Author Topic: 34 year old lawyer. Change careers? Stay the course?  (Read 7528 times)

legalstache

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34 year old lawyer. Change careers? Stay the course?
« on: January 06, 2020, 08:35:10 PM »
I've been at my current law firm a little over 2 years and am basically over it. The work (corporate law) is not interesting to me at all. To make matters worse, I work in a small office and there's no office camaraderie or socializing. People are generally quiet and keep to themselves. There are no fun coworkers to lighten the days. 

While I'm paid well and the job is fairly low stress, I'm starting to worry that I'm wasting the prime years of my life in a job I don't like. I worked in two other law firms before and had similar feelings about them, so I don't think changing firms is the answer. I've been a lawyer for 8+ years and have thought about quitting the law many times before. Although I'm good at my job, I also feel like it doesn't fit my personality in many ways. 

Ideally, I'd like a job that is at least somewhat interesting and provides the potential to make friends through work (or at least socialize with coworkers). The difficulty is there are almost no non-legal jobs where we live that would allow us to cover our living expenses. I haven't fully explored what else is out there, but we don't live in a great job market and I think I'd probably be looking at something like a 40-50% pay cut. Of course, if I could find a job paying closer to my current salary, that would make things easier, but I don't know how realistic that is. 

My question for the forum is whether I should look for something in a different field and then cover the projected shortfall between my new salary and our spending with savings (at least temporarily) or push on towards FI. My goal is not necessarily FI as soon as possible. I think I'd be better off doing something I like as opposed to sticking it out in a job that's not for me. 

Part of me is nervous that if I switch jobs, I'll wind up with another job I don't like that pays significantly less than my current job. Another part of me feels like if I don't take a chance soon I'll never know if there's something out there that's a better fit for me. 

My wife currently stays home but would likely go back to at least part time work in the future. We would only plan to have one more child. We like where we live and have friends and family within driving distance so moving is not really on the table at this point.      

My wife (when she worked) and I have both always been diligent about saving and contributing to tax advantaged accounts. On top of that, we inherited a fairly substantial amount of money several years ago, so we have a decent amount of investments to fall back on. 

Numbers are below. I realize our spending is high by MMM standards and will admit that it could be trimmed. I can provide more detail on that if needed but it's not the primary focus of my post. 

Age: 34, wife is 32. Daughter is 6 months old. 

2019 income: 103k base, plus small annual bonus and 5% 401k match. 

2019 total spending (tracked monthly): $74,872

Assets:
Cash: $46,849
401k/IRAs: $170,463 
Roth IRAs: $166,448
Inherited IRA: $129,060 
HSA: $36,819
Taxable Investments: $192,229
529: $5,442

We also bought a house in 2016. Approximate home equity is 145k.

Total: $747,275 (not including home equity)

Liabilities:

Monthly mortgage payments (P&I) of $1,880 (30 year mortgage at 3.875%)
No student loans or other debt. 

Here are the options I see. My wife is supportive of any of these. I'd love to hear thoughts and any other options people see.

1.  Look for a new job in a different field ASAP. Use our investments to cover any shortfall between my new (lower) income and our spending. Hope that future advancement/raises in my new job and my wife going back to work in the future allow us to cover all spending through current income then let our investments grow until we are FI. 

As a hypothetical, let's say I make 50k after taxes in a new position, and our spending is 75k. We pull 25k annually from savings to cover the difference. In 5 years, let's say I'm up to 60k in my new field and my wife is working part time making 15k after taxes. We now have our spending covered and can let our assets grow untouched. This is probably my preferred plan at this point- how does this sound? 

2.  Stick it out for a couple more years. This would get us closer to the time when my wife can go back to work and I could then potentially shift into a lower paying job without us having to dip into savings too much to cover expenses. My concern here is that it might be harder to switch careers the older I get. I also feel like I've been tolerating an unenjoyable work situation for years now (going back to my previous job) and would prefer not to stick it out any longer than absolutely necessary. 

3.  Stick it out until FI. At current salary and spending levels, I can contribute ~20k/year to investments. With that, plus our current stash and assuming 6% returns we'd be at our FI number in ~11 years. If my wife goes back to work, that would speed this up a little bit. The thought of spending another 11 years in this job is tough to imagine, though.  

What do people think? 

CloserToFree

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Re: 34 year old lawyer. Change careers? Stay the course?
« Reply #1 on: January 06, 2020, 10:08:06 PM »
Make a change but stay working as a lawyer for now. The legal profession is a MASSIVE space. There are so many different kinds of roles and practice settings, and so many factors that go into making one job better than another. Your earning potential is probably going to be highest using your law degree, and I think you owe it to yourself to do more exploring before taking a big pay cut to do other work.
Signed,
Fellow lawyer (39) who spent the better part of a decade at a big firm before moving to a low paying public interest job and then landing the perfect higher paying role for me elsewhere in the public sector (sorry, I'm vague about career details on here, but I absolutely love my job now -- complete autonomy, great boss, manageable schedule, interesting work that I'm good at)

Lukim

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Re: 34 year old lawyer. Change careers? Stay the course?
« Reply #2 on: January 07, 2020, 01:06:59 AM »
If I was you (and I am not), I suggest sticking it out as a corporate lawyer for a few more years but look to see if there is a better firm / job available.  As you build up more experience, you become more marketable etc.

From what you are saying, you don't have any great passion to undertake a new career (such as to go off and join the circus), so I would stick it out as a lawyer while you are getting reasonably paid.  If there is a new career or job which appeals to you and becomes available then follow your passion, but I don't see the point of throwing in a legal career to do something new which you may not enjoy (and not be well paid at).

I had 38 years working as a lawyer.  For 19 years I was a partner in a large international law firm, then after that another 11 years as a consultant with a large law firm.  Did I enjoy it?  I loved some parts of it, and other parts I hated.  I reached FI by my mid 40s but continued on working anyway.

