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Young Lawyers Division › Newsletters › The Advocate, February 2013 › Alternative Career Options for Lawyers: Raising the Bar

Alternative Career Options for Lawyers: Raising the Bar

Article Date: Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Written By: Amy Walker

We all have of our own reasons why we started out in the legal profession.  But, when pressed, I have often heard law school graduates say that he or she wanted to make a difference and change the world.  The law is consistently viewed as the perfect vehicle needed to drive this change.
Scott Maitland, owner and proprietor of Top of the Hill Restaurant and Brewery and now TOPO distillery, went to UNC School of Law well-prepared to begin changing the world.  He originally embarked on pursing this change on a grand scale, including managing Ross Perot’s Florida campaign in 1992.  By 1994, he was a thriving law student who knew three things:  his efforts to change the world were not going as well as he had hoped, he wanted to create his own business, and he wanted to live in Chapel Hill because it embodied for him the magic of Southern California in the 1950s.  

It was at this time in Scott’s life that opportunity pushed back a bar stool and invited him for a drink.  The landlord of a building in downtown Chapel Hill mentioned that he was going to allow a national chain restaurant to take over the empty space.  As Scott puts it, “Instead of changing the world, I focused on changing the corner.”  Worried that chain restaurants and businesses would begin dominating the locally-owned markets, he created a microbrewery and restaurant he hoped would become a social crossroad for all surrounding residents.  And it has become an iconic place of pride for Chapel Hill.  

You may ask yourself what possible use his law degree had in the fermenting process.  To Scott, his legal education helped support his desire to build a new business.  He has run into a lot of people who just can’t imagine starting a new business, especially one they have no experience in.  He believes that people often can be frozen into inaction because they are scared off by legal issues involved in opening a new business.  Instead, Scott is confident in his ability to act as gatekeeper by recognizing legal issues that need to be addressed, as well as those that may not.  

Law school also instilled into him the idea that he can learn new things, like microbrewing and microdistilling.  Scott, like many, found the law fascinating because it touches on so many other areas in life.  Or, as he put it, no matter what we do or who we are, the law is the only thing that binds us all together.  As lawyers, we are asked not only to know the law, but at times, understand fascinating trades and skills that we never would have imagined we would learn.  

Encouraged by the glimpses into these other areas, he set to the task of teaching himself how to run a restaurant and microbrewery, turning out 18 time World Beer Championship medal-winning beers.  While Top of the Hill is known most famously for its Ales, Scott’s Kenan Lager is a reverent nod to his days in law school and as a lawyer.  It is named after the benefactors of the scholarship that paid for him to attend law school.    

Now, as Scott celebrates the opening of his new distillery, TOPO Distillery, the change he makes reaches a little further and his corner becomes a little bigger.  The distillery proudly makes vodka, gin, and whiskey from scratch using only locally grown and organic ingredients.  If that isn’t enough, both his restaurant and his microdistillery have an incredible history of supporting local charitable organizations.  He is changing the world one corner, one glass at a time.  And in response to him, I would like to say, “Cheers!”  •


Amy Walker, an attorney with Tillman Hinkle, PLLC, located in Chapel Hill, focuses her practice on Estate Planning and Probate Law.

Views and opinions expressed in articles published herein are the authors' only and are not to be attributed to this newsletter, the section, or the NCBA unless expressly stated. Authors are responsible for the accuracy of all citations and quotations.