Author Topic: Job Opportunity (Lawyer): Triple my Salary, but Long Commute and More Hours  (Read 24050 times)

ReadySetMillionaire

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ETA: please do not quote for privacy reasons. I'll probably delete this after a couple days. Thanks.

I am an attorney in a small midwestern town. Specific information is below, but the long story short of it is that I received a recruiting email on Friday that was very intriguing. This wasn't your traditional spammy recruiting email--it seemed that this legal recruiter really targeted me and crafted an email that exactly fit my skill set and experience. I think my resume (academic and experience) is exactly what the new firm is looking for, so I think I'd be great candidate.

So here's the TL;DR. Current job pays $48k/year, has a short commute (15 minutes), has a low billable hour requirement. Potential new job pays $150k/year, but would have a much higher billable hour requirement and a significantly longer commute (an hour).

Here's a more thorough breakdown:

Current Job

Pros of Working at Current Job

Low billable hour requirement (1400)
Relatively laid back environment
Very well respected firm in local community
Get along well with almost all staff and attorneys
Minimal commute
Lot of autonomy with practice areas
Potentially inherit retiring partner's book of business
Enjoy local legal community/clients

Cons of Working at Current Firm

Uncertain future—lots of partners retiring
Curious whether previous mistakes may follow me to partnership decision
Minimal salary growth due to local area

Salary Notes

$48,000 per year
Currently receiving $704 net paycheck (maxing everything)
Hoping to negotiate raise to $52,000
Very minimal bonus
401k and decent benefits


Potential Job

Pros of Working at New Firm

Position needed fills skill set/experience
Prestigious international law firm
Very high salary and benefits
Would be more specialized in labor and employment
Would enjoy working in city
Likely more billable-friendly work

Cons of Working at New Firm

Increased billable hour requirement (1900)
Very long commute (2.5 hours daily)
Need to take Pennsylvania Bar Exam (4/15 application deadline)
Vehicle maintenance would increase significantly

Salary Notes

$150,000 salary conservative estimate to start
Would receive $2,896 net (conservative) per paycheck
Income would net roughly $6,000-7,000 per month
Offers significantly better benefits than Current firm:
-401k, 529, HAS, FSA
-Business Casual Dress Code
-Pretty much every type of insurance
-Paid Paternity Leave
-Parking/Transportation
-Relocation Expenses
-Technology (Laptop, PDA, etc.)

The big question is "why don't you move?" Truth is my fiance and I don't want to move--we live close to family and friends, we bought a home that was perfect for us, and my fiance absolutely loves her job (which pays very well). I've also done the cost-benefit analysis and have found that it's still cheaper to live here than move to the city.

In essence, I would say this is "geographic arbitrage" without moving--enjoy the high salary of a big city firm, don't move there, but reap the rewards for 7-8 years and then retire back to my low COL area that I enjoy very much. I honestly think I could be FI in 7-8 years if I went to the big firm. Given my salary limitations in the local firm, I think my FI timeline is currently about 13-14 years.

With all that out of the way, thoughts? Should I aggressively pursue this opportunity?

« Last Edit: January 14, 2017, 09:06:54 AM by ReadySetMillionaire »

trashmanz

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Will you be able to work from home?  Do you really need the money?

FIFoFum

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What are your chances of actually staying 7 years at big firm?

What is the % of people who make partner and what efforts will it take (beyond the stated minimum billable)? How will you prevent burnout from working all the time/commuting that distance/not seeing those friends & family you live near?

If the firm layoffs of mid to senior associates in 1 to 2 years or you simply hate it (& need to get out for your own mental health), where will you wind up? Will you be able to go back to local firm with new skills or slot back to the track you were on?

ReadySetMillionaire

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Will you be able to work from home?  Do you really need the money?

Don't know the answer the first question yet.

The money is a significant, significant raise that I think could accelerate FI. It comes with huge drawbacks (many more hours), so I guess the question is whether it's worth it.

ReadySetMillionaire

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What are your chances of actually staying 7 years at big firm?

What is the % of people who make partner and what efforts will it take (beyond the stated minimum billable)? How will you prevent burnout from working all the time/commuting that distance/not seeing those friends & family you live near?

If the firm layoffs of mid to senior associates in 1 to 2 years or you simply hate it (& need to get out for your own mental health), where will you wind up? Will you be able to go back to local firm with new skills or slot back to the track you were on?

Honestly don't know the answer to any of these questions. I've done some reading on TLS and Above the Law but really can't answer any of this. This is really the first time I've looked to lateral.

seattlecyclone

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Is there any way you could work lots of hours for a couple of years, do a great job, and then negotiate for a lower salary and hours requirement? Or is that just not done in the legal world?

chasesfish

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I think the premise of this entire question is wrong:  Its not just between Choice A and Choice B.

Why did you get a law degree to accept a job only earning $48,000/year?  What type of law do you practice?  You have a unique and marketable skill set, if I was in your position I would go hang my own shingle and find some damn clients.

Unless you're a litigator, you don't *have* to work in a big city.  You may have to work in a big city/big firm to make connections/network, then you use those relationships for the rest of your career.   You also have the ability to "retire" a lot earlier than others because of your ability to generate residual income for a couple of billable hours per week. 

Goldielocks

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I don't see a large problem, Choice B is the way to go, unless you are actively semi-retired and looking to gain a lot more time for less money, or have an ethical dilemma with option B  (in which case you would not have posted this question).   

BUT -- Semi-retired folks would actually be looking at billable at under 600 hours per year (less than half time), with lots of time away from the office, which does not seem to be your current role.

$100k is a lot of money for only a 1 hour commute, and you might choose to move after all in a couple of years.   

The 1900 hours billable really means that you will need to work 50 hour weeks, plus 10 hours commuting per week,  including admin and professional development time so if the company feeds you work, this is HIGHLY do-able.   That would be my main concern -- do you have to find your own work for 1900 hours per year? If so, it is very hard to do and your pay would be less than $150k.

calimom

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I agree with the above poster; the  $48,000 current salary seems freakishly low for an attorney. Unless you're doing challenging public interest law (which you're not), or it's very low stress (which it doesn't seem to be), then moving up to a new and much better paid opportunity seems like a viable option. You've clearly invested a great deal of time and money in your law degree, why not optimize it?

The lifestyle part of your equation is going to take some heavy discussion with yourself and your partner. Only you two can decide what's going to work and what's a deal breaker.

Laura33

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1. If this is a prestigious international law firm, you have approximately a 0.001% chance of staying there 7-8 years.  What level would you come in at?  Unless they are offering you an Of Counsel or Staff Attorney (i.e., non-partnership-track) position, you should expect major "hard looks" as you approach partnership (ours are around the 5th-year associate level and then 7th year; we have a 7-yr partnership track, so may be different at a big firm with a longer track).  So unless you integrate quickly and become irreplaceable, I would make the decision assuming you'll looking for work again by the time you hit 7th year associate.

