!
Any regrets? (Yeah, we are retrospective like that).
Not taking the job at Hooters in Singapore when the manager offered it to me. I was just minding my own business eating chicken wings when she said "how would you like to work at Hooters" and I was like "what?!"
At the time I was only 20 and I was completely taken aback by the offer. I would never in a million years even remotely considered the taking the job. I always took myself so seriously.
Now I feel like it would've been interesting to have taken the job even for a week just to experience what that's like. Now I'll never know because that ship has sailed!
Also it would've made for an interesting item on my resume. A McGill Law Journal editor who worked at Hooters? You'd want to meet her wouldn't you?
Have an alternative legal career story you'd like to share?
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