John Himmelstein Provides Advice on How to Make a Successful Career Change

With over thirty years of professional experience, John Himmelstein is a highly successful criminal defense lawyer based out of Boston, Massachusetts. Recognizing his passion for the legal field at a young age, he attended college in his home state before establishing his practice in 1988. As an individual committed to serving members of his community, […]

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With over thirty years of professional experience, John Himmelstein is a highly successful criminal defense lawyer based out of Boston, Massachusetts. Recognizing his passion for the legal field at a young age, he attended college in his home state before establishing his practice in 1988. As an individual committed to serving members of his community, he worked hard to make a name for himself in the industry. However, his professional success was not without its low points. Met with various challenges throughout his career, many of them hindered the growth of his firm. Taking what he has learned from these experiences, he now plans to relocate to the Carolinas with the intention of opening a new practice. With a passion for helping others, he hopes that he can make a difference in the lives of many.

What do you love most about the industry you are in?

I take great pride in helping clients navigate the legal landscape. As a criminal defense attorney, I can make a significant impact on the lives of others. I am continually learning and looking for ways to improve my practice.

What keeps you motivated?

With me personally, I’m motivated to make up for some of the regret that comes from my younger years.  I regret that I didn’t get involved in some kind of national service when I was younger. I also have certain regrets from my personal life, like how after my divorce I didn’t solidify a particular relationship and the fact that I’ve never fathered any children. I’d like to, but I’m at a little bit too advanced of an age to be doing that, and that’s something I regret. I regret that early in my career, I took my profession for granted and it got me in trouble.

How do you motivate others?

I don’t think you motivate others by what you say. I think you do it by example. I’d like to think I set a good example for others. I don’t hold myself out as a candidate for sainthood, but I think people will observe what’s good about me and maybe adopt those things if it works for them.

How has your company grown from its early days to now?

When I first started as a lawyer, I worked for two small firms. Basically, they were solo lawyers who kind of mentored me. I did that for about two or three years, and then I started my own practice. I’ve never had a problem growing in terms of adding clients. It didn’t take me long to have a very busy practice when I first opened up. I went through this suspension, which I’m not proud of, but I did rebuild my practice very quickly afterwards. People are saying, “Well, if you move to North Carolina, you’re going to be starting from scratch again.” But you know something?  I’ve started from scratch a couple of times already in my career. I was able to build my practice then and I’ll do it again. 

Who has been a role model to you and why?

Certain trial lawyers who are really great in the courtroom and fight for their clients. These are not people I’ve ever met personally; they’re more historical figures like Abraham Lincoln, Sam Leibowitz, Edward Bennett Williams, and Thurgood Marshall, people who know how to command the courtroom when they’re trying the case.

How do you maintain a solid work life balance?

I have a lot of interests outside of work. You don’t want to interrupt me when it’s a Saturday afternoon and there’s college football on TV. I have a bunch of things that I do when I need to relax and unwind. I play golf, even though I could use more practice. I’m thinking of taking up fishing again. I did a little bit of that when I was a kid and I want to get back into it since it’s relaxing, especially as you get older. I’m thinking I’d like to do more traveling. I’ve been to Bermuda and I’ve been to Israel, but I want to go to a few other places. I’ve never been an “all work/no play” guy.  I think that’s boring. Life is too short for that.

What traits do you possess that make you a successful leader?

I have had people work for me in the past, and I like to think it was a good experience for them. One of the people who previously worked with me is now a successful attorney herself. She was my legal assistant when she was in law school. 

There’s the old Jewish proverb of Hillel which says, “If I’m not for myself, who will be for me?  And being only for myself, what am I?” You can’t just be for yourself. But on the other hand, you’ve got to do what you’re good at. You’ve got to do what makes you happy. You’ve got to be successful. Otherwise, you can’t help anybody else. I don’t know if I’m a great leader. I just do what I need to do to survive.  And I hope that that rubs off on other people in a positive way.

What suggestions do you have for someone starting in your industry?

I can’t wait for this pandemic to be over and for us to develop a sense of normalcy again. But it is a reality, and you have to ask yourself, where do you want to live?  And how do you practice law during the pandemic? And what is it that ultimately makes you happy? Find out what’s important to you. Find out what you can tolerate and gravitate towards that both geographically and professionally. That’s what that would be my advice.

What is your biggest accomplishment?

My biggest accomplishments have been winning jury trials. I’ve won my share. I don’t win all the time, of course, but convincing twelve members of the community to vote your way in a case, it’s very gratifying.  I’m not a person who’s good at a lot of things, but I’m good at that and I take pride in it. It also helps other people because that client and his or her family members are depending on me to do my best.

Where do you see you and your company in 5 years?

I plan to move to South Carolina and practice law in North Carolina. I want to be the best criminal lawyer in the Carolinas. I want to be a job creator. I want to do everything I can to address and improve race relations in this country, which are terrible right now because people aren’t listening to each other, and I want to do what I can in my own modest way to help address that. 

I also want to do something to help the military and veterans of this country who served the country so people like myself didn’t have to. Those are things that are very important to me. Also, in my personal life, I would like to get married. Even though it may seem like I’m doing this at a late stage in life, to be with someone and have someone to partner with in my life is also something very important. That’s where I see myself in five years, getting close to achieving all of those goals. I’ll still be a relatively young man of 67. That’s about how old Churchill was when World War II started and look at all he accomplished!

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