Jan Margaret, 29, originally from Murfreesboro, Tenn., is a lawyer on leave.
Graduating from Vanderbilt in 2009, she deferred law school for a year and worked with Mana Project International, a Nashville-based nonprofit that serves impoverished Nicaraguan and Ecuadorian communities through service and volunteer projects.
“I’ve always been passionate about traveling, and I think that came from a passion to volunteer and make an impact in whatever community I was in,” she said.
After spending a year in Nicaragua, Jan entered law school at the University of Georgia,where she graduated in 2013. After school, she thought about how she could incorporate travel and volunteer work with the law.
the LAWYER on LEAVE
Jan moved back to Nashville in 2013 to practice law for a few years. She said she always wanted to serve other people.
“I think people have this perception of lawyers as being icky or slimy, but two of my biggest role models in my life were lawyers,” she said of her father, who is now a judge, and her grandfather who became the chief justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court.
Jan said she experienced a legacy of people who were attorneys, and they were the people who set the example of how to live life with character.
“I thought I wanted to become an international lawyer. I studied a lot of international law but when I graduated I didn’t end up going in that direction,” she said. “Moving back home, I started following other travel bloggers and thought, you know what? I could do that, so I decide to become a travel blogger.”
In March of this year, Jan started her travel blog, The Lawyer on Leave.
“It’s been fun and a great learning experience,” she said. “It’s been fun to have a creative outlet.”
Jan recently changed jobs. She is still in the legal field, but she no longer practices law. Now, she’s the director of CLE, or continuing legal education, at the Nashville Bar Association.
“That job’s fun too because I’m always learning about the different parts of the law,” she said. “Part of my job is going to the seminars. I have learned about sports concussions, and I’ve been to a bilingual seminar in French and English about the differences in their laws and ours.”
“I’m a very social person, and I like that I get to be out and about in the community in more ways than just practicing law,” Jan said. “It’s been an exciting season in my life. It’s been a season where I’ve really gone after things I’ve cared about in a more direct way.”
Jan said she thought The Lawyer on Leave would be a fun way to share her travels and give an added purpose to going to new places.
“I’ve always had this huge passion for travel and this great curiosity about the world and other cultures and even my own culture. I’ve always been this traveler at heart, but I have a strong sense of home in Nashville.”
SEASONS of GROWTH: ABROAD and HOME
Jan has traveled to 26 countries and territories around the world. She’s lived in Nicaragua, studied abroad in Spain, and in law school had an internship in Dubai.
She said she feels a special relationship to Nicaragua because that’s one of the places that she has spent the most time.
While in Nicaragua, she worked with a child sponsorship program based out of La Chureca, which at the time was a municipal dump. Jan said the community of people who lived there worked by sorting through trash to find recyclables to sell to others to earn money.
“The health of the families living next to the garbage was horrible. We had a child sponsorship program whose job was to eliminate malnutrition,” she said. “Aside from that, I taught English to children closer to where I was living.”
Jan said she wrestled with a lot of issues surrounding community volunteerism and often asked herself what was the most sustainable way to promote community development?
“It opened my eyes to a lot of different things,” she said about Nicaragua and how it was a season of growth and learning for her. “I love volunteering but there are some negative side effects to it sometimes, and you have to careful on your impact on a community. Are you supporting that community to grow? Are you helping people help themselves or are you just giving them a crutch?”
Jan said culture and custom in Latin America had its striking differences but also their resounding similarities. In Latin American culture, she said it’s common that a whole family including mother, father, children, grandparents and grandchildren live in the same house.
“Everyone supports each other and everyone is close, actually physically close,” she said. “That’s very different than in America where here, we tend to more of an individualistic society.”
As far as similarities, Jan said Nashville is in the middle of the Bible belt and likewise, Latin America tends to be very Catholic or evangelical.
“Both in Nicaragua and in Nashville, there are very song faith communities, and faith plays a huge role in people’s lives, not universally, but I’ve seen the connection.”
“Traveling improves your outlook on the world. When you travel to a place and meet someone with an entirely different background and connect with them, it shapes a worldview that’s more positive. And that’s something I want to carry in my life.”
Jan said communities give people purpose, and people give a purpose for communities.
“When you feel like you’re a part of a community, a part of a group that shares some interests or values, you can find out how to make an impact and how to be impacted by other people. I think that gives life purpose and value.”
Jan is a person of faith and said that adds a particular value to her life.
“A community is any group of people who share something. It can be values, a physical and geographical location, or interest.”
Jan said she’s grateful for avenues of technology that allow people to stay connected with one another.
“One thing about life today is that with Facebook, Instagram, FaceTime, and all the social media and technology, is that we’re able to stay connected with friends in college where 20 years ago people would have lost touch,” she said.
While abroad, Jan was always asked if it was difficult to go without talking to her family.
“I saw my family more in Nicaragua than I did in Nashville because we Skype’d all the time,” she said. “When you’re out of the country and traveling you feel the need to contact home more than when you’re home.”
Jan said a lot of the growth in Nashville happened when she was in Nicaragua and at law school in Georgia.
“The flood happened in 2010, and I was abroad,” she said. “It’s weird to consider myself a Middle Tennessean and a Nashvillian and I’ve missed such a huge part of Nashville history.”
When she returned to Nashville after law school, she said it was fun to come back home and see how much it had changed.
“I loved the change,” she said. “A part of me missed the way it used to be, and I get that nostalgia about when it used to be my Nashville, but it was never really my Nashville. This city has always been a town that has really welcomed people. People come here to make it and because of that, it was a very welcoming dynamic.”
“You can move to Nashville and call this city home whether you’re from Murfreesboro or Michigan.”
Jan said one of the only things she doesn’t like about the growth is the traffic.
“I went to a meeting the other day about city planning and development, and someone brought up the question of how does Nashville keep its character. I liked someone else’s answer because they said with all this growth we’re able to develop our character even more,” she said.
Jan said with new additions to the city like the Ascend Amphitheater and the Sounds’ stadium at First Tennessee Park, the city is bound to enhance its already incredible culture and character.
“I think we’ve been able to show our city off,” she said. “The restaurants here are out of control, and I love the food scene.”
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