Walking away from a family business comes with its own unique set of challenges and emotional dynamics. In this episode of Career Relaunch, Michael McEvoy shares his story of walking away from being a partner at a law firm, the same firm his father spent his entire career, to found his own public adjusting company. We discuss making time for those who matter in your life, the importance of following a path that makes you truly happy, the impact your career can have on the people in your life, and dealing with the judgements of others. During the Mental Fuel segment, I also explain how much your job satisfaction can affect your life outside of work.
Key Career Insights
- When you walk away from a career you spent years creating, people will have different reactions to your decision, some positive, some negative. As long as you’re doing it for the right reasons, you have to stay focused on the upside it provides you in your life regardless of what others think.
- Even when you’re an adult, the judgement of your parents can still have an impact on your career decisions.
- Your family’s wellbeing can and should be a factor in any major decision you’re making in your career. Inevitably, it involves trade-offs.
- Letting go of your professional identity is never easy. It forms so much of who you are, so it’s completely natural to feel a sense of loss when you step away from it.
- Even if you’re not happy in your job, reflecting on what drew you to that path to begin with can be very useful. Certain elements of your job may still make you happy and could be worth carrying over into the next chapter of your career
- What Color is Your Parachute is the book Mike referred to in our conversation that helped him uncover where his interests were. I actually read this myself after college, and to this day, the book has informed how I’ve navigated my own career pivots over the years.
During this episode’s Mental Fuel segment, I challenged listeners to think carefully about the bigger picture of your life beyond work–specifically, one area of your life outside of work that’s recently taken a hit because of your work. Then, to decide what change you’re going to commit to making to at least START undoing that damage. It may mean you will need to make some sort of decision that inevitably involves some sort of a tradeoff that allow you to have the life you want outside of work.
About Michael McEvoy
Mike McEvoy started his career as a licensed attorney in 2003, and spent the majority of his time with a large insurance defense firm in Los Angeles as an associate and then as a partner. Through his legal work, he discovered he had a passion for handling the damages side of wildfire litigation. He eventually walked from his career in 2015, unsure of what he was going to do next. After a lot of time and self-reflection, he found a new path as a public adjuster and business owner. In 2018, Mike founded Integral Adjusters, a public adjusting company, to help insurance policyholders protect their rights, navigate the insurance claim process, and maximize their benefits and financial recovery. Follow Mike on LinkedIn and Twitter.
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Episode Interview Transcript
Teaser (first ~15s): You have to put up your professional face when you’re in that situation, but when you bring it home, you’re living it again. It affected my wife and my son to the point where she said, ‘Look. We need to talk about this.’
Joseph: Good morning, Mike. Welcome to Career Relaunch. It is great to have you on the show.
Michael: Good morning, Joseph. Thank you.
Joseph: We are going to talk about a range of topics today, including the realities of being an attorney, the dynamics of turning down opportunities, and also a lot about family today, which I think is going to come up as a theme, especially the dynamics of being part of and leaving a family business and also the impact your own family has on your career choices. I was wondering if you could kick us off by just telling me what you’re focused on right now in your career and life at this moment.
Michael: Right now, I’m focused on my public adjusting business, which I started last year. Towards the end of the year, I formed a business Integral Adjusters and focused on public adjusting which is advocating on behalf of policy holders in property damage claims to maximize their benefits from their insurance company. That’s where my focus has been lately: just trying to build on that and develop rapport with my clients.
On the life front, just continuing to find that balance as things start to pick up with the business and taking it from there.
Joseph: I was also wondering if you could just give us a glimpse into your family. I know you’re married. Can you remind me how many kids you’ve got?
Michael: I’ve got the one son. He’s eight years old right now.
Joseph: Okay. I know that you haven’t always been the founder of Integral Adjusters, but you have been a licensed attorney since 2003. Could you take us all the way back in time to when you started off in your career at a Sacramento law firm? Then we can move forward from there. What were you doing at that time?
Michael: In 2003, I passed the bar, and I had been working at an insurance defense law firm in Sacramento as a law clerk. I continued to work there once I passed the bar as an attorney. Eventually, I wanted to move back to Southern California where I grew up.
