Switching Careers: Following their passions in wine, law

Michelle MorenoUnemployment remains at 9.7% but there are signs that the job market is improving slowly. In March, the economy added 162,000 positions. Job search engine Indeed.com found that for the first time in 2010, there were fewer than 10 people per job posting in major metro areas like Washington, D.C., San Jose and New York.

"Our Job Market Competition index shows a big reduction in competition for jobs nationwide, providing further evidence that an economic recovery is underway," says Indeed.com CEO and co-founder Paul Forster in an e-mail to WalletPop. "Cyclical industries like retail and hospitality will continue to show the steepest rebound, although job opportunities are likely to grow strongly across all major industries as the year progresses."

Good news for Michelle Moreno, who is retraining to be a sommelier. She and investment banker turned lawyer Ari Abramowitz share their stories of reinvention.

Michelle Moreno: finding a new muse
Dancer Michelle Moreno thought she had a second career in mind when it came time to bow off the stage. While doing stints as a waitress to support herself, she discovered she loved wine and teaching people about it. Being a sommelier came sooner than she even expected when, in 2007, she suffered a knee injury.

She also decided to take the leap when she saw cutbacks at her fulltime job as the gymnastics director of a Manhattan community center. "There have been salary freezes," she said. "Contributions to our 401(k)s have stopped. There has been a dip in registration. This was a wake up call for me."

The 34-year-old single mom finished the $1,100 certification program with the Sommelier Society of America last fall, and next month she will be starting another certification program at the International Wine Center at a cost of $1,400. She is also working part-time at Best Cellars on the East Side, and was recently promoted to an assistant managing-level position, where she's interacting with and guiding customers on their wine choices.

It's been a challenge juggling the needs of her 7-year-old daughter, two jobs and studying for a new profession, but Moreno says she didn't think twice about making a change, even during these rough economic times.

"I knew I had time on my hands and needed to make a decision about the rest of my life," she said. "It was not getting any cheaper or easier [to make the switch]. Once I make up my mind, I do it."

Moreno, who hopes to eventually help clients build wine cellars, is striving to make vino a fulltime occupation by next year.

Ari AbramowitzAri Abramowitz: lawyering up
In 2006, Ari Abramowitz was casting around for another career. Expecting a second child, he had already tried his hand at investment banking and writing about music. In search of a second career that would allow him to support his growing family and be intellectually stimulating for the next 40 years, he remembered his brush with copyright law six years earlier.

"When I got a job at an investment bank right out business school, I was brought in to analyze the impact of Napster on the music industry," recalls the 36-year-old. "That was a fascinating topic. The discourse going around this -- how is culture made, disseminated and controlled -- fascinated me."

By 2007, he started at Benjamin N. Cardoza School of Law in Manhattan at a cost of $40,000 a year. While he remains as enamored of the field as before, finding a balance between being a fulltime student, a husband of eight years and a dad of now three kids has been tough. From morning until night, "it's always a balance act that I usually fail but I try to hold up my end as much as possible," he said.

It's become even harder since 2009. To the surprise of many, the legal profession has been hit hard by the economic meltdown. Law school graduates have had to scramble to find jobs. To improve his chances, Abramowitz, president of the Intellectual Property Society from 2008-09, held an internship last fall and is working in another this spring.

"A lot of firms are not hiring straight out of school," he explains. "[With internships] they want to build a certain amount of trust in you and they want you to be more familiar with their operations and systems so if they do take you on full time, you're ready to hit the ground running. And they don't have to extend time paying you and training you at the same time."

Set to graduate in June, Abramowitz remains optimistic that all his planning will provide a solid foundation for his family. "The goal is to build something for the long haul, for 30, 40, 50 years -- something that is fulfilling for me and something that is sustainable and supportive of my family," he said. "If one or two years or three years are a little rocky, OK. Hopefully you end on the plus side of the ledger."
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