Great input here! I knew you guys would be helpful........ A few more facts:
1) I am old (ha!) for a baby lawyer -- 46. Class of 2011 (yes, second career). But my resume and life history read "She's unstoppable. She's got grit."
2) I racked up all the necessary credentials in law school -- articles editor of the law review; moot court; top 15%; highly-respected T1 regional school, research assistant for our former governor, Inn of Court, Order of the Barristers, yada yada yada.
3) The bad news: I'm in the Real Estate/ Land Use group which is, without doubt, a support group for the groups that really matter. I also do a lot of work for the Environmental Group which is a tad better on the hierarchy but not much. It is definitely not my preferred area of practice -- I took the job because the market sucked. I'd like to shift to the Corporate Group -- public company reporting, securities, governance, M & A -- but there is no chance of that at this firm. I'd have to lateral as an entry-level or second-year associate.
4) The good news: even though my group isn't important, it can't be eliminated either. If Anchor Client needs to build/ acquire a new piece of infrastructure, someone has to do the environmental due diligence/ land use permitting to make it happen. Even better, in my office (which is our HQ), I am the only non-partner in the group. They have to have SOMEBODY in my chair with a billable rate below $650/ hour!
5) The better news: one partner in environmental relies heavily on me for support on due diligence for a never-ending stream of solar panel acquisition projects. One of our 40-year clients relies on me, exclusively, for counsel on FOIA issues.
6) More better news: Prior to joining this firm, in 2012, I worked with a very well known solo and built a huge network of highly connected, senior people. I'm leveraging that now and have had a raft of great meetings in DC & NYC with senior people in firms but also at think tanks, NGO's, or corporations. Momentum is building.
I like the idea of maximizing income while living frugally until I can pull the ejector cord. Given my mortgage-worth of student loans, on my current pay trajectory, just being debt-free is at least 5 years away. One big incentive to take the FT SA gig, is to add about $32k to my current income which would accelerate this schedule.
In 5 years, once debt-free, I would not want to practice land use/ environmental law. It is solely a means to an end.