Thrillable Hours: Matt Levine, Financial Journalist
Welcome back to Thrillable Hours, my interview series about alternative jobs for lawyers.
I first came across Matt Levine’s writing over at Dealbreaker in 2012, as I was traveling and eating. While I wasn’t wistful for my former corporate law career, I still wanted to keep up with financial news. Matt’s writing style — funny, intelligent, and thoroughly able to see the forest through the trees — was why I started reading Dealbreaker. It’s also why I moved with him to Bloomberg when he started blogging for them in 2013.
His pieces are approachable and interesting while tackling extremely complex topics. A former lawyer and finance guy, he is able to provide important background to the current news. He delights in sarcastic footnotes. And he’s even got his own Twitter bot that someone created, who is learning to talk by reading everything Matt Levine writes. You know you’ve made it when…?
I realize that not all my readers enjoy reading about credit-default swaps or Argentina’s sovereign debt saga, but I think anyone can learn from the skill of taking complex problems and dissecting them to make them less opaque. This is what Matt Taibbi is known for with US politics and the financial crisis, and why I enjoy Matt Levine’s writing regardless of where he’s employed.
His answers about jobs for lawyers, leaving the law, and advice for those who want to do the same, all below.
What made you decide to follow a less conventional path than typical law school graduates? Was there a particular moment that catalyzed the decision for you?
It was all pretty path-dependent for me. I went to work as a corporate lawyer in 2005, and at the time corporate lawyers all wanted to be investment bankers. (Do they still?) So after about a year and a half, a former colleague who had left to be an investment banker called and asked if I wanted a job. And I said “is it better than this job?,” and he said “it’s a little better than that job,” so I took it. And I was an investment banker for four years. I guess that is actually a pretty typical path for a law school graduate, or was in 2007.
But then I got sick of investment banking too. I had always vaguely imagined myself as a writer, without doing anything about it. And a random combination of factors — I was trying to quit banking, the financial blog Dealbreaker had a job opening, and I knew some people there — led me to fall into financial blogging. And I turned out to be okay at it, and after about two years I was hired at Bloomberg View and have been here ever since.
So I am sort of a terrible story: A lot of luck was involved in each of my career moves, and honestly the “particular moment that catalyzed the decision for me” probably occurred months after I started at Dealbreaker. I went into that job thinking “well this will be a weird experiment and maybe it will work!” And my first weeks there were just abjectly terrifying. And then after a while I was like “oh wait this kind of does work,” and it became unbelievably fun.
What do you find most fulfilling about your current job?
I get to think and write about things that I think are fun! That’s the main thing. Unlike in law and banking, I don’t really get assignments or have tasks or whatever. I just wake up and try to find things that interest me, and that I think will interest my readers. In a weird way that feels more high-pressure than my law and banking jobs: I can never fall back on just checking off a list of tasks; I have to come up with something new every day. But it’s definitely the most fulfilling part of the job.HT: Abnormal Returns March 20 which leads off with Izabella Kaminska's piece on Starbucks' experiment in time-shifting coffee ordering.
Also having readers — knowing that strangers are interested in what I have to say — is very fulfilling. I am constantly amazed when I write something that I think will amuse only me, that appeals only to my narrow weird combination of interests, and someone will email me to say “I loved that part.” I love when I find out that important financial-industry people read my column, but I also love when random people email to say “I don’t work in finance but I read your column every day because it’s fun.” It’s always incredibly gratifying to hear....MORE, including some interesting links
What do you have to say to those who tell me lawyers can’t have fun?
That strikes me as mostly accurate, yeah.
Here's Matt's home at Bloomberg including the hit article "Bond Quotes and Performance Art" which skirts close to some of our current thinking on incorporating interpretive dance into the analysis of Brownian motion in finance.