I have now embarked on a career change - and some days I miss being in a law firm but there is no going back now at my age.


former player

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Re: 34 year old lawyer. Change careers? Stay the course?
« Reply #3 on: January 07, 2020, 05:41:58 AM »
The red flag for me in your plans is that the only criteria you have for this putative career change are that it earns you half what you currently earn and there will be co-workers you can make friends with.  In particular you have a six month old baby and plans for another without being able to afford either.

I think your first action towards the life you want should be to make some friends.  I bet there is someone at your current workplace you could start to have lunch or coffee with, at least.  You want fun co-workers: in your situation where you have joined an organisation with no culture of socialising you have to start by being the fun co-worker and do a pied piper on the others.  If there is truly no-one at work you can even have lunch or even a coffee with, then you need to start making friends outside work.  It will be hard with a baby at home but a couple of hours a week doing something with a likeminded group of people should be doable, as long as you give your wife the same opportunity.

I also think that you are looking at your potential career change in the wrong way.  Don't look down, look up.  Take your legal qualification and your 8 years in corporate law and look for a bigger and better and higher paid job than the one you have.  Start thinking now about what that could look for - a management position in business would be obvious - and what you need to do in the way of connections and maybe qualifications (although I think connections will be the big key) to get there.

Dee18

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Re: 34 year old lawyer. Change careers? Stay the course?
« Reply #4 on: January 07, 2020, 06:00:00 AM »
Another lawyer here....sounds to me that you are aware you have made the choice for money over a job with more interaction with people.  I was fortunate in that I realized during my first year out of law school (as a law clerk for a federal judge) that I hated being in a quiet office working away all day. A friend suggested I become a trial attorney.  I thought he was crazy since I had avoided public speaking my entire life and had never planned to step into a courtroom.  But I applied for federal trial jobs and took the first job that was offered. Turned out I loved it.  I turned down private firm jobs offering more than double the salary, but since I wasn’t used to a high income I never missed it. Many of my classmates in private practice went on to have fun careers as in house counsel or even as partners in some of the largest firms.  Others grew to hate private practice and quit law altogether.  Law is wonderful in that there are so many different options available. 

You say spending isn’t the issue...but in a way it is.  It sounds like you are not in a particularly high cost of living area, but your spending is really high for this forum, with no daycare costs.  Reducing your spending can give you a lot of freedom...to work a lower paying job and to retire early. 
« Last Edit: January 07, 2020, 12:27:12 PM by Dee18 »

Laura33

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Re: 34 year old lawyer. Change careers? Stay the course?
« Reply #5 on: January 07, 2020, 06:25:04 AM »
First, your spending should be the primary focus of your post.  The only reason you feel trapped is because you need a big salary to cover your desired lifestyle.  If you required less income, you would have any number of jobs open to you.  So I think the first thing you need to do is think hard about whether your current lifestyle is worth continuing to work in this kind of job forever.  Because that's the tradeoff you're making.

Second, sorry, but your option 1 is right out.  "I want to spend more than I make to maintain my lifestyle in the face of a big paycut, but it's ok because sometime in the future we'll make more money and get back in the black"???  Dude, that is massive consumer sucka thinking -- that's exactly how people get over their heads into CC debt.  You're in a much better position, because you've saved and inherited well to this point.  But do you really want to undo all that good work based solely on blind hope that you'll automatically make more money before you've sucked down your assets very much?  IMO you need to focus on finding employment that at least covers your expenses, and leaving your savings untouched so it can grow until you're ready to FIRE.  Which, again, goes back to your expenses:  the less "stuff" you need to live a happy life, the lower pay you can afford to accept, and the more jobs are open to you.

Third, I think you need to focus on what you want out of a new job -- beyond "nice people" and "interesting."  That is so vague and generic as to be entirely worthless.  Think of the work you're doing now.  What specific kinds of tasks float your boat?  What part of the work is fun and interesting and gets your brain going, and what is total hair-pulling drudgery?  Do you like being up front with clients managing problems, do you like the research and analysis of figuring out what the right answer is, do you like writing just the right piece, do you like taking clients out for drinks/dinner, do you like managing cases where there is something important at stake, or what?  If you like the people side of things, you might do better in a smaller firm where you can have and manage your own clients, or maybe a sales job somewhere else.  If you like the cases that matter, maybe you want to work for a public interest firm or a government agency that focuses on an area you care about.  Etc. 

I do think it's too early to write off the law entirely -- you've basically done the exact same job in three identical places, so if you didn't like the first one, it's not surprising you didn't like the others.  You are also in a very generic field that feels very disconnected from real people and real life -- it's throwing money around and helping corporate profits and all that, but if that isn't your thing, it can feel very empty and meaningless (this is why I don't do tax law, btw -- after a few back-and-forths, I quickly get to the point of "just pay the damn taxes already, it's just money").  And finally, you're an associate.  That means you get individual pieces of matters -- other people make the decision on what they need to do, and you go execute item I.B.iii.  Practicing law is much, much more satisfying when you're the one dealing with the client's problems and figuring out what needs to be done to solve them (and then farming out the boring stuff to peons).  So, again, a smaller firm that gives you more opportunities to take the lead on matters, and to work in other areas, might be more satisfying.

Not to say that your ultimate calling isn't outside of the law.  But the information you've shared suggests you're not prepared to make that determination yet.  Look around and see what all of your options are.  Volunteer at places you're interested in to see what their day involves and whether they provide the collegial atmosphere you want.  And you never know -- public interest organizations often love to hire lawyers, even in non-legal roles (we recently lost a partner who couldn't turn down an offer to become the head of a group he did pro bono work for).  IOW, be a good lawyer and do your homework before you jump into the same problem for the fourth time.

ysette9

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Re: 34 year old lawyer. Change careers? Stay the course?
« Reply #6 on: January 07, 2020, 11:28:04 AM »
As usual, @Laura33 makes excellent points.