2. Labor and employment is not a profit center for these firms, it is a client service.  This means there are even fewer partnership slots (I also work in a specialty area, and people in my area at larger firms are frequently put on hold for partnership for several years, because all the "client service" lawyers are competing against each other for the one slot that opens up every year or two). 

3.  1,900 billable:  first, I assume that means 2,000 billables for those who are "really" on partnership track (so, again, if you want to survive the 5th and 7th year reviews).  Second, I would assume at least 20% for nonbillable, if not more.  Third, as a lateral, your first job is to make yourself indispensable to your new bosses, so I'd assume even more for the first year or two.  Finally, the other thing many people forget is that the work is never evenly-spread over the course of the year, especially in these specialty areas -- you should assume that some weeks will be 60-hr billable weeks (+ any required nonbillable), and others will be 20 hrs and you're scrambling to find stuff. 

4.  Commute:  a 1-hr commute home feels much, much worse when it's your 81st work-related hour of the week than when it's your 45th or 50th.  To me, the job hours or the commute would be doable, but I have a hard time envisioning both together. 

5.  What does your fiancee think?  What are her hours?  Is she on board with doing more of the cooking, cleaning, homecare, etc., on top of her regular job?  Will she resent that you're not around/not pulling your weight?  If she isn't willing to up her own share of the chores, you're likely going to end up outsourcing more, eating more takeout, etc., because if you're getting home at 9PM, you're not going to want to sit down and cook.  Be realistic about the additional costs (financial and personal) associated with the job.  Fewer years to FIRE isn't a win if it costs you the person you want to spend those FIRE years with.

6.  Do you guys want kids during the time you're at this job?  If so, is your fiancee willing to shoulder that load as well?  Discuss.

7.  If you are looking at this as a 3-4 year cash infusion and do not plan to try to stay on past, say, 7th year associate level, that is probably a more realistic/feasible option (many things are tolerable for short periods).  But in this case:  what is your post-big-firm employment plan?  Is there a realistic option for you to find another job in your current desired town after you spend 3-4 years building relationships and connections in another one?  Seems like local employment options are limited, given your current $48K salary.  If your top priority is staying in that town, I'd make sure there was actually a bush around before leaving your bird in hand.

Personally, there is no way on God's green earth that I would accept that kind of offer with that commute, unless I truly had no other option to pay my bills (and even then the first thing I'd do is look to move).  The job may accelerate your time to FIRE, but it will also accelerate your desire to FIRE by more than 2x. 

Then again, YMMV -- I used to do the Big Firm thing, followed by the smaller-firm-but-train/subway-commute-into-DC thing (leave at 6-7 AM, return home at 7-8:30 PM).  Neither was livable or worth the money for me.  So I chose a smaller, more specialized firm with a better work-life balance in a mid-market, mid-cost city.  You are younger and hungrier than I am now, so you may decide differently -- just make that decision based on all of the facts, not just the big fat salary number.  It's really, really hard to envision what 13 hrs/day of work/commute feels like until you're in the middle of it. 

Goldielocks

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Personally, there is no way on God's green earth that I would accept that kind of offer with that commute, unless I truly had no other option to pay my bills (and even then the first thing I'd do is look to move).  The job may accelerate your time to FIRE, but it will also accelerate your desire to FIRE by more than 2x. 

Then again, YMMV -- I used to do the Big Firm thing, followed by the smaller-firm-but-train/subway-commute-into-DC thing (leave at 6-7 AM, return home at 7-8:30 PM).  Neither was livable or worth the money for me.  So I chose a smaller, more specialized firm with a better work-life balance in a mid-market, mid-cost city.  You are younger and hungrier than I am now, so you may decide differently -- just make that decision based on all of the facts, not just the big fat salary number.  It's really, really hard to envision what 13 hrs/day of work/commute feels like until you're in the middle of it.

LOL!  I liked this post, and found the last part funny. (because I agree, and because of the difference -- you HAVE worked there...:-p  )

However, my guess is that the OP has not worked for a Big Firm and 60 hr work weeks before, so now is the chance.  I personally would not do it again, but I personally, am able to FIRE because I did so for 10 years.    At least this one comes with a nice fat paycheck.

I think everyone should take the chance to experience it.   A few years of hard work while you are younger can lead to many many years of FIRE.

ReadySetMillionaire

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I think the premise of this entire question is wrong:  Its not just between Choice A and Choice B.

Why did you get a law degree to accept a job only earning $48,000/year?  What type of law do you practice?  You have a unique and marketable skill set, if I was in your position I would go hang my own shingle and find some damn clients.

Unless you're a litigator, you don't *have* to work in a big city.  You may have to work in a big city/big firm to make connections/network, then you use those relationships for the rest of your career.   You also have the ability to "retire" a lot earlier than others because of your ability to generate residual income for a couple of billable hours per week.

I am a litigator. I think hanging a shingle is my long term career plan. My idea would be to tough it out at a big firm for as long as I possibly could, keep my current ties here, and then come home and either (a) solo or (b) work at a local firm in town.

ReadySetMillionaire

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Laura33--thank you for your excellent post. I have many friends in Big Law and understand that it is an entirely different animal. See my above post for my long term ideas.

Also, I absolutely will not make any decision without the input of my fiancee. She is giving me general advice ("Do what you think will give you more career satisfaction"), and I'm not entirely sure whether she'd be on board.

But I do know that having this much of a salary would make life a lot easier. Her mom stayed home when she was a kid and I think she wants to work minimally when we do have kids. Me having this high of a salary would give her that freedom. I fully understand with that freedom will come more responsibility, so I know how important and critical her input is before I make my decision.

LOL!  I liked this post, and found the last part funny. (because I agree, and because of the difference -- you HAVE worked there...:-p  )

However, my guess is that the OP has not worked for a Big Firm and 60 hr work weeks before, so now is the chance.  I personally would not do it again, but I personally, am able to FIRE because I did so for 10 years.    At least this one comes with a nice fat paycheck.

I think everyone should take the chance to experience it.   A few years of hard work while you are younger can lead to many many years of FIRE.


The bolded is where I'm at mentally. My thought is that if I don't try and lateral within the next year or two, I probably never will. I feel like now is the perfect time to at least *try* big law for a minimum of 2-3 years. If it doesn't go well, I think I can solo back here or lateral back into a firm; and even then, I'll have made in 3 years what would have taken me nine years to make at my current firm.

