Author Topic: Law Degree or Stay Put?  (Read 6096 times)

TwoJays

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Law Degree or Stay Put?
« on: July 19, 2016, 07:50:51 PM »
Hi all,

I've been reading through the articles and forums on this site for about 6 months now and could really use your advice! I think I know the right answer but would appreciate any input you have.

I'm a 24 year old male who is about to get married and have planned on going to law school for quite some time. I'm fortunate to have deferred a full tuition scholarship to one of the best law schools in the country (not Harvard/Yale level, but close) but was recently given a promotion at work that has me reconsidering my options. I really enjoy where I work but feel the desire (need?) to continue my education given that my BA is in Philosophy, I work for a smaller organization that could be heavily influenced by a sustained economic downturn, and my DW-to-be wants to work for non-profits and thus our income will largely be dependent on my salary. We do live in an area with low cost of living so that's something to consider as well.

Current Income: 80k total, 65k + 15k in benefits (health insurance, retirement match, etc.)
Income by 2020 (Potential Graduation Year): 88k total, 72k + ~16k in benefits

Law school has a greater likelihood of a high income long-term and I'd need to pay for my own education if I stay with my current employer. That said, the downside of law school is that there's some risk in terms of not getting a well paying job (or a job at all), I'd be moving my DW-to-be across country and away from family and friends, and we miss out on roughly $250k income over the next 3.5 years (and all the growth opportunity that presents as well).

What would you do in my shoes? I don't want to handicap my future for some current earnings but also don't want to take an unnecessary risk to improve income (and potentially lower quality of life). Any and all suggestions are welcome!
« Last Edit: September 17, 2016, 07:52:18 AM by TwoJays »

pbkmaine

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Re: Law Degree or Stay Put?
« Reply #1 on: July 19, 2016, 07:55:23 PM »
I am not hearing any particular passion for the law in your post. Instead, you are looking at it as a way to earn more money. Is this correct?

Zamboni

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Re: Law Degree or Stay Put?
« Reply #2 on: July 19, 2016, 08:08:55 PM »
MBA? Might be a better fit for you, and there are many part time or weekend programs, so you could keep working and stashing.

TFTF

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Re: Law Degree or Stay Put?
« Reply #3 on: July 19, 2016, 08:09:55 PM »
Free tuition at a top law school is a great opportunity. Given that you're young, so the opportunity cost of quitting your job and uprooting yourself is relatively low, I'd be inclined to go for it *unless* you really cannot see yourself being content practicing law (passion is not necessary, contentment is) or your current position really is your life's passion and you'd regret it forever if you left it behind. My answer would be different if it weren't a top school, if you didn't have a scholarship, or if you were further along in life/career, but based on what you've said, I see a lot of opportunity and very little down side. (If you do well at a top school, the risk of not finding a job is extraordinarily low. I assume you are likely to do well based on the fact that you have a scholarship.) That being said, there is no universal "right answer," so don't try too hard to find one.

sis

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Re: Law Degree or Stay Put?
« Reply #4 on: July 19, 2016, 08:13:28 PM »
If you got it to a T14 school go for it, ace your classes, and work big law.  Big Law just got a bump to 180k starting salary, as I'm sure you know.

freeatlast

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Re: Law Degree or Stay Put?
« Reply #5 on: July 20, 2016, 12:26:46 AM »
Hi. I have a J.D. I went to law school because, while I am very smart (3.8 GPA throughout) , I did not know what I wanted to do.  (I wish I had studied science, but I digress). I went to a well regarded public law school but not considered a first tier. Anyway, law is a very difficult, and a potentially emotionally draining field. Some people love it and thrive. Not me. private practice was not a good fit, so I went into a related field in the insurance industry where my J.D. served me well but I wasn't practicing.  I have never made $180k... even 20 years out. My best year was $110k plus $20k bonus. I am not complaining, it is a good living but you should know not all lawyers make $200k or more.....

So, I guess my point is, make sure you will like the work. Talk to attorneys in many areas. You can do many things with a law degree for sure, but many of those things will not make you rich fast. A free ride is hard to pass up. But, if you have already found a field that makes you happy, there is a lot of value in that.

I sincerely wish you the best of luck in whatever you decide!!!!!

Waylander

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Re: Law Degree or Stay Put?
« Reply #6 on: July 20, 2016, 01:38:28 AM »
Hi. I have a law degree. I suspect you'll probably take the leap of faith to do the degree but my 2cents: Don't do it if it's only about the money.