You don’t get to screw over your future self financial just because you are having a tough time now. I do have sympathy for you. Having a baby, especially your first one, is really really hard. Society is getting better at recognizing how tough it is for women, but it is also hard on fathers who don’t get nearly the same sympathy. If you can, hold off on making decisions that change up your life in substantial ways until your kid is 1. I’m not saying your discontent is because you had a kid, but it is easier to make mistakes in big decisions when you have just gone thorough other big changes and the dust hasn’t settled yet.

I think you couid benefit from reaching out and making relationships with mentors and possible a career coach. You have skills and experience. You need help parsing out what you enjoy and what you don’t, and exploring the wide world of possibilities out there. Can you do several informational interviews with more senior lawyers in all sorts of different areas of law? Catch up with classmates to see where their careers have taken them?

I had one mentor have me do an exercise where I thought back on jobs/projects I enjoyed and those I didn’t. Listing those out was a start and then I thought deeper about what exactly it was about each that made it enjoyable or not. I created a list of characteristics I enjoyed, those I didn’t, and also added in the skills and types of tasks I think I am good at and those I am not as strong at. For example, I like big picture thinking, I don’t do well at details, I like creation/design and don’t care for production/manufacturing as much, I like working in a team, etc.

Spend some time doing your homework now so you can make an informed move. And in the meantime, work on cutting those expenses!

Gay Burqueño Dad

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Re: 34 year old lawyer. Change careers? Stay the course?
« Reply #7 on: January 07, 2020, 04:13:21 PM »
Seeing a career coach is a really good idea. I've been greatly helped by this in the past.

Not to say this is the answer, but just to expand the headspace beyond (what you have) (public interest law) and (something non-legal)… I'm not really up with legal profession lingo, but there are corporate attorney jobs at law firms (which sounds like what you have) and also on-staff counsel jobs at organizations. I've interacted with on-staff counsel in the past, and it seems to me that that might allow for more of the social interaction your crave?
« Last Edit: January 07, 2020, 04:15:03 PM by Gay Burqueño Dad »

frugalfoothills

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Re: 34 year old lawyer. Change careers? Stay the course?
« Reply #8 on: January 08, 2020, 09:34:15 AM »
Just chiming in to say that your post reads as if you've priced yourself out of competitive pay in a different job, so when I got to your salary I expected much larger than 103K. There are plenty of jobs in both public and private sector work with comparable salaries that someone with your credentials should be able to compete for.

Also, have you considered joining a larger company as corporate counsel? A few attorneys I work with did the private practice, billable hour, small law firm thing for a while and realized it wasn't for them (for many reasons, including those you list.) They are much happier working as corporate counsel for a 300+ person company thanks to the more varied corporate culture here, and they absolutely draw a 6 figure salary. There's also the added benefit of a 9-5 schedule. They're still out here lawyering, but in a more business-centric role.

waltworks

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Re: 34 year old lawyer. Change careers? Stay the course?
« Reply #9 on: January 08, 2020, 12:12:48 PM »
Seconding Laura33 - you're spending $50k or so a year AFTER your (reasonable) housing expenses. For a family of 3, that's outrageously high (it's what we spend annually *including* a similar mortgage payment, and we're a family of 5). Where is the money going?

-W

legalstache

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Re: 34 year old lawyer. Change careers? Stay the course?
« Reply #10 on: January 08, 2020, 09:53:49 PM »
Thanks for the responses, everyone. As I'd hoped, there are lots of good perspectives from the MMM community here. 

First of all, I appreciate you talking some sense into me as far as not abandoning the legal field for a much lower paying job. I think the first thing I should do is see what kind of opportunities are out there for me either as an attorney or that would leverage my law degree to allow me to find something that might not otherwise be available.

It's true that I don't really have a passion to do something non-legal at this point (at least something that pays halfway decent) which is part of the reason I wound up as a lawyer to begin with. Part of me feels like I shortchanged myself of the opportunity to explore a career I might really like by going straight to law school, but the rational part of me realizes that, at this point, staying in the legal field makes the most financial sense. And I do hear all of you saying that there are likely opportunities in the legal field that would be a better fit for me. 

Part of my frustration is that my current job has not turned out to be what I hoped it would be. There actually are a lot of things I enjoy about being a lawyer (I like the research/analytical side, interacting with clients, feeling like I've actually helped someone with a concrete problem, legal writing etc.) but a lot of my work now feels like glorified copying and pasting for faceless clients. I deliberately sought out a small firm (after working at a much bigger firm) because I genuinely thought it would provide more opportunities to do the things I liked, but so far that hasn't been the case. 

The suggestions to volunteer at different organizations, look at non-profit and public interest/public sector opportunities, and corporate counsel jobs are well taken. I've enjoyed a lot of the pro bono work I've done because it makes me feel like I'm helping a real person with a legal problem, so I should probably look for more opportunities like that. I also like the idea of seeing a career coach. 

On the social aspect, I've definitely tried to engage coworkers to be social at and outside of work, with limited success. The handful of times we've gone out to lunch or drinks have been at my suggestion. My wife and I also know that we need to work on meeting people outside of work as well and maintaining the friendships we already have. It's been a challenge with the baby, but my wife recently joined a couple mom groups and I'm working on pursuing my outside interests as well. I also know that the parents of your kid's friends are a good source of potential friends, although that's a few years down the road.  

I think for now, I'll plan to look for opportunities that would use or leverage my law degree and allow me to keep or earn close to my current salary. I know my next position needs to be more interactive, more client-focused and one that allows me to take the lead on matters or at least have more autonomy. I already attend a couple monthly networking events that could be a good source of ideas/connections for my next job. And we'll continue to work on cutting expenses, as I know that will make the journey to FI shorter in the long run.