An opportunity arose. My family is a family of lawyers. My dad’s a lawyer. My wife’s a lawyer. My brother’s a lawyer. My dad had been practicing since 1968 at the same firm. He said there was a position opening up and if I wanted to come down and work at the firm.
He’s actually in the Orange County office of this firm, and I was moving into Los Angeles. I decided to come down, and my wife found a job down here. That’s where I really developed my legal career, in Southern California at this firm.
Joseph: Can you just give a glimpse into what it’s like to be offered a role and then to join a business that was started by your father? Because I think you’re the first person on the show that we’ve had that has been part of a family business.
Michael: When you do join where you know your dad is working and where everybody knows that, ‘Okay. Well, he’s coming in and his dad has been here forever,’ there’s certainly a little bit of pressure to separate yourself and make a name for yourself, which is certainly what I wanted to do. I don’t want people to think, ‘Well, he’s only getting a paycheck because his dad is a senior partner here.’ Certainly, I wanted to find my niche and work my way through the ranks there.
Joseph: I know you were there for many years, and you eventually became partner in 2013. Can you remember the moment you became partner? If so, what was that like for you?
Michael: I didn’t know I was going to be named partner, but I remember I was having dinner at night here with my wife, and I got a call from one of the senior partners. At this firm, the senior partner is equivalent to an equity partner, and so they’re obviously the ones that are making the decisions.
I got the call, and he said, ‘We’re going to make you a partner.’ I was just overjoyed. I was really excited because that’s what I was working hard for, to advance my career, and I was going down the traditional path through the firm. With that comes also added pressure that, now, you’re going to be expected to bring in business. I saw it as more responsibility also.
Joseph: For those people out there who aren’t as familiar with the significance of becoming a partner in a firm, I know you mentioned that there’s additional responsibility, and I’m assuming there’s also the financial rewards to that, what’s the day-to-day significance in terms of your experience in your job of becoming a partner?
I know that it’s something that a lot of people aspire to do, and at the same time, we’ve had somebody on the show who had that dangled in front of her, and she wasn’t sure if that’s what she wanted. I’m just curious, what’s the significance of becoming a partner, and why do you think that’s so important to many people working in firms like this?
Michael: There are different levels of partnership. You come in as a junior associate, then you work your way up to maybe a senior associate and then partner, and then there’s equity partner which there’s very few of those typically. It’s just the next step, and the significance is that you’re now expected to try and move into the next step, which is you’re now expected to try and bring in your own business and manage your own files.
Joseph: It sounds like you’re on a really good track there at the firm. You’re advancing. You make partner. When did you start to realize you wanted to make a shift out of that firm?
Michael: I guess I should go back to what I was doing.
I found my so-called niche in Wildland Fire Litigation. I really enjoyed working on those cases. It’s very unique practice, and I think it’s been in the news a lot more, but I was certainly there starting with that in 2007 or 2008. I really enjoyed the work, and I developed an expertise in damages and really enjoyed that aspect of things. The other part of the firm’s practice—I mean this was just one little area—there was also personal injury and really the demands of the insurance companies.
What ended up happening was by 2014, the Wildfire Litigation work was starting to dry up in the firm. My son, in 2014, he got very sick. He had a fever of over 104. We didn’t know what was going on and basically ended up in an emergency room in a hospital for eight days while doctors try to figure what was wrong with him.
During that time, my wife and I were just scared about what this means. It was really to the point where they’re telling you all these tests, and they’re coming back, and it’s this very rare condition that he’s got. By the end of it, we’re learning that he’s going to need treatment for the rest of his life. That’s something that the realities of what’s important to you come in to play.
During that time there, eight days you’re away from your law firm, I was able to respond to calls and things like that, but there were certain demands and pressures where I saw requests that this still needs to get done, and you still need to get this out the door. Where are we on this type of reactions? I started to realize what’s important to me.
That played a role in how I started to feel about things. I was doing less of the wildfire litigation work and more of personal injury. Your listeners may not be aware, but it gets to be a real negative, argumentative in a lot of instances. It was that kind of starting to realize that, ‘Hey, there’s more out there. If I could focus on something that doesn’t bring the same kind of stress level…’ That was where things were, I guess, as I was going through this process.
