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Business Observer Friday, Nov. 21, 2014 7 years ago

Fresh coat

Amy Leigh Carstensen is a rare breed — an attorney turned painter.

Amy Leigh Carstensen wanted a change of pace. She was working 60 or 70 hours a week as an attorney at Carlton Fields, wondering what her next step would be. She'd look around the office and see that the senior partners were also working 60- to 80-hour weeks, and realized she needed to make a change in her career before getting stuck on an unwanted path.

So five years ago she took a chance. Not only did she decide to go out on her own and open her own practice, but she also decided to see if she could pursue another passion — painting.

“I've always done creative things as a hobby and release,” 40-year-old Carstensen says. She wanted to be applying both her right brain and left brain when it came to work. The combination, though rare, has worked for Carstensen, who was named a Business Observer's 40 under 40 winner in 2007, when she was working at Carlton Fields.

Carstensen's abstract paintings have attracted the attention of a number of art shows and a few galleries. As she continues to receive invites from higher caliber art shows, she's confident that she can dedicate more time to being an artist. Now she spends about 10% of her time as a lawyer, and 90% as an artist. “I keep my toe in the practice of law to continue to challenge my mind,” Carstensen says.
Carstensen is invited to 18 to 22 art shows each year, but she usually makes it to around 15. The shows are juried, which means artists need to apply to participate. The top shows may have 1,000 applicants, but only 100 artists are invited, and 10 of those spots are for painters. Carstensen's work has been featured at the Gasparilla Festival, Cherry Creek Festival in Denver, Plaza Art Fair in Kansas City, and Sausalito Art Festival in California. Her paintings range in price from $125 to $5,000. Her biggest challenge is not having enough paintings in stock.

“It's always fun to see what comes out of the paintbrush,” Carstensen admits.

In her law practice, Carstensen works on contracts, wills, or other assignments that are clearly defined. She's also managed to pick up art law work, concentrating on copyright infringement and other cases.

Carstensen says with her dual career she's still working 70 to 80 hours a week, but she likes that she's now working for herself. “Juggling two things I love, it sometimes means I get less sleep, but I'm not complaining,” she says.

Despite one or two snarky comments from opposing counsel, Carstensen has been pleasantly surprised by the support she's received in her career shift, especially from her father, who is also an attorney. Some of the partners at Carlton Fields have her work in their offices.

Her journey has also introduced her to others that have made similar shifts. “I've met a lot of recovering attorneys on the way,” Carstensen says. There's no question it was a good move for her, she insists, “If I paint more, I enjoy life more.”

Blast from the past
A glimpse back at Carstensen's answers from the 2007 40 under 40 issue.

Education: B.A. English, magna cum laude, University of Florida; psychology, magna cum laude, University of Florida; J.D., magna cum laude, Stetson University College of Law

Job: Attorney, Carlton Fields

Hours worked per week: 50 to 70

Business person you most admire: My mentor, David P. Burke

How do you let off steam: Anything right brain or outside: painting, photography, sea kayaking, scrapbooking, playing with my Jack Russell terrier and going to the beach

Three words that describe you: Creative, organized, loyal

If I had a magic wand, I'd: Not use it, as contrary to the spirit of democracy

When I grow up I want to be: A judge, provided the years in between bring wisdom

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