Laura33

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Re: 34 year old lawyer. Change careers? Stay the course?
« Reply #11 on: January 09, 2020, 07:39:09 AM »
It's true that I don't really have a passion to do something non-legal at this point (at least something that pays halfway decent) which is part of the reason I wound up as a lawyer to begin with. Part of me feels like I shortchanged myself of the opportunity to explore a career I might really like by going straight to law school

FWIW, I tend toward these thoughts as well.  Then I remember that when I was 22, I didn't have an alternate career that I was passionate about,* or I'd have done that instead.

If you actually have a passion you didn't pursue that could actually support you**, find a way to explore what that would entail and what jobs are available.  If not, stop kicking yourself, realize that you ended up in a field that actually suits your skills and interests,*** remind yourself that no job is perfect, and start looking for other legal opportunities that are a better fit for what you want.

You've got this.


*That would have paid a living wage.  "Novelist" was not exactly financially viable given my lack of a wealthy benefactor.

**As compared to, say, novelist.

***And if you're like me, you did so through sheer dumb luck and inertia.

Blonde Lawyer

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Re: 34 year old lawyer. Change careers? Stay the course?
« Reply #12 on: January 09, 2020, 01:04:01 PM »
Can you get your socializing on via the marketing end of your job? Join the Chamber or Rotary, your local bar association, section meetings.  Go to the lunches and the dinners.  You will drum up business for your firm and get to socialize with a lot of people. 

caleb

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Re: 34 year old lawyer. Change careers? Stay the course?
« Reply #13 on: January 09, 2020, 01:06:50 PM »
Just chiming in to say that your post reads as if you've priced yourself out of competitive pay in a different job, so when I got to your salary I expected much larger than 103K. There are plenty of jobs in both public and private sector work with comparable salaries that someone with your credentials should be able to compete for.

Also, have you considered joining a larger company as corporate counsel? A few attorneys I work with did the private practice, billable hour, small law firm thing for a while and realized it wasn't for them (for many reasons, including those you list.) They are much happier working as corporate counsel for a 300+ person company thanks to the more varied corporate culture here, and they absolutely draw a 6 figure salary. There's also the added benefit of a 9-5 schedule. They're still out here lawyering, but in a more business-centric role.

I'm going to second everything @frugalfoothills says.

To me, it sounds like you have a geographic problem.  Your wife isn't working, your child isn't in school, and family is drivable, but it doesn't sound like they're next-door or in your life daily.  Is there a medium to large city around you where you could move, still comfortably life on $75k, and remain in occasional contact with family?

You're not the first person to think that firm life is meh, especially as a 34 year old male.  Your peers are probably running home to their spouses and kids, and the older folks have their own activities that don't include the new associate.

If you like the law, think about moving to an in-house or staff position, ideally for one of your current clients.  In any big company there's going to at least be a critical mass of fun people.

Or, move into the public sector in a good state or city.  With eight years experience you should be making at least $103k.

I'd caution you against leaving the law if you think you want to practice again.  That seems like it's usually a one way door.

LWYRUP

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Re: 34 year old lawyer. Change careers? Stay the course?
« Reply #14 on: January 09, 2020, 03:01:38 PM »

I find it really surprising that you think the most money you would be qualified for after eight years as a corporate lawyer would be $50k.  There are entry level college graduates in my city making more, and you have more skills than they do.  Maybe you live somewhere where the economy is really bad, but those places don't tend to have $100k corporate lawyers to begin with.  The fact that you are valuing your skills as low as you do makes me wonder if you are depressed.

The first year with a new baby is hard.  What I would recommend is to sit tight and to focus on bringing more joy into your life.  What can you do to make your job more FUN.  (Lawyers NEVER think about this... it's always make more money or get a new client or be more prominent -- never just enjoy the ride more).  Make friends, take clients out to lunch, smile in the halls, go to networking meetings, give yourself permission not to worry about long term career stuff.  Then check in a year from now and see how you feel.  At the very least, you'll have tried it out and will have some more money in your pocket.

Also, stop with the BS about being to old to do something else.  You decide you want to do something else, then just go do it.  35, 45, 55, whatever.  Don't let someone else tell you that you can't.  That's more defeatist pessimistic lawyer thinking right there. 

Fishindude

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Re: 34 year old lawyer. Change careers? Stay the course?
« Reply #15 on: January 09, 2020, 03:37:23 PM »
Start your own firm and only take on work that interests you.

caleb

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Re: 34 year old lawyer. Change careers? Stay the course?
« Reply #16 on: January 09, 2020, 04:29:58 PM »
One more thought: You might be projecting angst about life changes onto your job.

I'll just be super blunt and say that the reason your social life is subpar may have nothing to do with your job and everything to do with being 34.  My experience has been that people in their mid-30s are often in total zombie mode going to work and coming home and little else.  They're concerned about what's going on in their own four walls, and they're often not putting much into developing or maintaining relationships with other people.  It sucks, but that's the way it often is in my experience.

That's not a job issue, it's a life-stage issue.

legalstache

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Re: 34 year old lawyer. Change careers? Stay the course?
« Reply #17 on: January 09, 2020, 09:07:42 PM »
Lots more really good advice here. Thanks for the reality check @Laura33

@Blonde Lawyer I've definitely been working on socializing through professional groups like those you mention. Even doing stuff with them a couple times a month goes a long way.

@caleb The goal, at least for now, is to make our current city work because there's a lot we like about it. We left a bigger city to have a shorter commute, more access to the outdoors, etc. and are hesitant to move back somewhere like that. I think you're right that a lot of my feelings on the social side have to do with being at an age where people start to move out of the city, have kids, and then focus most of their energy there. I'm hoping that making the most of what social opportunities there are at work, plus meeting other parents, pursuing my own interests (which involve other people for the most part) and keeping in touch with current friends and seeing family here and there does the trick.