Joseph: Before our recording, you had also mentioned to me that you weren’t feeling really happy for a number of reasons and that you were bringing some of that daily stress and anxiety home, which was affecting some of your relationships with your family. Can you describe what was happening with your home life? I know that you mentioned your son was sick, and that was something that was weighing on you. Was anything else happening?
Michael: Definitely. Stuff was happening at home where you’re constantly thinking about what you have to get done or what this person’s expecting or what the insurance company, how they cut your bill or how the other side reacted at the deposition. You have to put up your professional face when you’re in that situation, but when you bring it home, you’re living it again.
It affected my wife and my son to the point where she said, ‘Look, we need to talk about this. We’re just not on the same page here, and I feel like you’re not here. You’re sitting here at the dinner table, but you’re reactive and you’re not present for conversation.’ It was that kind of thing where you’re just so consumed by what the daily routine at the office is handing you and what may have happened that you have to hold back on your emotions in the professional setting. You just bottle it up.
It was starting to wear on me and my wife. When I look back, I was sick a lot physically. I look back, and I haven’t really been sick since I quit. I think physically and emotionally, it can really drain on you.
About a couple of months before I left, we had that conversation where it came down to ‘what do you want to do? What should we do?’ It came up that maybe it is time to step away, and that’s what we ended up doing.
Joseph: I know in 2015, again when we spoke before, there was a tipping point where you were at a conference and speaking about personal property damage. Can you just explain what opportunity came up at that moment and what that told you about your career and your future there at that firm?
Michael: I still was keeping up on the Wildfire cases and damages, and I participated in actually a Wildland Fire conference. I was asked to be a guest speaker, and so I spoke at the conference. Probably maybe within a month or two of my speaking engagement, I received a call from a potential client, a big potential client wanting to learn more about me and our practice. My expectation was, ‘This is great.’
Of course, I relayed that to the senior partners I work with. I soon learned that they had already talked with the potential client and had set up a meeting, and I was not invited to the meeting with this potential client. That was definitely my tipping point.
I can look back on it now, and I can just say, ‘That was the traditional way things were done.’ You go up the chain of command and who’s the most senior person, but that hurt, because I felt like that was my baby that I’ve been working on, and this was something that I thought was going to come in through me.
That kind of stuff matters when you’re working your way up through a firm and who’s bringing in the business. It was the last straw for me: that situation.
Joseph: You had your son get sick in 2014. Things we’re a little bit tough at home. You had this client opportunity where you were overlooked for the meeting. At what point did you decide that you wanted to resign, and how did you go about making that decision?
Michael: Four months before I decided to leave, one of the other senior partners, when I was in his office, was talking to me about, ‘Do you see yourself as a senior partner? You really got to think about that.’ Of course, you’re expected to say yes, but as I thought about it and looked at what these guys were doing and what their lives were like, do I want that? That literally was going through my head. I really realized that, no, I don’t. I just don’t see myself going down that traditional path.
My wife and I had a conversation. We realized we were going to have to make some changes to our spending habits, that it was going to be probably very difficult to make that decision and how it was going to impact my family, especially my dad and my mom, who were a part of that firm for 40-plus years.
I didn’t know how they were going to react. I don’t blame them. They did not want to see me leave the firm, and I think it was hard for them to understand that. That was the difficulty of going through that process. It felt good to make the decision, but then actually going through and giving your notice and then walking away, it was, ‘Okay, so now what?’
You spend so much time, energy, money on becoming an attorney and everything that that entailed and then to just step away from it. You realize that people are going to have different reactions to it. I mean, now, my parents, I think even in the first couple of months, they eventually realized, ‘Okay. Well look, he’s happier. Look at his relationship with our grandson and how things have really improved for them.’ Now, they’re really happy for me and what I’m doing with my business and where things have led.
Joseph: That’s really great to hear. I know that having gone through a couple of resignations myself, and because we talked about the idea of resigning so much on the show, I really feel like resigning from your job, it’s got to be one of the most, if not the most emotional things that you do in your career. It sounds like your parents, they eventually came around to the idea that this was good for you. I’m actually really curious, was there any fallout after you resigned from your family’s firm?