GlassStash

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I would echo Laura33's concerns, although it sounds like you have already made up your mind. An additional 500 billable hours + an additional 12+ commuting hours per week is no small undertaking. These are serious time commitments that will inevitably affect your personal relationships.

Your current salary is low compared to what attorneys make in HCOL areas, but I'm guessing it goes pretty far in Youngstown (or Akron or somewhere similar), especially combined with your wife's income. The big, shiny mega firm salaries will always look tempting, but for me, I would rather make less and see my family.

lhamo

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I worked a job with a horrible commute for several years.    For the last 20 months, I was also working 60+ hour weeks. It almost destroyed me, and did serious damage to my marriage as well.   I would not do it.   Maybe if your partner is willing to consider moving closer to your job once you have kids/she quits.   But doesn't sound like that is an option.

You sound like you are going to do it anyway.  Suggestion:  Before you accept the offer, take a week or two of vacation time.  Drive to the big city every day, study for the PA bar for 10-12 hours, and drive back. See how it feels.   I predict that you will decline the offer, but maybe you will find ways to make it more tolerable.   

In my case, the only way I survived my commute was to get up at 4:30 every morning to catch the first bus across town at 5:30, starting work at 7.  That then allowed me to leave at 3 (when I was only working my normal program job this was usually possible).   I would take a taxi home to sort of beat traffic, be home by 4 and have time to go to the gym before dinner.  But I would go to bed by 9 most nights in order to get up at 4:30 the next day.  My DH is a night owl.  Our mismatched schedules did a lot of damage to our relationship.  And that was before I started working the 60 hour weeks.  At that point, I was pretty much a zombie to both him and my kids, until the office moved a bit closer and my commute was more reasonable (30-40 minutes each way by bike or bus).

Good luck making your decision and let us know how it works out.     

chasesfish

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Do you litigate business law or individual criminal/civil law?

I would suggest taking the opportunity, but only if your significant other is fully on board and willing to move with you right near the opportunity.

I've had a soul crushing commute with 60-80 hours a week to accelerate my income.  Looking back, the work was worth it, but the "homestead" was not.  I would have moved right next to the office if I could do it all over again

The beatles

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Where in PA?

150k for 1900 seems high for most of PA outside of the two hubs.

I've been there before. Recruiters send emails like this a lot and then the offer comes in much less. Excuse: "Well... You didn't match ALL of their requirements but they still liked you". Ugh. It's because they buy email lists and sponsored data from places like LinkedIn.
« Last Edit: January 16, 2017, 12:55:17 PM by The beatles »

ReadySetMillionaire

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Beatles: please delete the quoted portion of your post. Thanks.

To the rest, I appreciate the advice, especially from those with personal experience.

As I indicated in my OP, I am in the very early stages of this. I only received a recruiting email and set up an initial phone conference that I was advised was informal.

Thus, at this point, I'm weighing what I would do way ahead of time, but that's how my brain works so here I am.

Again, I appreciate comments from those with personal experience. I brought it up to my fiancée  and she seems to have been acting a bit off this weekend. I don't want to put words in her mouth but I get the distinct impression that she thinks I'm putting a high salary above all else.

After mulling it over, and ultimately deciding I don't want to move, I'm likely going to decline this opportunity, but I'm still going to pursue the interview process. It should be great experience and it has already led to me updating my resume and employment docs.

chrisgermany

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Ex in house lawyer here who has been in similar situations.

Do not underestimate the tear and wear of the commute.
You might become a vegetable in your leisure time.

You might want to use the situation to find out or negotiate partnership track in your current firm. Phrase it well.

Iplawyer

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Sorry - but you cannot commute every day and do this job.  I doubt they would even hire you knowing you expected to commute daily.

First - as previously stated Labor and employment is not a money maker at most firms unless they specialize in it.  It is a loss leader.  As such - you are going to have work 12 hours to bill 8 hours.  There are many aspects to labor and employment that are not litigation and they just work out that way. Your billing rate is going to be so freakishly high - you will be given unreasonable budgets for tasks that must be done regardless of whether you can do them in the billable time constraints. Commuting daily just isn't realistic under these circumstances.

Second - you will be at the mercy of everybody at the law firm who is even one level higher than you are - that is how big law firms work.  And - trust me - you are likely going to be at a very low level - maybe even first year level since you've not been at a big firm. So your time and your schedule will not be your own.  You could end up getting assignments that take until  all hours of the morning frequently.  You could be working every weekend in the office. Commuting daily just isn't realistic under these circumstances. You will be asked to do work outside of your specialty frequently as well.

Third - big law firms are scary competitive among associates - worse than big law school (you've revealed your school in another post and it isn't top 15 so I don't know how competitive it was - so maybe you understand this or maybe not).  You will not have been paying your dues - so you'll be a target of that venum.  Your environment will be toxic.  You are an outsider - so to most people you'll be worse to them than the standard associate who has been there since law school.

If you are going to take this job - you will need to have a different mind set.  You'll need to rent a room close to the firm to stay at least Monday to Thursday nights.   And you will end up spending many weekend there too. Any sign you give to the partners that you aren't available 24/7 will mean they'll give work to other associates, talk about how inflexible you are behind your back, and work at getting you out quickly. So you'll have to suck up and ask for assignments and be on call for everyone.

Finally - if you are an associates track there are multiple other expectations.  You'll be expected to entertain clients, do a lot of community service, do a lot of professional service (prepare and give CLE presentations or, at a minimum, prepare them for partners who give them), etc.  These typically are local and suck up even more of your time.

Iplawyer

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Will you be able to work from home?  Do you really need the money?

Don't know the answer the first question yet.

The money is a significant, significant raise that I think could accelerate FI. It comes with huge drawbacks (many more hours), so I guess the question is whether it's worth it.

No working from home for associates until you have your own clients and have a demonstrated track record of doing everything seamlessly from home.  Face time is everything at a big law firm.

Iplawyer

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Where in PA?

150k for 1900 seems high for most of PA outside of the two hubs.

I've been there before. Recruiters send emails like this a lot and then the offer comes in much less. Excuse: "Well... You didn't match ALL of their requirements but they still liked you". Ugh. It's because they buy email lists and sponsored data from places like LinkedIn.

Beatles - you don't understand law firms.  There is a structured pay scale for associates.  So unless this isn't an associate position then it will be a structured offer based on that.

ReadySetMillionaire

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Sorry - but you cannot commute every day and do this job.  I doubt they would even hire you knowing you expected to commute daily.

First - as previously stated Labor and employment is not a money maker at most firms unless they specialize in it.  It is a loss leader.  As such - you are going to have work 12 hours to bill 8 hours.  There are many aspects to labor and employment that are not litigation and they just work out that way. Your billing rate is going to be so freakishly high - you will be given unreasonable budgets for tasks that must be done regardless of whether you can do them in the billable time constraints. Commuting daily just isn't realistic under these circumstances.