I note that you said you're happy with your current job. That is extremely rare for any lawyer to say - especially one in big law (i.e. the ones earning the type of money you always read about). The job market for lawyers at the moment is not fantastic so:

Scenario 1: Get a well-paying big law job.
Ask yourself: You're 24 now - you'll be 27/28 when you graduate. You won't have the same energy level you have now - will you be OK with the long hours you'll have to put in? When I was in big law it was not uncommon for us to cry at our desks (men and women) at 2 am. Big law is also full of nasty characters - demanding clients and bosses who think that money makes the world go round. It's emotionally hellish. I also rarely saw my parents and had to regularly miss family reunions and holidays. Not to mention how terrible it was for my health - ate irregularly and did not have energy/motivation to exercise.

Scenario 2: Get an OK-paying practicing law job or an inhouse law job.
Ask yourself: Would you be better off staying in your current job (which you love) for a job you may not care very much about, for probably not much more money than you would be making? Also bear in mind that there are many areas of practice of law - what would you want to practice? The areas of practice which would typically be more rewarding to you as the lawyer (e.g. criminal defence / matrimonial) would not be the ones paying well (e.g. banking / general corporate). You may not even have the luxury of choice - when I got a job in big law, they put me in a dept I had not even interviewed for b/c it was the one with the vacancy.

Scenario 3: Luck out and get a decent-paying job which you love (most days).
This is me after spending 3 years in big law. I'm much happier now in an in house position which pays well and I'm grateful to be where I am now. However, my story is not common and many of my peers are stuck in either scenario 1 or 2 above. So it's definitely possible to have it all work out with a bit of luck and a lot of work.

All the best, OP! I hope you land in Scenario 3 like I have. I've given the same advice to many people re law school. For many... it just hasn't been worth it.

Nick_Miller

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Re: Law Degree or Stay Put?
« Reply #7 on: July 20, 2016, 06:58:57 AM »
Hi all,

I've been reading through the articles and forums on this site for about 6 months now and could really use your advice! I think I know the right answer but would appreciate any input you have.

I'm a 24 year old male who is about to get married and have planned on going to law school for quite some time. I'm fortunate to have deferred a full tuition scholarship to one of the best law schools in the country (not Harvard/Yale level, but close) but was recently given a promotion at work that has me reconsidering my options. I really enjoy where I work but feel the desire (need?) to continue my education given that my BA is in Philosophy, I work for a smaller organization that could be heavily influenced by a sustained economic downturn, and my DW-to-be wants to work for non-profits and thus our income will largely be dependent on my salary. We do live in an area with low cost of living so that's something to consider as well.

Current Income: 80k total, 65k + 15k in benefits (health insurance, retirement match, etc.)
Income by 2020 (Potential Graduation Year): 88k total, 72k + ~16k in benefits
Law School Income: likely $100-$120k total to start and rising from there (based on statistics for recent graduating classes, accounting for the bi-modal distribution of lawyer salaries, and the low cost of living in the area we'd like to live long-term).

Law school has a greater likelihood of a high income long-term and I'd need to pay for my own education if I stay with my current employer. That said, the downside of law school is that there's some risk in terms of not getting a well paying job (or a job at all), I'd be moving my DW-to-be across country and away from family and friends, and we miss out on roughly $250k income over the next 3.5 years (and all the growth opportunity that presents as well).

What would you do in my shoes? I don't want to handicap my future for some current earnings but also don't want to take an unnecessary risk to improve income (and potentially lower quality of life). Any and all suggestions are welcome!

Hey, practicing attorney here. I'd think long and hard before going to law school.

1) Are you sure that starting attorneys in the LCOL area you'd ultimately like to live in start at $100K-$120K?? That seems high. I know there are some BigLaw firms in LCOL areas, especially in the south, but I'd urge you to be very specific and realistic with your salary projections.

2) I went to a "Top 20" Law School but returned to my home town (fairly LCOL area) in the midwest. Guess what? I would have been better off just attending the local law school as it would have given me better networking connections. Once you actually become a lawyer, hardly anyone cares where you went to law school. Now I understand that you have a full ride to a great school, and that's AWESOME..seriously. You sound like an impressive guy. I'm just saying, don't assume that people in "normal' cities care about the prestige factor all that much.

3) I'm not enough of a math guy to do figure this out, but can you figure out what salary you'd need to earn post-law school and the x number of years you'd need to work doing that just to break even if your projected salary (and savings) at your current job?

4) And what does your DW-to-be think about all of this? She needs to be involved in the decision. Is she okay with moving away? How long will it take her to get a new job? Is she willing to work really hard to support your family's living expenses while you're in law school for three years? I'd make sure she wouldn't resent being put in that position. You don't mention your current savings, but I would stress that I'd only consider going to law school IF your wife could support you the entire way through without ANY school loans. Losing three years of income is bad enough, trust me. You don't need loans compounding the problem.