Michael: It was so hard to talk about it with them, because I just knew they were not onboard with it. At some point, they are your parents, and they are looking out for your best interest. They’re from a more traditional—I mean they didn’t do that in their day. My dad was with the same firm for 40 years. I can now understand. Looking back now, it’s easy to understand why they felt that way.
Even with some of my friends, they couldn’t understand it. They’re like, ‘What? Your wife’s going to be the only one earning? She’s going to be the breadwinner? What are you going to be? Are you retiring?’ that kind of attitude where you’re like, ‘No, dude. Come on. I’m not retiring. For the good of my own well-being and my family’s well-being, that’s why I did it.’
Joseph: How long was your transition, then, between resigning and then starting your new business?
Michael: It felt like a long transition. I think initially it was really just about getting away from it and just focusing on something different. During that first year, it was really about being there for my son, picking him up from school, taking him to go play.
Joseph: What was that like for you to be able to be there for him?
Michael: It was really great. I will always appreciate that initial time. I don’t know. It just opened up my eyes to so many different things when you step away and you really just focus on what’s going to make me happy right now: being there for my son, getting to go to his fieldtrips, or participating in his school activities with him. He was only in kindergarten at the time. I think that really helped us bond and build our relationship.
At the same time, people would ask me, ‘What do you do day-to-day? What do you do?’ That was always one of the questions that people would kind of, ‘How can you be at home? What are doing?’ Well, there’s lots of things you could do. You go and pick up a book or go down to the library. I would go to the library, and I ended up reading a really good book which, for your listeners, I found was helpful. It’s called What Color Is Your Parachute?
Joseph: Oh, yeah. I’ve read that. That was an excellent read.
Michael: I didn’t necessarily get through every part of the book or do every exercise, but I thought it was really helpful just to narrow down the things that matter to you. The exercises of what was important in this job, who are the people you like working with, those types of questions that you don’t normally think about or spend the time to think about, which helped me start to feel where my interests were.
Early on, I was thinking maybe I should become a teacher. Everything starts coming into your head. I took meteorology in college, and I really enjoyed watching the weather channel, which everybody thought I was a weather nerd and ‘what a dork for doing that.’ Everything is on the table.
It really developed organically where it was, ‘Okay, I like doing the damages. I like helping people. I like analyzing things using my critical thinking skills and organizing information.’ That’s when I started to look at being a public adjuster. What that involved was getting licensed, taking a test, applying, and so that’s eventually where I ended up going.
Before I did that, I talked to people, which I think is important – to reach out to people you either know who are connected to something that you’re interested in. That’s what I started doing: reaching out to colleagues, friends, other experts in different fields that I had worked with. You start to build a network. You can find people who are going to be supportive and points you down a path to help you.
Joseph: It sounds like there was some real upside to having a little bit of time and space to step away from your work, because it gave you a lot of opportunity to gain some clarity on what you wanted to do. Was there anything that was especially tough or challenging about the transition?
Michael: I think early on that was when it was the toughest. It was the transition from your identity as a lawyer or as your profession to now that isn’t there. I think, for me, I was so consumed with it that that’s who I was. I was a lawyer, and this is what you do. You work late hours. You work long billable hours. You’re stressed. That’s just the way it is. Stepping away from that, you realize there’s a whole other world out there.
Initially, it was you’re walking the dog and you bump into somebody you know. It’s, ‘Why aren’t you at work? What’s going on?’
Joseph: I think you said you bumped into your mom’s friend or something when you were walking.
Michael: It was probably two or three months into my transition, walking away. I just ran into her in town. It seems silly now, but she said, ‘Oh, what are you doing here?’ I said, ‘Oh, I’m just hanging out.’ I don’t know why I said that. I was going to lunch with somebody, but it was just, at least for me, that was one of the things that I had to get over: being concerned of what other people think and just moving on and seeing the bigger picture, that there’s more to life than just this career.
Joseph: I think that sometimes people struggle with what to do with people who have a little bit of idle time or who aren’t fitting in to the traditional nine-to-five or nine-to-six or nine-to-whatever work lifestyle. I thought it was interesting what you were mentioning before about spending some time with your son.
