Working In A JD Preferred Position: A Conversation With Nicole Tewolde ‘NDLS 15

2015 NDLS graduate, Nicole Tewolde, enjoyed her legal education but was beginning to have an inkling that a traditional lawyer job was not a great fit for her. Nicole’s story is a great reminder that you can do many different things with a law degree and can find a position that uses your unique skill-set in an environment that you will enjoy. You can go to law school and get a decent paying, intellectually stimulating non-lawyer job.

In January 2017, Nicole began her career as a Fraud-Risk Analyst at Braintree in Chicago, a job that is the perfect fit for her. She works from 6AM until 2PM, gets to work on interesting projects and use knowledge she gained in law school, wear whatever she wants to work, including her unique jewelry, and enjoy excellent benefits such as a matched 401(k) up to 4%, an office kitchen with catered lunches everyday, an office bar where employees are able to have cocktails and socialize after work, an arcade, beer pong table, and ping pong table.

I caught up with Nicole in her downtown Chicago office, which reminded me of a San Francisco start-up as soon as I walked in. The office is huge with an open floor plan and working spaces. If you have a meeting or need to work alone, there are meeting spaces available but offices are all located in a big co-working space to foster collaboration.

KM: Tell me about how you got your job here. What did that journey look like?

NT: I was working for a public interest organization after law school through the bridge to practice program. I liked the work and was passionate about the clients but the environment was not quite the right fit. I wanted to find a place to work where I could be myself and where the culture matched with my personality. I applied to tons of different jobs, both through networking and just by finding places online. I searched “good places for women to work in Chicago” and Braintree popped up.

KM: Did you know anyone working for Braintree or did you just apply for the job online and get an interview?

NT: I applied online for the job and got a phone interview. The interviewing process was both fun and challenging. After the phone interview, they brought me in for an in person interview, which lasted for about three hours because I met with several different people. While being interviewed, I understood that this was a different work environment, especially when I met with my manager. He was so fun and energetic and he genuinely wanted to make sure I found the right place for me.

KM: Before we jump into the details of your interview, can you tell me what Braintree does?

NT: Braintree is a payment processing company that is headquartered in Chicago and has offices in San Francisco, London, Sydney, and New York. Braintree processes all payments for several start-ups, including Uber, which we have processed payments for since they first started. We also process payments for companies such as airbnb, StubHub, Open Table, Casper mattresses, and task rabbit, among others.

KM: What does your daily work like like and what do you do for Braintree?

NT: I am on the Fraud and Risk team and I review transactions to look for signs of fraud. Currently, I work with companies in Asia and Australia and look at smaller daily batches of transactions because I am the newest member of the team.  So if any business in our APAC (Australia and Asia) region were to process less than 1000 dollars in a given day, I would review all the transactions processed that day and look for signs of fraud. Most of what I do involves monitoring and investigating merchants’ credit card processing activities using both internal and external risk monitoring tools. If I see, for instance, that a large amount of a merchant’s charges are being disputed and the credit card company is having to issue charge backs, that is something I will look into. I also answer merchant questions over email and by phone, contact customers to verify transactions, and complete risk investigations.

KM: Did you have experience doing this kind of thing before you applied for the job?

NT: Not at all. Fortunately for me, Braintree has an excellent training program and consistently hires people without specific experience in this industry. The payment processing world is pretty small so they know they have to go out of that world to get good candidates. So they focus on hiring good people and then training them. My first week, I did no work and spent that time exclusively learning all about the payment processing world and then as I got into the job, they started me on smaller projects until I felt comfortable.

Note from KM: I found a Braintree job posting after I spoke with Nicole and the very last sentence of the job posting stated “We know the confidence gap and imposter syndrome can get in the way of meeting spectacular candidates. Please don’t hesitate to apply.”

KM: Back to the interview, what kind of questions did you get asked since you didn’t have specific experience in the industry? Were the interviews mostly about assessing fit?