@blinx7 I didn't do a lot of research on what's out there, but we live in a city with a pretty lackluster job market (at least entry level) and I figured I'd be starting over in a new industry, so that was my guess based on what I'd seen. I think you and others are right though that better opportunities might be available because of my experience. But your advice about staying put and making the most of current position while riding out the tough first year is well taken. I definitely worry about the future at the expense of the present and know I could enjoy my current set up more with a different attitude. I've already tried being more outgoing, friendly, etc. at work and it does have a positive effect. Just gotta remember to put in the effort. 

@Fishindude maybe that would work down the road, but probably not in the cards for the foreseeable future.

Body Surfer

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Re: 34 year old lawyer. Change careers? Stay the course?
« Reply #18 on: January 10, 2020, 06:03:23 PM »
I know several lawyers that left the field to get their education degrees to teach elementary or middle school. That is an option you may enjoy

bridget

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Re: 34 year old lawyer. Change careers? Stay the course?
« Reply #19 on: January 11, 2020, 10:22:32 AM »
I find it interesting that you think the social aspect could be fixed by changing careers/industries -- my opinion is that the culture and friendliness of a workplace has very little to do with the substantive work (unless the nature of the work is inherently isolating, like there are no team projects whatsoever or everyone works remotely), and instead you should look to change jobs within your skilled field and while interviewing, really choose a place based on workplace culture, whether the people seem like people you'd like to be friends with, and whether people are friends with each other. I've had non-legal jobs before law school where everybody was polite but not social (maybe people just already had plenty of friends in the real world, or didn't like blurring the line between professional and social, or whatever), and I've worked at law firms where everyone hung out all the time and my colleagues became some of my closest friends.

So, there's no need to blow up your skill set and take a huge paycut just to make friends, and in terms of work interest level, like others have said there is a LOT of diversity of jobs in the legal field (or the legal adjacent field, like business affairs or consulting or government or university administration - a few jobs former lawyers I know have moved into). I think you should try a few more variations, really focusing on what you do and don't like about being a lawyer and trying to maximize the stuff you like and minimize what you don't like. For example, I've discovered I like the legal research and writing aspect of litigation, but I hate discovery and what feels like pointless bickering with opposing counsel, so I'm switching to a job where I'll do mostly appeals. If I don't like that version of the law, then I should decide whether I can just stick it out anyway until I retire or if I need to look into a different type of work entirely.


Malum Prohibitum

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Re: 34 year old lawyer. Change careers? Stay the course?
« Reply #20 on: January 13, 2020, 04:42:37 PM »
Part of my frustration is that my current job has not turned out to be what I hoped it would be. There actually are a lot of things I enjoy about being a lawyer (I like the research/analytical side, interacting with clients, feeling like I've actually helped someone with a concrete problem, legal writing etc.) but a lot of my work now feels like glorified copying and pasting for faceless clients.

If you go in house, you will no longer be cutting and pasting for faceless clients.  In house lawyers are interacting daily with real people within the company and solving real problems as they arise and hopefully preventing them before they arise.

And you ought to be able to increase your income.  $100k for eighth year corporate law is shockingly low, but maybe that is because of your decision to move to a smaller firm.

TheStrenuousLife

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Re: 34 year old lawyer. Change careers? Stay the course?
« Reply #21 on: January 14, 2020, 12:23:34 PM »

Part of me feels like I shortchanged myself of the opportunity to explore a career I might really like by going straight to law school, but the rational part of me realizes that, at this point, staying in the legal field makes the most financial sense. And I do hear all of you saying that there are likely opportunities in the legal field that would be a better fit for me.


As a fellow lawyer that also went straight into law school from undergraduate I also wonder about this a lot, and all things being equal, if I knew about MMM in 2011, I may have made different choices.  I think 'the path not taken' is something that a lot of lawyers who don't have other career experience wonder about when they are at the office at 10:00 PM on a Saturday doing due diligence on a merger.

On the other hand, Laura33's comments are insightful, I don't know what else I would have done.  I will also add that many people in law school were people who had tried other careers, were dissatisfied, and ultimately wound up starting at the same place that I was as a 1L.

I appreciate your thoughts and the comments in this thread and would note that you are not alone and that this forum has a disproportionately high number of Canadian and US lawyers trying to figure it all out.  I first became aware of MMM during my first year of practice when it suddenly became apparent to me that all the high-minded academic debates of law school had very little to do with the day to day grind of practicing law and my morale plummeted as I looked for a way out.  Things are better now, and I've adopted many of the attitudes espoused by other lawyers on this thread to get through it all and even enjoy the practice.

legalstache

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Re: 34 year old lawyer. Change careers? Stay the course?
« Reply #22 on: January 14, 2020, 09:23:34 PM »
I appreciate the additional comments. I didn't realize there were so many other lawyers on the forum!

@Body Surfer I've definitely thought about that but haven't seriously looked into teaching as an option yet. 

@bridget Good advice about trying to find my niche within the law, given that there is a fair amount I like. 

@Malum Prohibitum I'll keep an eye out for those opportunities. I did take a pay cut when I switched to my current firm--fewer hours in exchange for less money. And while I do have some complaints about my current job, I don't regret that particular trade off at all. In fact, I'd be willing to go further and work even fewer hours while making just enough to cover living expenses. 

@TheStrenuousLife Your comments are very relatable. Good point about a lot of the 1Ls having already tried something else. I had the same realization as you regarding the differences between law school (which I really liked) and the daily grind of practice. Luckily, like you I also found MMM early on. Glad to hear you've found a good place in your practice. 

I'm going to continue networking and keeping an eye out for other opportunities. At the same time, I know there's room for improvement in my current job, and I think there's also a realistic possibility that more work in a practice area that I find interesting will become available to me in the near future. 