I think when you and I spoke before, I mentioned to you that I look after my daughter who is about 17 months old on Tuesdays. I’ll go to events with her or music class with her, and I’ve actually been asked by mostly mothers at these events who I think are trying to figure out what I’m doing there or how was it that I’m there. They’re just not quite sure what to make of me. I think maybe people are a little bit confused when they see others who are not working.
You mentioned the big picture, Mike, and I’d love to just wrap up by talking about some of the things that you’ve learned along the way of your career path. The first thing I’m curious about, because I know that you’re now running your own company, what are some of the things you’re able to do now that you weren’t able to do before?
Michael: What I have more of right now is being able to continue to work on this business, but at the same time having that balance to be there for my son and pick him up from school and take him golfing or take him to play at the park. That, for me, is really important. I found that that really is important. I want to maintain that.
Right now, I’m in a position where the business is just getting started. I have a couple of clients. As things grow or develop, I feel confident that I can figure this stuff out. I think, when I left the firm, I didn’t know that I could even go down this path or I could be a business owner or I could put my name out there. When you’re in a certain environment, that’s all you know. Getting out of that circle and talking to people and getting advice, and then I spent a lot of time in the library, just picking up books and reading about how do I form an LLC, just the basics doing the business, before, I wouldn’t have the confidence to do that.
I think if you put your mind to it and really just focus on the things that are going to make you happy—I was very lucky with having my wife work. We’re in a position where I could step away as long as I did to figure my own path out. I appreciate that she’s been willing to do that. Not everybody’s going to have that opportunity, but I think if you can at least step away for a little while or just really think about what you enjoy about the job you’re doing and find the aspects that make you happy, as you went down that path for a reason, if there’s something there, you can turn it into something else.
For me, it’s now coming full circle, because I’ve now been contacted by, just recently, some of the previous client who I’m now going to work with again more on a legal consulting basis. What surprises me is just how naturally things fall into place when you open yourself up to new ideas and new ways of thinking.
Joseph: When you look back on this whole journey of starting off in a family business, then leaving that business behind, having a lengthy transition, starting your own business, what’s something that you wish you had known that you now know?
Michael: I guess it was the people questioning your decision. I wish I could tell myself, ‘Don’t take it so personally,’ because that’s what can hurt. It’s when you don’t have the support from people you might expect it from. I’m able to now say, ‘There was a reason for that.’ This was the firm that allowed my family to become successful and my dad and mom to have the lives that they had.
Of course, they’re going to think this is a crazy move on my part to just leave. You have to take everything in perspective and be aware that the people that are maybe questioning the decision, they’ve got a different background. They’ve got a reason for feeling that way. That would be my one ‘I wish I had known that,’ because I think it would have made for a little bit easier transition.
Joseph: That makes a lot of sense. I mean it’s so hard to just completely dismiss the views and opinions of people who matter to you. I just found it to be easier said than done, but if you can do it, it definitely allows you to move forward with a little bit less suffering, I think.
Michael: That’s a good way of putting it.
Joseph: Final question for you. Having been through this career transition, what’s one thing that you’ve learned about yourself?
Michael: Being unhappy in my job was preventing me from enjoying everything else. It’s really important to focus on really what brings you happiness or joy, I guess. Not everybody can do that, but I think that that’s important to me.
Joseph: I think that’s a really great way to leave our discussion today, because I do think that it’s important to do work that does bring you joy and that it really does have an impact on the rest of your life. By trying to find work that you find more meaningful, it actually does a service to the rest of your life too.
With that in mind, it sounds like you are enjoying the new chapter in your career with the work that you’re doing there in public adjusting. Where can people go if they want to learn more about the public adjusting company that you founded and the work that you’re doing right now?
Michael: They can go to IntegralAdjusters.com, or they can find me on LinkedIn.
Joseph: All right, Mike. Thank you so much for telling us more about your former life as an attorney and some of the motivations behind your transitions, and most of all, how you found your way. I appreciate you sharing all the personal details along the way. I just wanted to wish you the best of luck with your work there at Integral Adjusters.
Michael: Thanks a lot, Joseph.