Second - you will be at the mercy of everybody at the law firm who is even one level higher than you are - that is how big law firms work.  And - trust me - you are likely going to be at a very low level - maybe even first year level since you've not been at a big firm. So your time and your schedule will not be your own.  You could end up getting assignments that take until  all hours of the morning frequently.  You could be working every weekend in the office. Commuting daily just isn't realistic under these circumstances. You will be asked to do work outside of your specialty frequently as well.

Third - big law firms are scary competitive among associates - worse than big law school (you've revealed your school in another post and it isn't top 15 so I don't know how competitive it was - so maybe you understand this or maybe not).  You will not have been paying your dues - so you'll be a target of that venum.  Your environment will be toxic.  You are an outsider - so to most people you'll be worse to them than the standard associate who has been there since law school.

If you are going to take this job - you will need to have a different mind set.  You'll need to rent a room close to the firm to stay at least Monday to Thursday nights.   And you will end up spending many weekend there too. Any sign you give to the partners that you aren't available 24/7 will mean they'll give work to other associates, talk about how inflexible you are behind your back, and work at getting you out quickly. So you'll have to suck up and ask for assignments and be on call for everyone.

Finally - if you are an associates track there are multiple other expectations.  You'll be expected to entertain clients, do a lot of community service, do a lot of professional service (prepare and give CLE presentations or, at a minimum, prepare them for partners who give them), etc.  These typically are local and suck up even more of your time.

Thanks for your input. I did look at the price of cheap studio apartments for this very reason.

NoStacheOhio

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If you're planning to drive Youngstown to Pittsburg (assuming here) in February, that's probably going to take more than an hour on the bad days. I have at least one two-hour (one way) commute per year for my 23 mile drive into Cleveland, and more frequent, shorter delays.

Jakejake

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I'm suddenly having flashbacks from when I commuted an hour each way to work. Yeah, an hour on the good days. But when there's snow? UGH. Once I had a 5 hour round trip drive - and got docked in pay because I left after 6 hours of work so I could start the drive home. 11 freaking hours of work & commuting that day - with the 25% paycut as my reward. :(

At the current place where you work - are you allowed to moonlight? Could you do your regular lawyer job, but from home do ten hours a week of some kind of internet-lawyer thing like helping people write wills, instead of 10 hours of commuting?

Kl285528

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Did the big law firm thing many years ago. Looks like that it hasn't changed for the better.
For this type of position, just to stay employed there you will need to be ALL IN. That would include being available all of the time, and participating in that community as a volunteer and leader. I doubt seriously that living that far away would be attractive to the hiring partner. Not to mention the number of hours you will have to be at work to get in the 1900 billables.
Which leads me to the thought... If you just stay put, why not use the time saved to develop additional clientele of your own, or develop some other side hustle that you have more control of? Could you bill more and get paid more where you are? Or, start raising your rates where you are, and make more money there?
Between a 2.5 hour commute, and a 500 hour (at a minimum) billable hour requirement, that is an extra 1125 hour minimum commitment (assuming 250 commuting days). With that amount of time, could you stay where you are, lean into what you are currently doing or broaden your field of practice, and make the money you want or need? OH, I failed to factor in time to study for and take the bar.
Just some thoughts. To be in big law, I really think you have to go all in on it. Good luck, and maybe this will serve as a catalyst to make some form of positive change in your work or money situation or both. Let us know how it turns out.

ReadySetMillionaire

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Did the big law firm thing many years ago. Looks like that it hasn't changed for the better.
For this type of position, just to stay employed there you will need to be ALL IN. That would include being available all of the time, and participating in that community as a volunteer and leader. I doubt seriously that living that far away would be attractive to the hiring partner. Not to mention the number of hours you will have to be at work to get in the 1900 billables.
Which leads me to the thought... If you just stay put, why not use the time saved to develop additional clientele of your own, or develop some other side hustle that you have more control of? Could you bill more and get paid more where you are? Or, start raising your rates where you are, and make more money there?
Between a 2.5 hour commute, and a 500 hour (at a minimum) billable hour requirement, that is an extra 1125 hour minimum commitment (assuming 250 commuting days). With that amount of time, could you stay where you are, lean into what you are currently doing or broaden your field of practice, and make the money you want or need? OH, I failed to factor in time to study for and take the bar.
Just some thoughts. To be in big law, I really think you have to go all in on it. Good luck, and maybe this will serve as a catalyst to make some form of positive change in your work or money situation or both. Let us know how it turns out.

Thanks for these posts you guys--they are helping me see past the huge dollar signs.

I just did a "real hourly wage" calculation by subtracting commuting costs, costs of an additional apartment (which I agree with DD, I would need), and other costs associated with the job. A huge factor in this was including commuting hours to my work hours--this creates a much bigger denominator when calculating my real hourly wage.

So my current hourly wage is about $20.13 (after commuting and business expenses, e.g. dress clothes).  With a raise (which I'm hopeful for, since my receiveables are up $30k from last year, my billable hours were way up, and I seem to be getting positive reviews), my wage would increases to $22.50.

With the new job, the real hourly wage would be somewhere in the ballpark of $39.70.

This doesn't include taxes because I'm admittedly not smart enough with tax law to take a guess at it, so my real hourly wage would likely be even more close after factoring in taxes.

Add in all the downsides--more hours, more pressure, potential sweatshop environment, long commute--I'm starting to think I'm going to pass and head KL's advice--focus on here and use my time to develop. I think partners here make about $80-100k, which would be a great outcome.

boarder42

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there are 2088 working hours a year being asked to be billable for 1900 of them seems incredibly reasonable to me.  i work as an engineering consultant and i'm expected to be 100% billable. on my 2088 hours.  its not too hard to accomplish.  Here i was thinking all you high paid lawyers were being forced to work 3000 hour years.  haha ... silly me.

ReadySetMillionaire

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there are 2088 working hours a year being asked to be billable for 1900 of them seems incredibly reasonable to me.  i work as an engineering consultant and i'm expected to be 100% billable. on my 2088 hours.  its not too hard to accomplish.  Here i was thinking all you high paid lawyers were being forced to work 3000 hour years.  haha ... silly me.

Respectfully, you have no idea how the legal practice works. There are tons of things that need to be done that are not considered billable time. On top of that, partners generally strike time to meet client demands (e.g., if it took you 12 hours to draft a motion  to dismiss, they cut it to 8). The general rule of thumb is you work three hours for every two hours of eventually billed work.

Thus, it's not so much an issue of productivity, so much as it is an issue of how law firms work.