I wish you the best, whatever you decide!
« Last Edit: July 20, 2016, 07:02:09 AM by Nick_Miller »

chesebert

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Re: Law Degree or Stay Put?
« Reply #8 on: July 20, 2016, 07:04:13 AM »
You need to revise up the income to $180k for 1st year associate in major markets (even some LCOLs are at $180k now).

I would take the free ride at one of the top 10 schools in a heart beat.

Good luck!
« Last Edit: July 20, 2016, 07:08:30 AM by chesebert »

ReadySetMillionaire

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Re: Law Degree or Stay Put?
« Reply #9 on: July 20, 2016, 07:08:41 AM »
Hey, practicing attorney here. I'd think long and hard before going to law school.

1) Are you sure that starting attorneys in the LCOL area you'd ultimately like to live in start at $100K-$120K?? That seems high. I know there are some BigLaw firms in LCOL areas, especially in the south, but I'd urge you to be very specific and realistic with your salary projections.

2) I went to a "Top 20" Law School but returned to my home town (fairly LCOL area) in the midwest. Guess what? I would have been better off just attending the local law school as it would have given me better networking connections. Once you actually become a lawyer, hardly anyone cares where you went to law school. Now I understand that you have a full ride to a great school, and that's AWESOME..seriously. You sound like an impressive guy. I'm just saying, don't assume that people in "normal' cities care about the prestige factor all that much.

3) I'm not enough of a math guy to do figure this out, but can you figure out what salary you'd need to earn post-law school and the x number of years you'd need to work doing that just to break even if your projected salary (and savings) at your current job?

4) And what does your DW-to-be think about all of this? She needs to be involved in the decision. Is she okay with moving away? How long will it take her to get a new job? Is she willing to work really hard to support your family's living expenses while you're in law school for three years? I'd make sure she wouldn't resent being put in that position. You don't mention your current savings, but I would stress that I'd only consider going to law school IF your wife could support you the entire way through without ANY school loans. Losing three years of income is bad enough, trust me. You don't need loans compounding the problem.

I wish you the best, whatever you decide!

Also a practicing attorney here, and I agree with everything in this post.

I'll also add that I encourage you to go to law school if you are passionate about practicing law. I enjoy it most days and feel a lot of pride and responsibility knowing that people call me when they have a problem. But if you are doing it for the money, (a) you won't make as much as you think, and (b) you won't enjoy it.

Good luck on your decision.

PS: I encourage you to check out toplawschools' forum and post around on there.

onlykelsey

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Re: Law Degree or Stay Put?
« Reply #10 on: July 20, 2016, 07:10:40 AM »
Everyone else has given good advice already.

I will especially second the question about why you think 100-120K is a starting salary, especially in a LCOL area.  I'm a few years out, but I know literally zero people who earned that out of my T14 law school.  A few of us got biglaw gigs, the majority started at 50-60K, and a sizable group were unemployed/working for stipends/etc.

Something no one has directly brought up is children.  I don't know if you and your dear wife want to have children, but if you do, you should think this through.  You will be older and less physically resilient than average when you start working as a lawyer.  The stories about being screamed at and having things thrown at you and crying in your office at 4 AM and getting 90 minutes a night on your office floor are all true, although they're not day to day.  The stories are especially true when you're in your first 3-4 years of practicing.  I can not imagine adding a pregnant wife or child during those years.  Are you okay only being able to start a family around 33? Is your wife okay with that?  Is your wife okay being the primary caretaker when you're away 12-16 hours a day and answering emails the rest of the time?  Have you priced in the cost of help (cleaning, childcare, whatever) to your higher income?  Two folks working 9-5s can use a standard daycare.  It's unlikely to be an option for you.

This is all a little "glass ball"-ish, but I do think we're due for the next downturn in the hiring market for new lawyers.  Standards have dropped at all the big law schools, which was an indicator of the bubble the last two times, and law school is starting to be attractive to top students again.  I'm not a gambling (wo)man, but I think the class of 2019 or so will be hit hard.  This is all impossible to predict, of course, but figure out what you would do if you were unemployable in your field after 250K and three years of your life.  It happened to a bunch of my friends who left their first careers (we were interviewing in 2009 for Fall 2011 positions), and I don't know any of them who have made a comeback, five years on.  It sounds like you don't expect to be able to rely on your wife's income.  Look around and see if you can find "failed" lawyers who went back to the career you're in now.  I don't know a lot of them, but your field may be different.

