Emily Bonds Davey
Visiting Assistant Professor of Law and Director of the Externship Program
Cumberland School of Law
Emily Bonds Davey is a visiting assistant professor of law and director of the Externship Program at Cumberland School of Law. She teaches contracts and an externship seminar.
She earned a B.A. in political science from Jacksonville State University (1987) and a J.D. from the University of Alabama School of Law (1990). She was a senior editor for the Alabama Law Review, a Hugo Black Scholar, and received several Best Paper awards.
For over 30 years, I practiced law with civil defense firms. My last firm was Jones Walker LLP, based out of New Orleans and with a small office in Birmingham, Alabama, where I was located. I was fortunate to work in all types of litigation during my career. I spent a lot of my time defending professionals, mainly insurance agents and brokers. I enjoyed that work because of the personal interaction I had with my clients, who were real people with real problems. After all that time, though, I made the leap to a completely different career. I took a position teaching at Cumberland School of Law, here in Birmingham and part of Samford University. I am teaching first year law students the law of contracts. I am also directing our Externship Program, where students obtain class credit for working outside the classroom. The Externship Program includes a graded seminar where I teach lawyering to students, including the timely topics of billing, networking, and professional development. My position as director of the Externship Program allows me to continue my professional contacts in law, as I am developing opportunities for our students to extern with law firms, non-profits, judges, and government agencies.
My change in career at this late date has led me to think upon what advice I would give you if you were thinking about a change in your career.
My first piece of advice is to listen to your gut when it is telling you to do something different. In my case, I did not hate my job. It provided me with a good income, and I think I was pretty good at it. I genuinely loved the people that were in my firm. However, I always felt a twinge of something special when I would teach a seminar or judge a mock trial competition. I felt energized when I would do those things. I thought I had helped someone. I enjoyed telling others about things that I knew. I ignored those twinges for a long time.
My second piece of advice is to seek opportunities to try, without a full-time commitment, the new career that you desire. My part-time opportunity came in the Spring of 2021 when I was asked to be an adjunct professor here at Cumberland School of Law. I wish I could say that I strategically considered and implemented this strategy. I didn’t. Instead, the adjunct opportunity completely fell into my lap. To my credit, though, I had previously expressed interest in teaching and had taken the opportunity to be a guest speaker and a trial and mediation judge here at the law school. Those experiences put me in a position to be considered for the adjunct faculty position which then led to an opportunity to go full-time in teaching. The adjunct position was the perfect way to get my feet wet in a new career without fully giving up my career.
My third piece of advice is something I emphasize to my students now – take any new opportunity and make the most of it. Do your best work and care about what you are doing. Express enthusiasm about the new opportunity. By doing so, you set the stage for future opportunities. Additionally, take a careful look at the new opportunity you have and ask yourself these simple questions: Are you passionate about it? Does it energize you? Can you see yourself doing it day in and day out? The old-fashioned list of pros and cons is worth doing.
Fourth, while it is easy to say that “money isn’t everything,” you must take into consideration that money is something. It is part of the equation when you decide to make a career change. We all need money to live and support our families. The question I dealt with was whether I really needed all the things that my salary purchased to be happy. I determined that I was willing to forgo some things to have a more balanced life. So, yes, I took a pay cut to teach, but I got a lot in return. Those things, like more time and less stress, were worth it to me.
In sum, I want to encourage you as you explore new career opportunities. You have options, especially in mid-life to re-evaluate your career. I’m happy to help you in this exploration. Please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.