Based on your other posts, you don't seem to be too great at separating your anecdotal experience from another person's reality, so I'll just let the other lawyers beat you in the head with a rhetorical hammer to further advise you how off base this post was.

seattlecyclone

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This just seems like such a toxic culture. How is it better for the firm to have a small number of overworked, overpaid associates who hate their lives and will probably leave within a few years, rather than a larger number of slightly lower-paid people who are able to spend some of their time on things other than law?

Laura33

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This just seems like such a toxic culture. How is it better for the firm to have a small number of overworked, overpaid associates who hate their lives and will probably leave within a few years, rather than a larger number of slightly lower-paid people who are able to spend some of their time on things other than law?

Because the big law firm profit structure requires associates to leave.  Associates are highly profitable, especially mid- and senior-level.  But once they become partners, they share in the profit (instead of contributing to it).  So large firms may hire 10 associates with the expectation that maybe one makes partner in 10 years.  And since they are not really concerned about associate retention, the incentive is to get as much profit out of associates while they are there instead of worrying about work-life balance.

And ther always seem to be enough young lawyers willing to chase the money and the brass ring to keep the system working.

Iplawyer

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there are 2088 working hours a year being asked to be billable for 1900 of them seems incredibly reasonable to me.  i work as an engineering consultant and i'm expected to be 100% billable. on my 2088 hours.  its not too hard to accomplish.  Here i was thinking all you high paid lawyers were being forced to work 3000 hour years.  haha ... silly me.

When I was an engineering consultant I billed every hour I worked.  Such is not the case in a large law firm.  You end up working hard for 3000 hours to bill 1900.

LeRainDrop

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That commute would kill me.  Having worked as an attorney for about 9 years in a comparable environment to what your potential job is, I thanked god all the freaking time that I lived within a few blocks from the office.  I would be leaving my office to go home anywhere from 7 p.m. up to 11 p.m. on a typical day, feeling so glad that I only had a 5-minute commute home.  Sometimes I would literally think to myself, I would not be able to bear this job if I lived 30+ minutes away like some of my friends did.  Parents especially would lament that it would take them 45 minutes to an hour to get home, and that was less time they could spend with their kids -- they would not be there for dinner or even to say goodnight before the kids' bedtime.

Please keep in mind that a 1900 billable-hour requirement at a firm like this, that 1900 is the pure minimum that you can get away with.  Nearly everyone bills at least 2000, and it's not unheard of to have people in the 2100-2300 range.  Plus, in firms like this, there are also much higher non-billable expectations, such as for meetings, training, writing articles, giving CLE presentations, networking opportunities, etc.  When all is said and done, your 1900 firm will likely be expecting about 2500 hours of billable/non-billable time, plus whatever time you waste shooting the breeze or entering your time (neither of which even count as non-billable time).

ETA:  Compensation and other benefits at a firm like this are really awesome -- so many aspects of your life get supported by the firm.  It's just important to go into it realizing that you are literally exchanging that time period of your life for this compensation.  I mean, that's technically true for any job, but this is especially a life v. compensation exchange.
« Last Edit: January 16, 2017, 12:49:28 PM by LeRainDrop »

The beatles

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That commute would kill me.  Having worked as an attorney for about 9 years in a comparable environment to what your potential job is, I thanked god all the freaking time that I lived within a few blocks from the office.  I would be leaving my office to go home anywhere from 7 p.m. up to 11 p.m. on a typical day, feeling so glad that I only had a 5-minute commute home.  Sometimes I would literally think to myself, I would not be able to bear this job if I lived 30+ minutes away like some of my friends did.  Parents especially would lament that it would take them 45 minutes to an hour to get home, and that was less time they could spend with their kids -- they would not be there for dinner or even to say goodnight before the kids' bedtime.

Please keep in mind that a 1900 billable-hour requirement at a firm like this, that 1900 is the pure minimum that you can get away with.  Nearly everyone bills at least 2000, and it's not unheard of to have people in the 2100-2300 range. Plus, in firms like this, there are also much higher non-billable expectations, such as for meetings, training, writing articles, giving CLE presentations, networking opportunities, etc.  When all is said and done, your 1900 firm will likely be expecting about 2500 hours of billable/non-billable time, plus whatever time you waste shooting the breeze or entering your time (neither of which even count as non-billable time).

ETA:  Compensation and other benefits at a firm like this are really awesome -- so many aspects of your life get supported by the firm.  It's just important to go into it realizing that you are literally exchanging that time period of your life for this compensation.  I mean, that's technically true for any job, but this is especially a life v. compensation exchange.

That's what I was saying.

1900 isn't bad at all .... If that's really what they're requiring.

The beatles

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Beatles: please delete the quoted portion of your post. Thanks.

To the rest, I appreciate the advice, especially from those with personal experience.

As I indicated in my OP, I am in the very early stages of this. I only received a recruiting email and set up an initial phone conference that I was advised was informal.

Thus, at this point, I'm weighing what I would do way ahead of time, but that's how my brain works so here I am.

Again, I appreciate comments from those with personal experience. I brought it up to my fiancée  and she seems to have been acting a bit off this weekend. I don't want to put words in her mouth but I get the distinct impression that she thinks I'm putting a high salary above all else.

After mulling it over, and ultimately deciding I don't want to move, I'm likely going to decline this opportunity, but I'm still going to pursue the interview process. It should be great experience and it has already led to me updating my resume and employment docs.

You're right, you did ask not to quote. I just missed it.

Sorry about that.

seattlecyclone

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This just seems like such a toxic culture. How is it better for the firm to have a small number of overworked, overpaid associates who hate their lives and will probably leave within a few years, rather than a larger number of slightly lower-paid people who are able to spend some of their time on things other than law?

Because the big law firm profit structure requires associates to leave.  Associates are highly profitable, especially mid- and senior-level.  But once they become partners, they share in the profit (instead of contributing to it).  So large firms may hire 10 associates with the expectation that maybe one makes partner in 10 years.  And since they are not really concerned about associate retention, the incentive is to get as much profit out of associates while they are there instead of worrying about work-life balance.

And ther always seem to be enough young lawyers willing to chase the money and the brass ring to keep the system working.

It still seems so backwards as someone who has spent his career in the software industry.

Sure, not everyone can get promoted to the top levels. Fine, fair enough. Not everyone can make director or VP of software development at my company either. That doesn't mean you're fired if you don't get there within a certain period of time. As long as you're doing good work that brings value to the company on a consistent basis, we're happy to let you keep doing that indefinitely.

I'm just astounded that there hasn't been a big firm that has found success with a model of paying associates $100k for 1,500 billable hours rather than $150k for 1,900, or at least offering that as an option for those who don't want to completely burn themselves out. Seems like that would be a win for the firm since they're paying less per billable hour, and also a win for the lawyers who can make ends meet on a lesser salary.