Lucky Girl

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Re: Law Degree or Stay Put?
« Reply #11 on: July 20, 2016, 07:40:17 AM »
Another lawyer here.  I tell everyone considering it NOT to go into law.  Unless you have a major passion and previous experience in a related field (ie. immigration law, politics), getting a job can be incredibly difficult, not very rewarding, and much lower paying than you think.

My experience--I went to a top 20 law school right out of undergrad and did not love it.  I thought I would be making $120k based on all the BullSh*t marketing materials the law schools put out.  The bottom of the market dropped out (this was 2001-2002) and firms were closing left and right.  When I graduated I did not have a job of any kind, despite fairly good grades.  (Only the top 10% of my class had jobs).  I did contract work for a year, and then landed a non-profit job making 60K in a slightly related field.  The first time I broke $100K was 12 years after graduating law school, in a job I could have gotten far more easily if I had just skipped law school entirely.  Add in the lost wages and for three years and you get a highly unprofitable decision!

pbkmaine

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Re: Law Degree or Stay Put?
« Reply #12 on: July 20, 2016, 07:44:39 AM »
MBA? Might be a better fit for you, and there are many part time or weekend programs, so you could keep working and stashing.

Is it worth seeing if you could get a scholarship to B-School instead? You must be a good test taker.

DreamingOfFIRE

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Re: Law Degree or Stay Put?
« Reply #13 on: July 20, 2016, 09:03:51 AM »
I am a lawyer as well, and I would reiterate many of the comments above and suggest you only go to law school if you have a passion for practicing law.  I went because it seemed like a great opportunity and I did not have a plan B I was particularly excited about.  I ended up at a top school and then in biglaw for a few years.  I jumped hoping for better work/life balance in a smaller city.  Unfortunately, I have not found that in midlaw in a mid-sized city (although I do pull fewer all-nighters).  I am still paid well, but my pay-per-hour is disappointing relative to other professionals in my city.  Associate morale in my firm is low, which I understand is fairly common - it's a tough field.   

Jrr85

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Re: Law Degree or Stay Put?
« Reply #14 on: July 20, 2016, 09:31:53 AM »
One more lawyers take:  there are a few things I tel people to consider before going to law school. First, can you go on scholarship and finish with basically no debt?  If you have to spend your own money or come out with $50k or more in debt, that's only going to wrk out financially for maybe 10% of the people going to law school, and only going to work out financially while being happy with the work life trade offs for an even smaller percentage. Provided that condition is met, if you are young and don't know what you want to do, and don't already have a pretty marketable degree, it's a pretty good option. If you already have a marketable degree, it's a little less attractive but still not terrible. The problem with law school is very few people thrive in the type of legal jobs that are high paying, and there's not a good way to test out whether you are one of those people without trying it out. and even after doing it, you may find (like I did) that what is fun for three years is miserable after five.  it's just a high risk decision.

That said, if you want to live in a big city, it gets a lot safer as there will be a lot more I house positions that offer decent hours and pretty good income, provided you make the cut for big law t begin with. If you intend to live in a smaller city, the number of I house positions is pretty small. And of course if you don't get the big or mid size law job to begin with, you won't be competitive for a lot of those jobs regardless of where you live.
« Last Edit: July 20, 2016, 03:10:59 PM by Jrr85 »

onlykelsey

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Re: Law Degree or Stay Put?
« Reply #15 on: July 20, 2016, 09:38:43 AM »
The problem with leaching is very few people thrive in the type of legal jobs that are high paying, and there's not a good way to test out whether you are one of those people without trying it out. and even after doing it, you may find (like I did) that what is fun for three years is miserable after five.  it's just a high risk decision.

That said, if you want to live in a big city, it gets a lot safer as there will be a lot more I house positions that offer decent hours and pretty good income, provided you make the cut for big law t begin with. If you intend to live in a smaller city, the number of I house positions is pretty small. And of course if you don't get the big or mid size law job to begin with, you won't be competitive for a lot of those jobs regardless of where you live.

This is crucial.  It is a very high risk decision.

Selfishly (for myself as a midlevel in transactional NYC BigLaw), the big city point is interesting.  I have no plans to move but had played with smaller cities in my head.