It's harder (and probably foolish, as others have said) to make tough decisions when sleep deprived with a baby, so I probably owe it to myself to ride this out for a little longer to see if things improve. There are certainly pros to this job that I glossed over in my earlier posts (great work-life balance, short commute) that are really nice with a new baby, so I probably shouldn't rush too quickly into something else. 

thurston howell iv

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Re: 34 year old lawyer. Change careers? Stay the course?
« Reply #23 on: January 15, 2020, 11:44:20 AM »
Not sure where you live, but have you considered Federal Government?   With your experience you can easily move to the Fed. You can take a non-legal job or you can take a legal job.  You choice. Lots of flexibility.   Pay scales will probably align with your current salary (give or take).

https://www.federalpay.org/gs/2020

With your experience you could go to the fed as a GS-12 in a non-legal job or possibly up to a GS-15 if you have the qualifications.   The link ONLY shows the base. There's also the locality to consider.  Here's an example if you live in the DC area you could earn $86k as a GS-12 up to $142 as a GS-15 to start and then it goes up from there.

Might be worth the look. Most attorneys I know have grown disenchanted so you're not necessarily alone.

br89

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Re: 34 year old lawyer. Change careers? Stay the course?
« Reply #24 on: January 15, 2020, 04:58:41 PM »
I appreciate your thoughts and the comments in this thread and would note that you are not alone and that this forum has a disproportionately high number of Canadian and US lawyers trying to figure it all out.  I first became aware of MMM during my first year of practice when it suddenly became apparent to me that all the high-minded academic debates of law school had very little to do with the day to day grind of practicing law and my morale plummeted as I looked for a way out. 

This resonates with me.  I joined this forum as a first-year associate at a BigLaw firm.  I knew immediately that I hated it haha, read these forums voraciously, saved like 75% of my income over the next two years so I could retire ASAP, but then left to pursue something I'm actually passionate about. Now (to my surprise!), I make way more money than I ever would have made in BigLaw (I definitely would not have made partner), and don't save money particularly aggressively because I love my job and no longer want to retire early.

Not all jobs suck! I think if you're feeling stuck as a lawyer, you should: (1) stay in your current position and focus on seriously reducing your expenses so that you have the freedom to take a chance on something you're passionate about; (2) self-reflect and consult with your SO/career coach/non-lawyer friends/whoever to figure out your strengths and what you actually want to do with your life; and then (3) go for it!

Law can be demoralizing and convince really smart talented people that if they weren't a lawyer, they'd be making 50k working full-time because they graduated college with a liberal arts degree. That's crazy! I'm convinced that if most lawyers left law to start a company of some sort, they'd be much more financially successful and happier. Lawyers work really really hard, are detail oriented, read everything, and are usually pretty smart. Most business guys are just winging it.

LWYRUP

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Re: 34 year old lawyer. Change careers? Stay the course?
« Reply #25 on: January 18, 2020, 05:12:51 AM »
@br89, thanks for the post.  My story is similar.  Maybe sharing it will help.  I did biglaw for 3 years and 9 months (counted the days, lol) and left with $700k more than I started thanks to this forum.  I was actually a "good associate" but I hated it.  Some of it was the hours, not because they were long but because they were constantly long -- it wasn't a busy week and then a light week but constantly cranking from the moment I started.  I also had the joy of starting in the recession and watching the shitshow go down.  It was eat what you kill and some associates were overwhelmed and others sitting around.  Then the ones sitting around got fired, and everyone else worked to death.  But the economy was so bad that nobody felt they could ever complain or turn down work.  Also, for all the blah blah blah about how prestigious the firm was (the best in that particular city, supposedly), most of the work I did for the first three years was rote, just 70 hours of it a week, obsessively, on deadlines, never ending.  I poured my heart and soul into when I started, and so by the time I actually moved up to complex things I was already bitter with the whole experience.  It did provide me with a lot of money and confidence -- when I am in a tough negotiation now, I think "if I could handle those jerks at those private equity firm and their enormous egos, I can deal with this."  I will say as a positive that I actually liked most of the people I worked with, it was just the system that frustrated me, and while the partners were paid a lot more I didn't envy their life or the pressure they (through the system, which they control even though they don't realize it) impose on themselves.  I can't imagine how bad it is in a place where the people are also mean. 

After that, I worked for a smaller law firm for less money.  My experience there was more mixed, with positives and negatives, but I can vouch that at least at that firm, the work was just as complex at my biglaw firm.  I still found the phenomenon that what people REALLY wanted from me was to be their assistant lawyer and do the things they didn't want to do to free up their time for other things.  No matter how smart I was or hard I worked, there wasn't really incentive to move me up to things I could clearly handle because -- the senior lawyers didn't want me taking their work from them, they wanted to leverage my time.  Eventually, about a year from partnership, where I felt I'd just be the junior partner reporting to the senior partner, I left.  I got an offer to do something interesting, and when that dropped I did a gut check and realized that I fundamentally could not spend another freaking minute of my life being some other lawyer's assistant lawyer anymore.  Partnership in a year be damned.  I don't need to be the CEO of anything, but I have a new rule now that I'll never take another job reporting to a lawyer, for the simple reason that I fear they'll just do what every other lawyer always did to me -- skim off all the interesting work and leave me with the shit. 

I work for a government agency now.  It's a local agency, and I'm on a special executive payscale so I make more than federal attorneys but a shade under a first year biglawyer in my city.  My agency is actually extremely active and had a desperate need for my skills.  The executive director had lots of dreams and plans but execution was lagging.  In the first 18 months now, we closed $500 million in real estate development and in the next few years hopefully we'll knock out $500 million more.  There are enormous floods of work, so it's not an easy job and I work hard for the money (my hourly pay is $88 plus benefits, so my agency is getting me for a steal, special salary deal notwithstanding), but the work is very high level and there's a pool of a dozen large and medium firms that I can outsource to on a daily basis to keep the pipeline moving.  Incidentally, I have three kids now and live in an expensive city, and like @br89, don't save as much right now.  Maybe 25%. 