Iplawyer

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That commute would kill me.  Having worked as an attorney for about 9 years in a comparable environment to what your potential job is, I thanked god all the freaking time that I lived within a few blocks from the office.  I would be leaving my office to go home anywhere from 7 p.m. up to 11 p.m. on a typical day, feeling so glad that I only had a 5-minute commute home.  Sometimes I would literally think to myself, I would not be able to bear this job if I lived 30+ minutes away like some of my friends did.  Parents especially would lament that it would take them 45 minutes to an hour to get home, and that was less time they could spend with their kids -- they would not be there for dinner or even to say goodnight before the kids' bedtime.

Please keep in mind that a 1900 billable-hour requirement at a firm like this, that 1900 is the pure minimum that you can get away with.  Nearly everyone bills at least 2000, and it's not unheard of to have people in the 2100-2300 range. Plus, in firms like this, there are also much higher non-billable expectations, such as for meetings, training, writing articles, giving CLE presentations, networking opportunities, etc.  When all is said and done, your 1900 firm will likely be expecting about 2500 hours of billable/non-billable time, plus whatever time you waste shooting the breeze or entering your time (neither of which even count as non-billable time).

ETA:  Compensation and other benefits at a firm like this are really awesome -- so many aspects of your life get supported by the firm.  It's just important to go into it realizing that you are literally exchanging that time period of your life for this compensation.  I mean, that's technically true for any job, but this is especially a life v. compensation exchange.

That's what I was saying.

1900 isn't bad at all .... If that's really what they're requiring.

Beatles - I think multiple people have said multiple times that you have to work 12 hours to bill 8 hours.  So to bill 1900 you have to work about 3000 hours.  It is grueling.  That is why they pay the big bucks.  So if you had to bill 2000 or more you just start living at the office.

Undecided

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I think you should pursue it, to find out what the job is. All this close analysis based on limited information seems overwrought. It sounds to me like a staff attorney position (a job without an advancement track), since even first-year associate positions pay 20% more than that, but go find out. It will only take a couple of interviews to get an offer, or not, for that kind of position, and then you'll have the details, and can bring them back here.

LeRainDrop

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This just seems like such a toxic culture. How is it better for the firm to have a small number of overworked, overpaid associates who hate their lives and will probably leave within a few years, rather than a larger number of slightly lower-paid people who are able to spend some of their time on things other than law?

Because the big law firm profit structure requires associates to leave.  Associates are highly profitable, especially mid- and senior-level.  But once they become partners, they share in the profit (instead of contributing to it).  So large firms may hire 10 associates with the expectation that maybe one makes partner in 10 years.  And since they are not really concerned about associate retention, the incentive is to get as much profit out of associates while they are there instead of worrying about work-life balance.

And ther always seem to be enough young lawyers willing to chase the money and the brass ring to keep the system working.

It still seems so backwards as someone who has spent his career in the software industry.

Sure, not everyone can get promoted to the top levels. Fine, fair enough. Not everyone can make director or VP of software development at my company either. That doesn't mean you're fired if you don't get there within a certain period of time. As long as you're doing good work that brings value to the company on a consistent basis, we're happy to let you keep doing that indefinitely.

I'm just astounded that there hasn't been a big firm that has found success with a model of paying associates $100k for 1,500 billable hours rather than $150k for 1,900, or at least offering that as an option for those who don't want to completely burn themselves out. Seems like that would be a win for the firm since they're paying less per billable hour, and also a win for the lawyers who can make ends meet on a lesser salary.

There actually are lots of firms that offer alternative tracks, like what you describe, seattlecyclone.  What those of us with biglaw experience have been describing above is really the associate-to-partner track.  At my firm, the alternative (and much less popular) track included staff attorneys and counsel, who had slightly lower billable hour requirements (like 100 hours less per year), somewhat reduced compensation, but also significantly less pressure for the non-billable work, such as client pitches, networking, writing articles, etc.  My firm also had the option of reduced hours for attorneys on partnership track -- I think down to 80% hours still kept you eligible for full benefits package -- and compensation was reduced pro rata.  To get the reduced percentage schedule, though, it had to be approved by your department, so in practice this schedule was typically for new parents and mostly mothers with young kids, and it generally meant you had to have a strong track record at the firm before reducing your hours.  Caveat: it is an ongoing problem to juggle workload and balance that against your approved hours -- i.e., people on 80% end up getting asked/required to do work that bumps them up to 90 or 100% (similar to those at 100%, who are usually doing like 110 or 120%).
« Last Edit: January 16, 2017, 07:30:40 PM by LeRainDrop »

biglawinvestor

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It sounds like this is your chance to make the jump from a small firm to biglaw.

It also sounds like a brutal jump to make with the commute factored in (from your initial post, I assume it's 1.25 hours each way), particularly since you won't be able to use your commute for productive time (i.e. if you were on a train, you could easily handle emails, timekeeping, etc.).

Yes, biglaw will take up all of your time. You seem to already know this, which is a good start because you're going in eyes wide open.

The only thing I'd quibble with among the many excellent replies above is that the jump from 1400 to 1900 won't be as bad as it looks (you won't really be working an additional 500 hours). Big firms have a lot of billable matters, so the reality is that you'll have more productive days and less "lost time" when you're at work with nothing to do.

Feel free to PM me if you want to exchange emails / thoughts. Ultimately it'll be your decision, but I can see the allure to trying it out even knowing that you may only be there for 2-3 years.

The beatles

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That commute would kill me.  Having worked as an attorney for about 9 years in a comparable environment to what your potential job is, I thanked god all the freaking time that I lived within a few blocks from the office.  I would be leaving my office to go home anywhere from 7 p.m. up to 11 p.m. on a typical day, feeling so glad that I only had a 5-minute commute home.  Sometimes I would literally think to myself, I would not be able to bear this job if I lived 30+ minutes away like some of my friends did.  Parents especially would lament that it would take them 45 minutes to an hour to get home, and that was less time they could spend with their kids -- they would not be there for dinner or even to say goodnight before the kids' bedtime.

Please keep in mind that a 1900 billable-hour requirement at a firm like this, that 1900 is the pure minimum that you can get away with.  Nearly everyone bills at least 2000, and it's not unheard of to have people in the 2100-2300 range. Plus, in firms like this, there are also much higher non-billable expectations, such as for meetings, training, writing articles, giving CLE presentations, networking opportunities, etc.  When all is said and done, your 1900 firm will likely be expecting about 2500 hours of billable/non-billable time, plus whatever time you waste shooting the breeze or entering your time (neither of which even count as non-billable time).