Dee18

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Re: Law Degree or Stay Put?
« Reply #16 on: July 20, 2016, 11:31:38 AM »
Another lawyer here.  I may be misreading your original post, but it sounds to me (and has to others) like you are largely considering law school in the hope of greater earnings.  i do not recommend going to law school if that is your primary motivation.  Doing well at a top law school takes a lot of time and effort.  That's not bad if you are loving it, but it can be miserable if you are only doing it for the money.  Via summer jobs you'll get a sense of what you like to do.  I found biglaw incredibly uninteresting, so I turned down those offers for a job that paid 60% less but still required 65+ hour work weeks.  I loved it, but after many years decided I wanted more free time so I became a professor.  I have had a wonderful career, and many of my classmates have too.  But of the law students I see today, the ones that wind up happy are the ones that want to be lawyers because they like practicing law and/or go to work in a particular area they are passionate about.  Many of the ones who went to law school for the money really are not happy---some because they did not wind up with a big money job (there is a lot of competition for those) and some because they did wind up with a big money job that they don't like (because of the hours or the stress or they just don't care about the work) but they feel they can't leave because they, or their spouse, does not want to walk away from the big money. However, I know a lot of these people well enough to know they would not like most other jobs either because they just want a comfy life....with no other real goals.

So, I think you should go to law school if you want to be a lawyer.  And I  would recommend going to the good school that's offering you a scholarship if you decide to go to law school.  While it's true that many jobs don't care where you went to school, a top 10 school will give you options (such as becoming a professor) that are not likely from lower ranked schools.

As for you being the primary source of income, my sister went into non-profit work, worked her way up to being executive director, and now makes $125,000/year with 10 weeks vacation. 


FrugalShrew

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Re: Law Degree or Stay Put?
« Reply #17 on: July 20, 2016, 02:34:01 PM »
Jumping in with a few points. 

(1) The fact that you got a full tuition scholarship to a top law school is AWESOME. Seriously. Major props. Given that, you may have the raw intelligence to overcome a lot of what people have warned against.

(2) The scholarship definitely helps financially since you won't be racking up as much debt to attend school.

(3) Attending a top law school can be an incredible opportunity to think and study alongside some seriously brilliant people. It's an amazing intellectual exercise, and can be humbling in the best ways.

(4) Law school is time-consuming and stressful. Expect it to take a serious toll on your relationship with your partner. I'm not kidding.

(5) Big law practice is even more time-consuming and even more stressful. Don't bank on this for your long-term plan, unless you are happy having work be your #1 priority in life. The expectation is generally that associates are on call 24/7.

In conclusion, it sounds like you have a pretty good thing going already, and while law school would likely be an enriching intellectual adventure, it's up to you whether it will be worth the personal costs. If you are counting on it really raising your earning potential via big law, be prepared for a lot of stress and to sacrifice a good deal of your personal life, including possibly your relationship with your partner.

TwoJays

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Re: Law Degree or Stay Put?
« Reply #18 on: July 20, 2016, 03:45:23 PM »
Hi everyone,

Thank you for all of the tremendous responses and for the words of support. I do consider myself very fortunate to be in this position and am proud to have seen my hard work pay off thus far.

- Desire to Practice Law: I realize it didn't come through in my first post but I do have a great desire to become a lawyer. I've had the opportunity to take a few classes through a law school for a certificate program and I loved every minute of it. Enjoying practice itself, as some of you mentioned, is something you can't know until you get there. I have spent a small but substantial amount of time around attorneys in my area and I'm confident I'll at least be content practicing based on what I've seen while shadowing/interning and through my course of business with them in my current job.

- Short Term Finances: My DW-to-be likely won't make enough to cover all our living expenses while I'm in school. We're both frugal, not mustachian (yet), so my estimates, accounting for unexpected expenses and such, place the total loan amount we'd need to take out around $20k. This would add to our current outstanding student loan balance of $25k from undergrad - all mine and subsidized so no interest would accrue while in school.

- Long Term Finances: I realize that the $100-$120k number seems high and doesn't fit the typical distribution of first year salaries but I'm basing that on two law firms here in town that I have connections with and would most likely be able to get a job with after graduation. They also have a better than normal work/life balance, though I have no illusions about what that would look like the first few years - lots of hours. Though I'm not the best with mathematical projections, it seems like it would take roughly 7 years post-graduation to make up the lost income and pay off the debt from law school.

- JD vs. MBA: An MBA is something I've considered but I'd be more interested in something like an MS in Finance or something that would help me develop a specific skill set. Over the past 4 years with my current organization (internships+PT+FT), I've held four different positions and developed a broad base of knowledge but don't feel that much of it would transfer well outside of the organization. Scholarships seem to be more scarce for programs like that, particularly for part time programs that would allow me to keep working, and thus it seems that there would be less incentive to get a degree I'm less interested in if it would wind up costing us the same amount of money.

- Family: My DW-to-be isn't thrilled about the prospect of moving halfway across the country and is anxious about needing to provide for us while I'm in school. At the same time, we come from families that have had financial issues and so having a larger income to fall back on if necessary (such as when parents need to move in) would be a significant comfort to both of us.