There's various things about working at a government bureaucracy that drive me batty, but on the whole I love my particular job and role.  I've learned so much, but also like br89 said, it's really taught me that I have the skills, knowledge and competence to do great things and made me realize I should not sell myself short.  That's why my response to @legalstache was that valuing his 8 years of transaction skills at $50k is probably a sign of depression.  I know I live in a better market, but I personally would never work for someone else for below $150k ever again.  I place a very strong value on autonomy and for avoiding being under someone's thumb, so I've been pushing for a decade to save, invest and reduce overhead to avoid ever needing to put myself in a bad situation again, and to have the ability to walk away, start my own thing and support my family for a few years with limited income if I need to. 

$250 an hour x 1000 hours a year = $250k minus benefits and overhead = $200k.  After all the bullshit and disorganization I've seen, from major law firms on $100 million plus deals, I am convinced there's no way this is not achievable for a lawyer with experience, hustle and diligence. 

I'll also add that in the many deals I've done, I've seen some very questionable hiring and promotion decisions, particularly in the local government / small business domain, so I no longer assume title and pay are a mark of competence  Sometimes, sometimes not.  So just because you are competent does not necessarily mean you'll be the big boss or a millionaire, and just because someone is a big boss doesn't necessarily mean they are God's gift to anything, but if you keep at it and don't allow anyone to sell you short you will craft a meaningful and profitable career.  Don't settle for a bad situation, and don't settle for $50k either. 
« Last Edit: January 18, 2020, 05:16:34 AM by blinx7 »

Malum Prohibitum

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Re: 34 year old lawyer. Change careers? Stay the course?
« Reply #26 on: January 23, 2020, 03:58:04 PM »

$250 an hour x 1000 hours a year = $250k minus benefits and overhead = $200k.  After all the bullshit and disorganization I've seen, from major law firms on $100 million plus deals, I am convinced there's no way this is not achievable for a lawyer with experience, hustle and diligence. 


This should be true, but many lawyers suck at bringing business in the door, especially at $250 an hour.  There are lots and lots and lots of attorneys who are unsuccessful at getting 1000 paid hours at $250 in a single year - in fact, I would say most cannot do this.

Median lawyer income is only about $70k (mean is about $90k), and there are not that many lawyers at the median.  There is, however, a huge cluster under that at $40-50k.  No, I am not talking about first years.  Check out this salary distribution chart:



https://abovethelaw.com/2018/06/the-most-important-chart-in-the-legal-industry-and-it-has-nothing-to-do-with-the-law/

John Galt incarnate!

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Re: 34 year old lawyer. Change careers? Stay the course?
« Reply #27 on: January 23, 2020, 04:11:30 PM »


  I will also add that many people in law school were people who had tried other careers were dissatisfied, and ultimately wound up starting at the same place that I was as a 1L.



When I was in law school public school teachers comprised the  majority of my  older classmates who were dissatisfied with their work.
« Last Edit: January 23, 2020, 04:14:16 PM by John Galt incarnate! »

LWYRUP

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Re: 34 year old lawyer. Change careers? Stay the course?
« Reply #28 on: January 24, 2020, 04:38:20 PM »
  This should be true, but many lawyers suck at bringing business in the door, especially at $250 an hour.  There are lots and lots and lots of attorneys who are unsuccessful at getting 1000 paid hours at $250 in a single year - in fact, I would say most cannot do this.

Median lawyer income is only about $70k (mean is about $90k), and there are not that many lawyers at the median.  There is, however, a huge cluster under that at $40-50k.  No, I am not talking about first years.  Check out this salary distribution chart: 

I think you might be thinking only of starting salary.  The BLS lists lawyers at a median salary of $120k (https://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/lawyers.htm). 

My area of the country is more expensive (bad) but then has higher wages (good) than average.  ABA journal says that private attorneys in my area average $180k.  (The data is a rough estimate as it excludes self-employment but also bonuses and profit-sharing, which impact equity partners in particular a lot.) 

My $200k ballpark assumes 10+ years of experience doing high-level work with direct client contact billing out at rates significantly higher than 250 in a big city.  There are a lot of lawyers who fit this criteria, but it does not include first year attorneys or people who have only done doc review or traffic tickets or something. 

OP does have the experience I am thinking of but is also in a depressed market.  So perhaps $100k would be a safer estimate, but I think your median of $70k is too pessimistic. 

Lucky13

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Re: 34 year old lawyer. Change careers? Stay the course?
« Reply #29 on: January 24, 2020, 09:12:33 PM »
Others might have mentioned this but I personally always have to remind myself that "the grass isn't always greener" in another job. Hard to really know what another industry, occupation, company is really like until you join, and even then a lot can depend on the specific manager and job within the company.
« Last Edit: January 28, 2020, 01:05:57 PM by Lucky13 »

DealingWithDreams

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Re: 34 year old lawyer. Change careers? Stay the course?
« Reply #30 on: February 23, 2020, 09:17:59 AM »
What did you decide to do? I am going through the same thing - I should probably post a case study myself!

Malum Prohibitum

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Re: 34 year old lawyer. Change careers? Stay the course?
« Reply #31 on: February 28, 2020, 04:47:38 PM »
  This should be true, but many lawyers suck at bringing business in the door, especially at $250 an hour.  There are lots and lots and lots of attorneys who are unsuccessful at getting 1000 paid hours at $250 in a single year - in fact, I would say most cannot do this.

Median lawyer income is only about $70k (mean is about $90k), and there are not that many lawyers at the median.  There is, however, a huge cluster under that at $40-50k.  No, I am not talking about first years.  Check out this salary distribution chart: 

I think you might be thinking only of starting salary.  The BLS lists lawyers at a median salary of $120k (https://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/lawyers.htm). 

My area of the country is more expensive (bad) but then has higher wages (good) than average.  ABA journal says that private attorneys in my area average $180k.  (The data is a rough estimate as it excludes self-employment but also bonuses and profit-sharing, which impact equity partners in particular a lot.) 

My $200k ballpark assumes 10+ years of experience doing high-level work with direct client contact billing out at rates significantly higher than 250 in a big city.  There are a lot of lawyers who fit this criteria, but it does not include first year attorneys or people who have only done doc review or traffic tickets or something. 