ETA:  Compensation and other benefits at a firm like this are really awesome -- so many aspects of your life get supported by the firm.  It's just important to go into it realizing that you are literally exchanging that time period of your life for this compensation.  I mean, that's technically true for any job, but this is especially a life v. compensation exchange.

That's what I was saying.

1900 isn't bad at all .... If that's really what they're requiring.

Beatles - I think multiple people have said multiple times that you have to work 12 hours to bill 8 hours.  So to bill 1900 you have to work about 3000 hours.  It is grueling.  That is why they pay the big bucks.  So if you had to bill 2000 or more you just start living at the office.


Maybe in some cases, but not all.

I'm most cases, 1900 is going to be a 55-60 hour work week.

It's not grueling, and it's what expected from nearly every attorney in my area and anyone who works in a hub.
« Last Edit: January 16, 2017, 07:59:41 PM by The beatles »

JuSp02

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I'm going to offer a counter opinion here. I've been doing the big law thing for 4.5 years now. There have definitely been moments, especially in the beginning, when I absolutely hated and resented the fact that I was giving up so much of my life to work. Billing 1900 minimum hours is not easy, as many PPs have said. But, it has definitely allowed me to super accelerate our FI/ER plans and I know that it will be a lot easier for me to make a move in-house or to a smaller firm because I have the name of a large firm to back up my resume. Personally knowing that I have no interest in becoming partner also makes the job a lot less stressful. I don't have to play the politics or the games because of that and it's easier for me to overlook some of the BS that I deal with. I also graduated with massive student loans and have been able to quickly pay those off and rack up a sizable net worth.

In addition to the hours requirement, big law typically comes with different demands. You will be a lot more likely to have demanding partners and clients who will send you the Friday 5pm request that you're expected to turn around in a day. Expect to cancel more of your personal plans with little notice.

Ultimately, this is a personal decision that you have to make. Is the money and resume booster ultimately worth it to you? For me, the answer has been "yes" for a few years.

All of that being said, I would never do big law with more than a 30 min commute. I know plenty of people who do long commutes in big law, but I would find it soul crushing, particularly as an associate.

ReadySetMillionaire

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I'm going to offer a counter opinion here. I've been doing the big law thing for 4.5 years now. There have definitely been moments, especially in the beginning, when I absolutely hated and resented the fact that I was giving up so much of my life to work. Billing 1900 minimum hours is not easy, as many PPs have said. But, it has definitely allowed me to super accelerate our FI/ER plans and I know that it will be a lot easier for me to make a move in-house or to a smaller firm because I have the name of a large firm to back up my resume. Personally knowing that I have no interest in becoming partner also makes the job a lot less stressful. I don't have to play the politics or the games because of that and it's easier for me to overlook some of the BS that I deal with. I also graduated with massive student loans and have been able to quickly pay those off and rack up a sizable net worth.

In addition to the hours requirement, big law typically comes with different demands. You will be a lot more likely to have demanding partners and clients who will send you the Friday 5pm request that you're expected to turn around in a day. Expect to cancel more of your personal plans with little notice.

Ultimately, this is a personal decision that you have to make. Is the money and resume booster ultimately worth it to you? For me, the answer has been "yes" for a few years.

All of that being said, I would never do big law with more than a 30 min commute. I know plenty of people who do long commutes in big law, but I would find it soul crushing, particularly as an associate.

The first bolded part represents things that intrigued me about the job. I really would not have any interest at partnership--I'd like to work there 4-5 years just to accelerate FI.

As to the second bolded part, ya, the commute scares me more than the work. I've been reading about how to make a commute productive and picked up some ideas that could make the time useful (make phone calls, dictate time entries for secretary to enter the next day, etc.).

This also intrigued me, because I thought the exact same thing:

It sounds like this is your chance to make the jump from a small firm to biglaw.
..
The only thing I'd quibble with among the many excellent replies above is that the jump from 1400 to 1900 won't be as bad as it looks (you won't really be working an additional 500 hours). Big firms have a lot of billable matters, so the reality is that you'll have more productive days and less "lost time" when you're at work with nothing to do.

Feel free to PM me if you want to exchange emails / thoughts. Ultimately it'll be your decision, but I can see the allure to trying it out even knowing that you may only be there for 2-3 years.

I'm see-sawing back and forth on this, but I talked with my fiancee this morning and I think we are leaning towards accepting an offer (if it eventually does come my way). This comes with the understanding that I would keep this job for 4-5 years just to accelerate FI, which I think could make this very manageable. 

biglawinvestor

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I'm see-sawing back and forth on this, but I talked with my fiancee this morning and I think we are leaning towards accepting an offer (if it eventually does come my way). This comes with the understanding that I would keep this job for 4-5 years just to accelerate FI, which I think could make this very manageable. 

It's a gamble. If your expectations are low, you understand that you're going to be working all the time and that it could be miserable, you'll probably be pleasantly surprised. If you like it a lot, maybe in a year you'll revisit the decision to stay in your location and move a little closer to the job. Law is so prestige driven that it's hard to see how this experience will be viewed as a negative. You can always tell future employers (even if that's in 1-2 years) that you wanted to jump into a high intensity practice so you could gain a lot of experience quickly. Everyone will nod their head and think you're a hard worker.

If you take the job, the biggest challenge, is DO NOT SQUANDER THAT MONEY. I know you won't - you're posting on an MMM forum - but your spending will increase naturally as a way to cope with the stress. Don't expect your willpower to be strong enough to win that battle. Develop systems that will carry you through. DO NOT SQUANDER.

Iplawyer

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That commute would kill me.  Having worked as an attorney for about 9 years in a comparable environment to what your potential job is, I thanked god all the freaking time that I lived within a few blocks from the office.  I would be leaving my office to go home anywhere from 7 p.m. up to 11 p.m. on a typical day, feeling so glad that I only had a 5-minute commute home.  Sometimes I would literally think to myself, I would not be able to bear this job if I lived 30+ minutes away like some of my friends did.  Parents especially would lament that it would take them 45 minutes to an hour to get home, and that was less time they could spend with their kids -- they would not be there for dinner or even to say goodnight before the kids' bedtime.

Please keep in mind that a 1900 billable-hour requirement at a firm like this, that 1900 is the pure minimum that you can get away with.  Nearly everyone bills at least 2000, and it's not unheard of to have people in the 2100-2300 range. Plus, in firms like this, there are also much higher non-billable expectations, such as for meetings, training, writing articles, giving CLE presentations, networking opportunities, etc.  When all is said and done, your 1900 firm will likely be expecting about 2500 hours of billable/non-billable time, plus whatever time you waste shooting the breeze or entering your time (neither of which even count as non-billable time).