NT: My interviews were definitely about assessing fit but they asked me how my past experience in criminal defense would square with this position where I was trying to find fraud. The interviews were long and I was meeting with a lot of people but this was the first interview I had done in a long time where I did not feel like there was a huge gap between my experience and what they were looking for. Before this, I interviewed for a public interest lawyer job that wanted two years of experience and felt like throughout the interview, they were asking me if I had done things that I had not done. I just felt like I clearly didn’t have the experience they were looking for. This interview didn’t feel like that at all. Braintree invests in their employers and wants to train them so they just look to find good people. That was a great feeling.

KM: Where will your future take you with Braintree?

NT: I really like the Risk team and can see myself staying here for a long time. That said, Braintree invests in their employers and lets people move around. They even told me there was a possibility of moving to the General Counsel side of things in the future but I don’t think that is where my passion lies. In the past, people have moved from risk to sales and from operations to risk. There is a lot of room to grow and move within the company.

KM: You mentioned that you work from 6AM-2PM. Are you really in the office at 6 in the morning?

NT: No. I work from home from 6-8 and then spend the rest of the day in the office. Braintree allows flexibility in where you work and because members of our team have to start really early to respond to transactions in Australia, China, and all over the world so we can just work from home during those early hours. The office is really friendly to work/life balance generally. When I first interviewed, I spoke with my team lead on the phone because he was out on paternity leave. The office has a maternity room for nursing mothers. And we have catered lunch everyday. It’s a great place to work.

KM: Does your legal background help you succeed in this role?

NT: Absolutely. My work is mostly about issue spotting. I look at transactions and I can’t get too in the weeds. I have to use my gut to assess what looks fishy based on a large amount of information. Law school is all about learning how to sort through tons of information to find what is relevant. Indeed, my legal background impressed those who hired me and was a large reason I got an interview.

KM: What did your job search look like before Braintree?

NT: I graduated from NDLS without a job offer that I was excited about so I decided to work for six months at a public interest organization that I was excited about through Notre Dame’s bridge to practice program. That position was never intended to turn into a full time position so throughout those six months, I was networking and trying to build connections that would lead to my next job. I ended up getting several interviews in legal positions, including with the Illinois Office of the Appellate Defender, with a Cook County Judge, and a few other public interest opportunities but they didn’t work out, probably because law is not the best fit for me. I am thrilled with where I am now.

KM: What advice do you have for students who are worried about paying back their loans without a six figure salary?

NT: Indebtedness to any institution should not hold you back from an exploring an opportunity with which you are interested. While the first year of managing your finances may be difficult, I think students will be surprised with the job growth they’ll experience and how organizations will work their hardest to retain them once they see their value.

KM: Do you have any advice for students who are starting to think they want to search for positions outside of the law?

NT: Don’t ignore the red flags. The general sentiment I hear from friends who are frustrated with the practice of law is “I didn’t know it was always going to be like this.” Your job may feel like exams season for 6-7 months out of the year. If you feel like it is going to feel infinitely better once you get out of law school, sorry, but it probably won’t if you continue to stay the course. I wouldn’t recommend quitting law school if you’ve already completed most of your time, but I would say you should begin to start finding your own path if you know law isn’t for you. Learn more about yourself, go to therapy, take classes, volunteer – all of these experiences can help you learn more about what you need from your job.

I did a lot of introspection during my job search – What makes me happy? What am I best at? What value do I bring to a team dynamic? It wasn’t easy to start peeling away the idea I had built of myself during law school, but it’s important to learn what actually drives you. I learned a lot of things about myself during that time and was able to better understand what I needed from my future workplace. I’m someone who needs flexibility, appreciation, and support from my workplace. Unfortunately a collaborative, casual, supportive environment can be difficult to find but once you have a better understanding of your needs, you’ll be better able to find the right fit.

If you are starting to think that law practice is not for you and are interested in using your JD in another career path, get in touch with the CDO and we can talk you through some options, including a Risk Analyst role like Nicole’s. If you want to get connected with Nicole to learn more about her work at Braintree or pursuing a JD Preferred career, get in touch with me and I will send you her email.

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