Monday, March 25, 2013

Being Frank

So I was talking with a friend. And we talked about work. Somehow the topic crept ever so slowly to the red zone--salary. Without blinking, she very candidly blurted out how much she made.

This friend has a BA with half of her credit hours earned at a community college. She did not to go graduate school. During high school, while I was working every Saturday and Sunday to bolster my college applications and get some work experience, she was playing and partying. While I have three years of being a lawyer under my belt, she has maybe a full year of experience holding a full time job. Unlike me, she did not spend nearly a full mortgage on lawschool tuition.

And yet, here we are. Ten years later. Making nearly the same amount. GUH!

I try to avoid comparing myself to other people and I definitely try to avoid talking about money and finances and salary with anyone. But a little piece of me wanted to scream in frustration. The path that led me to the present was a rough path full of hard work, smart choices, sacrifice of time, and sacrifice of money. Where did all that "responsibility" get me? In the same exact place as those people who never really cared.

Before you say it, I will say it for you: money is not the measure of success. Yep I know that. Trust me, I know that. I say it every day a medical bill arrives in the mail. I say it every time my tuition payment is deducted from my bank account. I say it every time I have $100 to stretch for gas and food for the last week of the month. Money isn't everything. There is also balance. And family. And loving what you do. And being challenged and stimulated. And having room to grow.

While I made the decision recently to make keep more balance in my life (less billable hours for less paycheck), life has been far from rosy. Even though I took a 75% position, the honesty is that it takes 100% to do my job. That's the beast of litigation. While I still have flexibility (working from home twice a week is pretty awesome), I do have alot of the stress that I was trying to avoid. AND when I do try to reign in my stress and my time spent working, it somehow just makes me feel guilty. And yet, I would be feeling guilty about not being with the kids if it were the other way around. I guess, if I had to choose, I'd rather feel guilty about missing work than about missing the kids.

I have to say that I love my job. I absolutely love litigation. Everyday it is challenging and new and exciting and scary. But sometimes I feel like I could have coasted through life a little (or a lot) more and have ended up in the same place. That might not be entirely true. It might be entirely false. But it sure feels that way sometimes. Those are usually the times that I scoure craigslist for random job openings and romanticize about being a donut maker or personal trainer or having some mind-numbing desk job that pays the same as my lawyer job. But the grass is always greener, right?

I need to end this post now because the conservative in me is screaming "Shut up! You got exaclty what you paid for. You don't get a bailout for the choices you make. Be happy you have a job and can provide for your family. And, besides, your boss totally buys you beer!"

So, the take-away (aside from the fact that I am a whiny person) is this: I would never discourage anyone from going to law school but law students need to know what to expect. They need to know what they are buying when they fork over $100+K for tuition and books. When you make the big decision to go to lawschool, you may be sacrificing 1/3 of your income for the next 20 (or more) years to pay back your student loas.

Yeah. Big commitment. And you can't divorce your student loans.


  1. We're only a few years out of law school. I think over time, our earning power is going to be a lot higher than it would have if we just had a BA... and eventually, one day, those student loans will be paid off.

  2. No offense, CM, but I think that your earning power as a Harvard JD is different than some of us who went to lower ranked schools! (Not that I know which law school CP went to.)

    1. Maybe so, and definitely at the beginning of my career when I can point to my resume while others have to work harder at proving themselves. But I still think it increases over time. The guys I see driving in sports cars who have their own small firms didn't go to Harvard.

  3. This scenario is why, yet again, I am so thankful that I resisted returning to the $36k/yr school and went the non-trad (and MUCH cheaper) route to finish. Even without the degree, I am a COLA or two away from entering into six figures. Believe me, I thank my lucky stars. But it also helps me see that the degree is not the end-all, be all and that nontraditional law careers are also options. I know that many of my former law school classmates in the part-time program at our T2 discovered the same upon graduating - the JD helped their income but it was their "day job" during law school that really gave them the basis for long-term salary and career success. Many of them eschewed practice and stayed in their jobs, perhaps just taking on a more legal role. Others opened their own firms and are actually going gangbusters because they worked in that area (as paralegals) before law school. It's funny how life works out.

  4. I agree with CM--long term your earning capacity is likely much greater. In my first job, my salary was significantly lower than what I had expected based on all those skewed statistics ( if not outright fraudulent) that law schools throw out.

    Now, as a 6th year, I make about 40% more than I did as a first year. I'm very satisfied with what I earn, and I've had enough recruiters contact me to know that it is a fair wage--especially when considering my almost nonexistent billables requirement.

    While my starting salary may have been close to what others earn without a grad degree and the debt that goes along with it, my current salary is not.

    It may take you a bit longer, but you'll get there. I already had my kids, so I didn't have any interruptions once I started my career. And I'm in an area where the economy hasn't suffered quite as much as the rest of the nation.