ETA:  Compensation and other benefits at a firm like this are really awesome -- so many aspects of your life get supported by the firm.  It's just important to go into it realizing that you are literally exchanging that time period of your life for this compensation.  I mean, that's technically true for any job, but this is especially a life v. compensation exchange.

That's what I was saying.

1900 isn't bad at all .... If that's really what they're requiring.

Beatles - I think multiple people have said multiple times that you have to work 12 hours to bill 8 hours.  So to bill 1900 you have to work about 3000 hours.  It is grueling.  That is why they pay the big bucks.  So if you had to bill 2000 or more you just start living at the office.


Maybe in some cases, but not all.

I'm most cases, 1900 is going to be a 55-60 hour work week.

It's not grueling, and it's what expected from nearly every attorney in my area and anyone who works in a hub.

Beatles - you've never worked at a law firm- SO WHY ARE YOU WEIGHING IN ON THIS AS IF YOU HAD? To reiterate another thing I've said - most attorneys don't work at such firms.  Most attorneys work for a lot less money at firms that are not in the top tier for paying associates $180K to start. On the other hand, I've worked at 5 national law firms that pay "brass ring" salaries and they are all the same and have the same policies at ALL of their national offices.  That is how they work.  You want to grab the brass ring - you pay the price.

As I've also made clear - I've worked as a consultant in a high demand engineering field - and I billed every hour I worked - it was much different than working at a big law firm.  A 1900 hour requirement is more like a 3000 hour requirement at a normal job.  That means very long days, nights, and weekends.  Your time is not your own.  A partner can and will come in at 4 pm on Friday and give you a 50 hour assignment due on Monday that you must spend all weekend in the office finishing.  And it happens all of the time.

And his area of law is a loss leader for a firm.  So the partners will be writing his time off all of the time and complaining that they are. He will need to be stepping up to the plate in every other way to make up for this.

Iplawyer

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I'm see-sawing back and forth on this, but I talked with my fiancee this morning and I think we are leaning towards accepting an offer (if it eventually does come my way). This comes with the understanding that I would keep this job for 4-5 years just to accelerate FI, which I think could make this very manageable. 

It's a gamble. If your expectations are low, you understand that you're going to be working all the time and that it could be miserable, you'll probably be pleasantly surprised. If you like it a lot, maybe in a year you'll revisit the decision to stay in your location and move a little closer to the job. Law is so prestige driven that it's hard to see how this experience will be viewed as a negative. You can always tell future employers (even if that's in 1-2 years) that you wanted to jump into a high intensity practice so you could gain a lot of experience quickly. Everyone will nod their head and think you're a hard worker.

If you take the job, the biggest challenge, is DO NOT SQUANDER THAT MONEY. I know you won't - you're posting on an MMM forum - but your spending will increase naturally as a way to cope with the stress. Don't expect your willpower to be strong enough to win that battle. Develop systems that will carry you through. DO NOT SQUANDER.

Except that he likely cannot every go back to the small firm where he has made a reputation and is doing well.  So that is the risk.  Small firms don't like training attorneys to have them jump ship.  They will reward the attorneys they trained that stay with them.  Law firms are different than any other employer - and I can say that because I had a 20 year career before starting law.  It is different.  So he must weigh the value of his current situation with losing that forever.

ReadySetMillionaire

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Except that he likely cannot every go back to the small firm where he has made a reputation and is doing well.  So that is the risk.  Small firms don't like training attorneys to have them jump ship.  They will reward the attorneys they trained that stay with them.  Law firms are different than any other employer - and I can say that because I had a 20 year career before starting law.  It is different.  So he must weigh the value of his current situation with losing that forever.

You (and others) seem to have a good grasp on law firm dynamics/economics.  With that in mind, would you interview with this big firm and, if an offer comes, use said offer to try and negotiate a raise at my current firm?

I've had my ups and downs here (God I hate that cliche), but I think I'm on a very good trajectory. My frustration is that I've been here two years and haven't received a raise and, as others have noted, $50k for a lawyer--even in a small market--isn't that great.

I want to find some way to leverage this opportunity, but if even bringing up this interviewing process breaks all trust with my current employer, then I don't want to burn the bridge I'm currently standing on.

biglawinvestor

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Except that he likely cannot every go back to the small firm where he has made a reputation and is doing well.  So that is the risk.  Small firms don't like training attorneys to have them jump ship.  They will reward the attorneys they trained that stay with them.  Law firms are different than any other employer - and I can say that because I had a 20 year career before starting law.  It is different.  So he must weigh the value of his current situation with losing that forever.

Agreed that OP is likely not going back to the small firm ever again, but I challenge your assumption that the small firm is going to be "upset" with him. The small firm didn't "train" OP - small firms don't have training programs - the big firm is going to offer actual training and, most importantly, more experience. If OP wanted to go back to the small firm, assuming he didn't burn any bridges AND that they had a need for the OP, seems like they'd welcome a familiar face who now has 2x the experience. I know I would if I were running the small firm.

But again, agreed that OP is likely giving up the small firm because circumstances won't align to let him back in. So it's a gamble, but it strikes me as a gamble worth taking. If the job was in the same city, I'd say it was a no brainer. The problem is the commute.

Malum Prohibitum

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I agree with the above poster; the  $48,000 current salary seems freakishly low for an attorney.
  You've been watching too much TV and movies.  That is depressingly common for attorneys.

http://www.businessinsider.com/middle-class-lawyers-are-a-dying-breed-2015-6

Quote
Adjusted for inflation, in 1967 law firm partners earned roughly $173,000 and solo practitioners earned $74,580.

Both of these amounts were above the median income, and while partners were wealthier, there was not an unimaginable gap between the two groups.

By 2012, solo practitioners had seen their incomes fall to $49,130, a 34% decrease, while partners earned $349,000, a 100% increase.

$49,130 is not the starting salary for solo practitioners. It is the average income of all 354,000 lawyers who filed as solo practitioners in 2012, including those who have practiced law their whole lives.

biglawinvestor

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I want to find some way to leverage this opportunity, but if even bringing up this interviewing process breaks all trust with my current employer, then I don't want to burn the bridge I'm currently standing on.

I know you didn't ask me specifically, but 100% yes I would use this as a negotiating tactic if you decide to stay at the small firm assuming that you believe they have the ability to pay you more (which I'd figure out by taking my billable rate multiplied by my collected billable hours minus my salary and overhead). If you think there's room for you to get paid more, then let them know. Tell them that you don't want to take the offer, but you're feeling pressure to pay off your student loans, etc. The worst they can do is come back and tell you that $50K is the max they are willing to pay you. If so, then you can decide whether you want to stay or not.