All in all, I'm leaning towards staying where I am and finding a degree program that would enable me to switch industries or companies if necessary later on. That said, once I commit to doing so there's no going back as my DW-to-be doesn't handle uncertainty very well, so I'm a little hesitant to pull the trigger. Does the additional information change any thoughts you have on what I should do? Thanks again for all the input!

Jrr85

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Re: Law Degree or Stay Put?
« Reply #19 on: July 20, 2016, 04:10:15 PM »
Does the additional information change any thoughts you have on what I should do? Thanks again for all the input!

One more question?  Why are you moving across the country to go to law school?  I know you said you have a scholarship, but if you are planning on coming back to a firm where starting pay is $100-$120k, it doesn't sound like a firm that will require you to go to a top law school.  Is there not a good if not top lawschool nearby that the firms you have connections with will also hire from?  I worked with a decent number of lawyers from big name law schools, and as far as I can tell, while big name law schools open doors for you, you're not going to come back knowing any more than the people from the top of their class at second tier law schools (which makes sense because the vast majority of practicing law is simply not rocket science).  If you can get a full scholarship to a top law school, you can probably get a full ride plus living expenses at a mid tier state school, or at least that's what I did.  Made the same amount of money as my coworkers that went to Georgetown, UVA, NYU, Michigan, etc., but actually came out of school with some savings rather than debt.  That would make the finances work better and also maybe make it easier for your spouse. 

aFrugalFather

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Re: Law Degree or Stay Put?
« Reply #20 on: July 20, 2016, 06:27:58 PM »
With a full scholarship to a great school you could try at least the first year.  Opportunity cost for one year in school is low, and you will find out whether you have gotten the grades good enough to get a high paying job with a big law firm.  If money is what you want, then your legal career in big law is largely defined by your first year grades and placing into a good summer program.  These interviews occur your first summer after your first year.  If you don't have the grades or the ability to interview into a big law position that summer then you are most likely going to work in a much lower paying position. 

Happy in CA

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Re: Law Degree or Stay Put?
« Reply #21 on: July 20, 2016, 06:57:34 PM »
Another lawyer here, and I must say I cannot imagine having the chance for a full ride at a top law school and turning it down!  If you want to be a lawyer you should go to law school, period.  I never wanted biglaw but opted for a career with a government agency that proved to be a great fit.  I had an excellent career without much passion for law itself, but I loved dealing with clients, and being competent, both in the advice given and in conducting myself in the courtroom.

Having been involved in interviewing law students for my office, I can tell you every applicant professes to have passion for the law.  The problem is that passion does not always make for a competent attorney.  Going into law because you want to make a lot of money is not all bad either; I definitely made more money because of my degree and bar membership, and I know it and appreciate it every day.  It is not an easy job but the intellectual challenge and opportunity to be well compensated make it worthwhile. YMMV, of course, but I would think long and hard before turning down this very great opportunity.

chesebert

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Re: Law Degree or Stay Put?
« Reply #22 on: July 20, 2016, 08:09:54 PM »
Seriously OP, consider this:

1st year (class of 2015) $180,000
2nd year (class of 2014) $190,000
3rd year (class of 2013) $210,000
4th year (class of 2012) $235,000
5th year (class of 2011) $260,000
6th year (class of 2010) $280,000
7th year (class of 2009) $300,000
8th year (class of 2008) $315,000

That's almost $2mil gross in 8 years (you can probably tack on another 500-700k for bonuses). I am sure you can figure out a way to save/grow your stash to >$1mil in no time even with fairly weak frugal muscles.

Yes, your life will be hard, and yes, you will face challenges in all aspects of your life for the next 8-10 years. You will be challenged physically, emotionally and intellectually (in order of difficulties), but if you can survive 8 years of big law you will surely achieve FIRE.

Of course, you could do the same thing with a top 5 MBA  program and getting into one of the bulge bracket IBDs. However, banker's work/life balance is significantly worse than lawyer's at more junior levels (care for 100+ hours a week?) and there may be more pressure to look or act a certain way or spend money a certain way at one of those shops...

Good luck!


LeRainDrop

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Re: Law Degree or Stay Put?
« Reply #23 on: July 20, 2016, 10:34:12 PM »
Chesebert is citing salaries and bonuses for biglaw in NYC, DC, San Francisco, and such.  That is a very small sliver of attorneys.  Even out of the very top law schools, a majority of the class does not go into biglaw in those markets, as many still choose to do biglaw in secondary markets, mid-size or smaller firms, government work, public interest, and other.  What Chesebert lists is not typical for biglaw in secondary markets.  At my biglaw firm in a large but secondary city, the associate salary range goes from $140k starting to $200k tops, plus bonuses ranging from about $3k to $20k (higher only if you bring in a significant chunk of business yourself).  (When I add together all compensation for a consistently top-performing associate going from 1st to 9th year here, they cannot gross more than $1.6 million.)  Plus, OP already knows the couple local firms that he prefers and he recognizes that those are not on the pay scale that Chesebert lists.

