The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

SMU students gather around a bucket of markers to write an encouraging note to put in “Welcome to the Shelter” kits at event in mid-April on SMU’s campus.
Dallas homeless recovery center, The Bridge, is a home
Morgan Shiver, Contributor • June 20, 2024

Leaving “The Dream” Behind

Former Washington Lawyer Drops His Legal Career in Hopes of Making it as a Writer

(Name withheld) Khan (Photo by Kian Hervey)

EDITOR’S NOTE: First name of source withheld at source’s request. May 11, 2015


He knew he didn’t want to be a corporate lawyer even before he accepted the job. He went to law school to help people, not worry about billing hours to affluent clients. But he took the job anyway, putting his 20-plus years of schooling to work. For months he grappled with the personal decision, but finally realized he wanted out.

Law Firm Blues

(Name withheld) Khan, 26, genuinely wanted to leave his job as well-paid associate at a Washington law firm and become a humble wage-earning journalist. “If I didn’t do it, five years down the line, 10 years down the line, I’d have major regrets. I felt there’s something very tangible that I’d much rather be doing- which is writing.”

Khan floated in the associate pool from partner to partner day-in and day-out. His employee contract noted a 40-hour workweek, but if he was completing a tedious research or writing assignment, he wouldn’t leave the office until 8 p.m. While some of his co-workers enjoyed the legal chase and hunt, Khan felt the dealings too narrow minded and based in greed. Staying at the firm for a few years could have easily made his college debt disappear, but Khan knew his contentment would be gone too. He wanted to be a writer, engage in public dialogue, and create stories.

He wanted to quit.

Coming Clean

Khan told his fiancee, Zara Najam, 25, first. The two met years before when Khan was an undergraduate at the University of Texas Austin. He would graduate a year before her, but they kept in touch as he finished his bachelor’s degree in finance and then went to the University of California-Berkley for law.

While Khan was in his third year, Zara was working toward her own juris doctorate from Baylor University. She knew that Khan’s interest in writing would outweigh his interest in law after he got wrapped up in a writing course required for his degree. “He’s not a talker. It takes him a while to warm up, but fiction writing, novels, articles in magazine, politics, that’s his thing.”

She kept nudging him to go with it, start a blog and just write, but he never did. They graduated, got engaged and employed. She ended up content at a law firm in Turtle Creek; he ended up in a rut in D.C. She wasn’t surprised when Khan wanted to give law up; just shocked he was taking the plunge. Supporting him through the transition would require a lot of faith.

“I’ve had to trust him and to let him have that time to invest in his writing. I don’t know if there is a time limit or if you can put a time limit on these types of things, but he understands he has a reasonable amount of time to work on it.” Zara’s initial and constant support gave him the courage he needed to tell his parents.

Telling His Parents

Khan’s mother was more open to the idea than his father. “It’s a dying industry. You can’t necessarily rely on that right now. It’ll take a while for things to settle down, before there’s stability,” his father said. Though his parents, immigrants from Pakistan and India, never placed overwhelming pressure on Khan, his Plano upbringing fostered a legal career. Education and opportunity were always emphasized in his home and he was raised under the mentality that “you want your kids to succeed, to make a decent salary, a good profession and have a stable risk-free life.” Journalism wasn’t any of that.

His parents came around in November, more months into Khan’s time at the firm. He found courage and support in his close circle, but couldn’t find a partner to tell of his upcoming resignation. He finally settled on a recruiter, the one who brought him into the firm, and asked about leaving his position. He was given a name, a partner, and later that day, gave his final notice.

His final two weeks turned into almost a month of exiting labor. He was back home in Dallas by December, jobless and not practicing law–until he heard about an internship at D Magazine. The job was unpaid, 12 hours a week and the farthest thing from his former corporate life. Khan felt a position at D, a Dallas publication he was still familiar with after years away in California and D.C., would teach him the ins and outs of the publishing world. He was ready to get his creative juices flowing.

A Chance at D Magazine

Krista Nightengale, managing editor at D Magazine, sees dozens of applications flood the St. Paul Street office for a limited number of internships every semester. But when she came across Khan’s application in the editorial intern pile, she stopped and quickly scooped him up. “He was a lawyer who wanted to make this change. If you have someone who is in an established career and is willing to make such a big change, then they aren’t messing around.”

Khan got to work in late January, reviewing Nicholas Sparks’ film Safe Haven, describing local health care professionals, and blogging about when fact checking goes wrong. His writing style is witty, very tongue-in-cheek, and dances around the edge of taking it too far without ever going over. “Pickens has made the unlikely jump from glorified geologist to Dallas’ biggest rock star [and] as befits a celebrity, the man’s every mundane move seizes headlines,” Khan wrote, recapping Oilman T. Boone Pickens’ appearance at a Rotary Club of Dallas meeting. Nightengale describes Khan’s writing as “rocket ships and unicorns,” always “relevant and interesting.”  She candidly admitted her original fear in hiring him was that he just might steal her job.

But Khan’s plans for the future don’t necessarily include any magazine takeovers. His primary focus following the end of his internship is writing a novel, piecing together long-prose ideas he’s accumulated over time. Fellow D Magazine intern Christina Colavecchia says he’s always pitching ideas that grab ahold in the office. If he wants to write a book, Colavecchia thinks Khan will eventually see his publishing goal come true.

“It takes a lot to be a writer, but I think he has what it takes to go far. He is just that talented.”

For now, he’s still just an intern.


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