OP does have the experience I am thinking of but is also in a depressed market.  So perhaps $100k would be a safer estimate, but I think your median of $70k is too pessimistic.

Sorry I did not see this post until now.  The "median" does not exist for attorneys.  Look at the income distribution graph I posted.   It is bimodal, with almost nobody at the median. Very few folks in the middle.  Therefore, the median does not even come close to what one might expect, since so few are there.  I hope that makes sense.

Lawyers are mostly at the bottom (again, look at the graph) with a very few having a spike at the top.  Very few in the median range. 

That graph is starting salaries (2016), but the graph looks very similar for attorneys generally.
« Last Edit: February 28, 2020, 04:50:22 PM by Malum Prohibitum »

legalstache

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Re: 34 year old lawyer. Change careers? Stay the course?
« Reply #32 on: March 01, 2020, 06:18:42 PM »
@DealingWithDreams Sorry, just saw your post! I haven't really made a decision yet. Part of me wants to wait until the baby is a little older just to feel like I have more time/ability to think clearly about this, but I also know that's kicking the can down the road. There's also some potential for a shake up at my firm that could improve things a bit, so I want to see how that plays out. Inertia is tough to overcome, even though I know I could be happier elsewhere...

Would love to see your case study too!

Malum Prohibitum

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Re: 34 year old lawyer. Change careers? Stay the course?
« Reply #33 on: March 10, 2020, 05:12:59 PM »
Let us know what happens.

legalstache

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Re: 34 year old lawyer. Change careers? Stay the course?
« Reply #34 on: March 14, 2020, 11:01:44 AM »
Update:

I had an initial interview with a different firm last week. It went well and I have a second (and likely final) interview with them this coming week. The firm is larger than my current one and has some similar practice areas but also some different ones. I actually know a few people who work there so I have a bit of an in, and feel like I have a pretty good sense of what it would be like there, which is to say, more hours than my current job and a slightly more intense environment in exchange for more money.

I know it probably sounds crazy that I'm even considering this given all my hand-wringing about staying in a legal job earlier in this thread, so I wanted to post about this opportunity and solicit feedback. If the interview this week goes well, it's likely that an offer would be forthcoming by the end of the week so I want to be in a position to decide shortly after that.

I did some career brainstorming and reading since my first post (including reading large parts of the Now What book), checking local job postings, considering what kind of opportunities might be available at non-profits, etc. and frankly am not sure how to parlay my interests into a job that covers my living expenses without staying in the legal field. There are no fed gov jobs where I live and virtually no state jobs. One thing people recommended that I haven't done yet is see a career coach.

Additionally, I have increasing concerns about the security of my current job. If I was closer to FIRE, I'd be tempted to ride it out and take advantage of unemployment benefits if I was laid off, but realistically I'm years away (especially after what the market did last week). 

If I'm offered and accept this new job, I believe I'd be looking at a base of $115-120k, which could speed up my FIRE timeline a little bit. If the job turns out not to be what I'm looking for, I'm sure I could stick it out at least a year and then job hunt and wouldn't really be in a worse position than I am now. Part of me can't believe I'm considering a more stressful job after deliberately seeking something low stress, but the low stress job just isn't working out, so here I am.

What do people think? Obviously, I don't have an offer for the new job yet, but I wanted to solicit thoughts in case one is forthcoming, which I believe is more likely than not. Should I seriously consider this or do I need to go back to the drawing board?

LWYRUP

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Re: 34 year old lawyer. Change careers? Stay the course?
« Reply #35 on: March 23, 2020, 03:14:05 PM »

I am not sure doing more of what you don't like in a more intense environment for slightly more money is really the answer.  Do you feel like you are getting an actual step-up when you look at after-tax dollar per hour (including time and cost of commuting and comparing fringe benefits)?  I feel like there is a strong marginal cost to my labor, so personally I would need to make twice as much, after-tax and taking into account all benefits, to work 60 hours per week instead of 40.  I know we all want to reach FIRE and all that, but for most of us a happy career involves some level of sustainability.  Now if you had a certain specific goal, "I am going to make another $200k and then I have enough money to start my business" or something, then I think it would be an OK tradeoff to push you closer to your goals.  But just more money and more stress for money and stress sake? 

Is the work actually going to be any different?  You indicated a general dissatisfaction with the work, not a "the work is fine I just don't like my bad boss."  I doubt a different firm in the same practice area is going to change things substantially.  You may be even more disappointed when you change and then think "the same crap and now my resume has looked like I've just bounced around."

I'm inclined to think you actually need to do something different.  New career.  New location.  Solo practice work from home.  (Maybe starting out moonlighting).  Side hustle that you can grow into something.  At least a new practice area or something. 

Either that or go back and negotiate more and bring that salary up another $10-15k and make the move really worth it. 

Just my two cents. 

legalstache

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Re: 34 year old lawyer. Change careers? Stay the course?
« Reply #36 on: March 25, 2020, 12:44:40 PM »
Thanks for the input @LWYRUP  I pretty much agree with everything you said.  And I know I said I didn't like the work at all at my current job, but that was a bit of an overstatement on my part.  There are things I like and don't like, and I think I was frustrated and overreacting a bit. 

I ended up getting an offer from the new firm but that has now been put on hold due to Coronavirus business slowdown concerns.  The plan is for them to reach back out in a bit and check back in. I don't know what the new salary at the new firm would be yet (or whether that job will even still be there when the Coronavirus issues finally go away).

In the meantime, I'm going to hang tight.  This doesn't really feel like the time to be changing industries, plus I doubt anywhere is hiring, but I'll keep thinking on these issues.  For what it's worth, the ability to work from home has made my current job a lot more pleasant.  Wishing everyone the best during these strange times!
« Last Edit: March 25, 2020, 12:51:58 PM by legalstache »