Legal Career Paths: From BigLaw to Entrepreneur and Founder of Effie’s Paper was originally published on Firsthand.
Kalyn Johnson Chandler is the founder and creative force behind the signature paperie, Effie’s Paper :: Stationery & Whatnot. Following a ten-year legal career as an environmental transactional lawyer at Jones Day, Kalyn returned to her first love, fashion, in 2007. She launched STYLE by Kalyn Johnson, a style consultancy focused on personal branding for men and women in the corporate arena. Her client roster consisted of television news anchors, attorneys, physicians, and other professionals. Now, a self-taught graphic designer, she’s extended her intrinsic fashion sense into a distinct lifestyle brand focusing on desk accessories and travel products, named after her grandmother, Mrs. Effie Hayes, that features her signature design aesthetic of bright colors, bold designs, and witty “bon mots”.
Kalyn is also a co-author of the cult classic, The BAP Handbook :: The Official Guide to the Black American Princess, and she’s an alum of The Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business Program. Kalyn lives in New York City with her husband and holds a BA in English and a Juris Doctor from the University of Michigan and an MA in Public Policy Studies from the University of Chicago.
Vault spoke with Kalyn about her path from law school to Effie’s Paper, her work as an entrepreneur and creative professional, and her advice for aspiring entrepreneurs. Read on for the interview.
Vault: Why did you initially decide to go to law school?
Kalyn: I was attending the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago studying education policy when I decided that going to law school to complement my policy degree might be a good idea. I originally took the LSAT hoping to get accepted at the University of Chicago, but instead, I ended up at my alma mater, the University of Michigan.
Vault: Can you share your path from law school to where you are today?
Kalyn: After law school, I moved to Chicago and started practicing environmental transactional law at Jones Day. I decided to practice for a few years to “learn” how to be lawyer; my initial plan was to segue from law to the policy world. But you know what they say about the best laid plans… I moved to New York, did a short stint at Dewey Ballantine [another law firm], and then ended up at Jones Day in New York. I’ve always loved fashion and style; at the firm, I was the friend everyone came to when they needed to buy an outfit for a special event. So, I started styling friends on the weekend for fun. When I left the firm, I started a styling business for busy professionals. But as much as I loved style and fashion, I didn’t love doing it for a living. I dreamed about selling a widget online that could sell itself while I slept. I chose stationery; yes, an antiquated widget! But I chose it nonetheless. And here we are many years later—what started off as a personalized stationery company is now a lifestyle accessories company.
Vault: What are some of your typical duties in your current role as the Chief Creative Officer of Effie’s Paper?
Kalyn: My hand is in everything. We’re a small business in the process of scaling, which means that for now, I’m the CEO and the CCO. I never have the same day twice! But generally, my days consist of meeting and negotiating with vendors and potential vendors, designing product, overseeing our various marketing efforts, and managing our various retail and wholesale channels and partnerships.
Vault: What would surprise most people about your current job?
Kalyn: The amount of time and energy spent on social media marketing, particularly this past year. I have a love-hate relationship with social media. Social media is great because it’s free advertising and lends itself well to pretty product photos, which is perfect for a brand like Effie’s Paper. But it’s hard, because creating fresh content daily—sometimes two or three times a day, with ever-changing platforms—takes a team of people and a fountain of creativity.
Vault: What types of skills and training are most important for someone aspiring to work as a graphic designer and/or to launch their own small business?
Kalyn: Practicing law at a large law firm was great training for entrepreneurship. I learned discipline, how to work independently as part of a team, how to manage client expectations and relationships, and how to manage a team. I use these skills every day. Moreover, as a self-taught graphic designer, the discipline my law firm training instilled is what l used to sit down at my computer for eight hours, every day for a month, to teach myself the basics of the Adobe suite.
Vault: What advice do you have for law students and lawyers who want to pursue a career outside of the legal field?
Kalyn: Practice law for at least three years; pay down some of your debt and learn the fundamentals of the profession. If possible, start a side hustle in the area you’re interested in to insure it’s something you really want to do. And lastly and most importantly, pay down your debt and save money to create a nest egg.
Get to Know Kalyn:
- Favorite Law School Class: Race & The Law
- Favorite Legal Movie, TV Show, Book, or Podcast: The Pelican Brief (book)
- Favorite Hobbies: Reading mystery books and watching British mystery tv shows
- Lawyer (alive or deceased) you’d most like to have dinner with: Thurgood Marshall or Ruth Bader Ginsburg
- If I wasn’t an entrepreneur, I would be a: Literature Professor
More about Effie’s Paper:
Although named after Kalyn’s grandmother, Effie’s Paper :: Stationery & Whatnot is not your grandmother’s stationery company! Kalyn’s goal was simple: to create lifestyle products that could co-exist with today’s technology. Et voila! Effie’s Paper offers its online customers and wholesale accounts an on-trend, curated selection of stylish desk, stationery, travel, and gift accessories. The products reflect Kalyn’s belief that the future is female and is being shaped by the power of Black Girl Magic! From their products to their packaging, everything that’s touched by the Effie’s Paper team is designed to make a girl’s heart leap!
Kalyn and Effie’s Paper have been featured in a variety of publications, including The Washington Post, The New York Post, Essence magazine, HGTV, and Apartment Therapy. Effie’s Paper has also been featured on The TODAY Show. And Kalyn’s entrepreneurial spirit has been captured in the best-selling books, Clever Girl Finance: Ditch Debt, Save Money & Build Real Wealth; Clever Girl Finance: The Side Hustle Guide: Build A Successful Side Hustle and Increase Your Income; and Kick Some Glass: 10 Ways Women Succeed at Work on Their Own Terms.