I agree with so much of what other commenters have written (e.g., Nick_Miller, ReadySetMillionaire, onlykelsey).  Working at a big firm can be an extremely challenging environment -- lots of pressure to have no boundaries, to carry a very heavy workload, to meet every deadline without exception even with conflicting partners and competing projects, to navigate seriously intense office politics, and to put up with a handful of terrible even abusive personalities, often to the detriment of your personal life and health.  Obviously, there are many awesome things about these jobs, too -- like the intellectual and strategic challenges of the legal work, the friendships and camaraderie with the vast majority of your colleagues, the awesome satisfaction from helping your clients, and the very high compensation.  You really need to weigh for yourself whether the benefits of this career will be worth the costs.

FWIW, I graduated from a top 10 law school on ~half tuition merit scholarship (and I loved my law school experience) nine years ago.  I worked in biglaw my whole career until I very recently left the firm on "summer vacation" or "semi-retirement."  I'm overdue to take a break from the stress, especially since the organizational changes of my particular group in the last few years have not been for the better, in my opinion.  I will take my time and be very selective in choosing my next job since I'm in a strong financial position to do so and I want to choose a really good match, something that makes me happy and excited to work most days and where I think I'd be happy to stay long-term.  My personality is very loyal and I'm definitely not the job-hopper type.

I do want to highlight this question from Jrr85 here:

One more question?  Why are you moving across the country to go to law school?  I know you said you have a scholarship, but if you are planning on coming back to a firm where starting pay is $100-$120k, it doesn't sound like a firm that will require you to go to a top law school.  Is there not a good if not top lawschool nearby that the firms you have connections with will also hire from?

I think this is a point you should at least give some thought to.  In my experience, law schools are extremely willing to match or beat scholarship offers from schools that are ranked equal or higher.  Thus, you could leverage your scholarship award from the top school to get at least as good a deal at a law school that is closer to your current location, assuming there is a good one and that you want to live there after graduation.  I had a good friend at my law school who knew that after graduating he would want to go back to the midwestern state where, until law school, he had lived his entire life.  My school is awesome, but still there are not many firms from his state that come for on-grounds interviews.  He actually regrets attending my law school because even though it is ranked so well, he feels he would have had a much better network into his legal market if he had attended his top state school instead.  Consider whether you might be in a position like he was in.

Good luck!  By the way, are you deciding whether to start at this law school just a few weeks from now?  Or next year?
« Last Edit: July 20, 2016, 10:37:31 PM by LeRainDrop »

TwoJays

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Re: Law Degree or Stay Put?
« Reply #24 on: July 21, 2016, 06:41:23 AM »
Thank you all for the continued input!

- Timeline: I deferred entry to the law school so I'm deciding whether or not to move for the 2017 fall semester so I would be graduating in 2020. This gives me a year to decide but I would much rather make a decision sooner than later so that I can dive in to whichever path we'll be taking.

- Local Law Schools: I'm from a state that, unfortunately, doesn't have a highly regarded law school nearby. Attending a local school for free is also an option but I have spent some time in both schools and neither seems to be a good fit. The financial cost is also relatively similar (i.e. living expenses beyond what my fiance's salary will cover) so it seems to make more sense to attend a school that provides more security in finding a job and a, presumably, better education overall.

- FIRE: In many ways I think having a JD would be immensely helpful in reaching early retirement but I can also see how it would improve my life in semi-retirement as well. I would honestly enjoy helping people I know or their friends set up their wills & estates, incorporating little businesses, etc. and it would help provide a minimal income should we need additional money down the road. I suppose I could do something similar from a position like my current one but I'm not a natural salesman or anything like that so I think it would be harder (and less fun) for me to develop those opportunities.

I suppose part of my reluctance around foregoing this opportunity for law school is also that I struggle with the concept of "enough". This applies both financially and to my personal and professional ambitions. Reading through all the posts on this site and many of the posts in the forum has been incredibly helpful in working to define that balance for myself. This decision seems like a great way to set myself off on the right path and I think that is a large reason why I'm agonizing over this decision.

Again, thank you for all the input. It truly is invaluable to me!

