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« Help a Reader: Paying Off Debts | Main | Reader Profile: VF »

January 24, 2014


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You must have had some serious student/school loans

You've done very well in getting a position in a corporate law firm. I read recently "Don't Go To Law School (Unless): A Law Professor's Inside Guide to Maximizing Opportunity and Minimizing Risk" and it sounded really scary, a lot of people still live with the perception that the law profession is always profitable. I am in an industry that seems to be going soon the way the legal market already went, so can absolutely relate.

You probably realize it yourself, but you need a bigger net worth/savings buffer if you decide to trade income for lifestyle or if you don't make partner. I assume the $200K don't include house equity since you don't mention a mortgage, but if you are spending $130-150K a year (60-65% of net salary at your level of taxes) they won't last long . As you said, you need to position yourself for that step - and that includes a financial buffer.

Thanks for sharing your story.

I agree with you that anyone considering law school should be very careful. It is a dangerous amount of debt, and there is no guarantee of a lucrative career waiting for you on the other side.

However, I don't think law school is necessarily a mistake based on your criteria of 1) having cash to pay, or 2) going to a top tier school. Even with the debt, many graduates will probably earn more over their lifetimes with their degree than without. Maybe they won't be filthy rich, but having such a limited scope of who should go to law school is telling anyone outside of the upper class to forget about it.

In any case, it's a good thing to have more info out there about the reality of massive debt and the reality of the legal job market. It will help people think through it. I just think a black and white view of who it's a good choice for is no better than the marketing of bottom tier schools saying it's a good choice for everyone.

Anyhow, seems like it worked for you! I know several lawyers, and your path of a firm job as a method of debt repayment before moving on to something more fulfilling is a common one. (President Obama did it too!)

Good luck to you!

I love this profile. It really resonates with me because I am a similar high earning professional in a major city and I feel like a lot of the reason I got to where I am is timing and luck. Not that I'm not smart, but it's not always about that. Although I live like I won't have this high an income forever, so I have been saving 50% or so for the last four or five years which has allowed me to amass a net worth about 3x my salary.

UPDATE: I have found a new job, in a slightly cheaper city, for a much, much lower salary, which will hopefully give me my life back while being more satisfying to do!

LJ: I suuuuure did. Including a little consumer debt, about $180K.

Ivy: I spent my whole life pre-law school living on a LOT less money. I'm sure it will hurt going back to that lifestyle, but I don't really have fixed costs to sustain: no mortgage/other debts, no car, and no dependents. So my lifestyle is basically up to me. I will be using a bit of saved cash to buffer out the first year or so. I'm anxious about giving up the security of the larger salary, but I do believe I can adjust.

VA: The problem is this. There is a bimodal distribution of income amongst starting lawyers. At one end, the people starting at $160K--an ever-dwindling group. At the other end, people earning about $45K. There is very little in the middle (picture a U shape). Barring a few special circumstances, you simply can't service typical law school debt if you're on the left-hand side. It's a brutal trap I see far too many contract (temporary) attorneys in. (For the record, my family was nowhere in the vicinity of upper class.)

"Statistics don't lie: social mobility in the U.S. has been steadily decreasing."

20 year study by top economists including from Harvard as reported yesterday disagrees:

Interview11....I don't agree with every point, esp. the mobility one...but otherwise you seem very grounded. I like that!

I think the biggest way people kill themselves financially is having kids out of wedlock and divorce. Reduce the scope of those 2 problems and you have more economic mobility. (Not a panacea, I know....but it definitely would help).

Interesting post, as I was also in Biglaw until very recently. I took a $150k pay cut to take the job I'm at now and have zero regrets. Good luck!

I too would affirm the advice on not going to law school. Law schools have not adjusted their tuition to the new reality. Everyone wants to charge a tuition that only makes sense when biglaw is booming and partnership was lock step. The reality is that partnership is a crap shoot even for those who went to the best schools and are awesome lawyers. And biglaw is shrinking and the U shaped distribution is dead-on.

MJ: I hope it'll be the same way for me. Thanks!

Brooklyn Money: If you're saving 50% of your salary and living in Brooklyn, you're very self-disciplined indeed.

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