ReadySetMillionaire

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Re: Law Degree or Stay Put?
« Reply #25 on: July 21, 2016, 07:17:20 AM »
Desire to Practice Law: I realize it didn't come through in my first post but I do have a great desire to become a lawyer. I've had the opportunity to take a few classes through a law school for a certificate program and I loved every minute of it. Enjoying practice itself, as some of you mentioned, is something you can't know until you get there. I have spent a small but substantial amount of time around attorneys in my area and I'm confident I'll at least be content practicing based on what I've seen while shadowing/interning and through my course of business with them in my current job.

Lot's of side issues coming up (and rightfully so), but I wanted to focus on this.

I highly encourage you to contact an attorney that you have a decent relationship with and ask if you can shadow them. Maybe ask one attorney to shadow them at hearings, ask another to sit in a client consultation, ask another to shadow on something more day-to-day, etc.

My firm is in a small town and we do this all the time. Just recently a college student attended every single hearing I went to and was surprised by the lack of drama. She also shadowed a more transactional attorney and, again, was surprised. She also was surprised that 90% of my day is spent drafting documents and researching, not taking dramatic phone calls or attending crazy hearings.

Granted, I'm an associate and partners do have more phone calls and more direct contact with clients, but her experience with me was eye opening.

ReadySetMillionaire

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Re: Law Degree or Stay Put?
« Reply #26 on: July 21, 2016, 07:20:22 AM »
One more question?  Why are you moving across the country to go to law school?  I know you said you have a scholarship, but if you are planning on coming back to a firm where starting pay is $100-$120k, it doesn't sound like a firm that will require you to go to a top law school.  Is there not a good if not top lawschool nearby that the firms you have connections with will also hire from?

I think this is a point you should at least give some thought to.  In my experience, law schools are extremely willing to match or beat scholarship offers from schools that are ranked equal or higher.  Thus, you could leverage your scholarship award from the top school to get at least as good a deal at a law school that is closer to your current location, assuming there is a good one and that you want to live there after graduation.  I had a good friend at my law school who knew that after graduating he would want to go back to the midwestern state where, until law school, he had lived his entire life.  My school is awesome, but still there are not many firms from his state that come for on-grounds interviews.  He actually regrets attending my law school because even though it is ranked so well, he feels he would have had a much better network into his legal market if he had attended his top state school instead.  Consider whether you might be in a position like he was in.

Good luck!  By the way, are you deciding whether to start at this law school just a few weeks from now?  Or next year?

Also, this is very true and very important. I'm in a small Ohio town and I can promise you that my firm considers my undergrad and law degrees from Ohio State to be far more valuable than a more prestigious law school 1,000 miles away.

If there are big firms you're looking at, check the attorneys there to see how many went to a good local school and how many went to the school you are considering. I imagine the difference will be bigger than you think, and that's only the tip of the iceberg when you consider that most small firm attorneys will have stayed local.

onlykelsey

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Re: Law Degree or Stay Put?
« Reply #27 on: July 21, 2016, 08:04:32 AM »
- FIRE: In many ways I think having a JD would be immensely helpful in reaching early retirement but I can also see how it would improve my life in semi-retirement as well. I would honestly enjoy helping people I know or their friends set up their wills & estates, incorporating little businesses, etc. and it would help provide a minimal income should we need additional money down the road. I suppose I could do something similar from a position like my current one but I'm not a natural salesman or anything like that so I think it would be harder (and less fun) for me to develop those opportunities.
Again, thank you for all the input. It truly is invaluable to me!

There are some retired/semi-retired lawyers on the board that could better speak to this point, but I would not bet on doing legal work in your (semi) retirement for a couple reasons.  One, training at most places has become more and more specialized, because clients want lawyers who are hyperefficient at X, not good at X, Y and Z.  Unless your career is setting up wills/estates or incorporating little businesses, you may not have the training to do this.  Two, carrying professional liability insurance can be a burden that outweighs financial benefits you get from doing part-time work.  Three, unless you practiced in exactly where you're firing, local courts have their own admission rules, and you can't easily jump between them without jumping through some non-free hoops.  Of course you know about being admitted to practice in certain states and not others.

If I do a sort of semi-FIRE out of biglaw, I think it might be as a project-based attorney brought on when someone is out on maternity leave or sick or something.  Going in house at a client (I'm a transactional lawyer) would be the most common choice, but more full-time.  I haven't dug down on how feasible this project-based work would be, but it's something that seems increasingly popular, and not just for folks who were unable to get full-time jobs.  There's a great brochure on various "alternative" routes in practice (for established attorneys) somewhere, but my google is failing me. I'll post it if I find it again.

charis

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Re: Law Degree or Stay Put?
« Reply #28 on: July 21, 2016, 09:24:55 AM »
Another lawyer - I would jump at the chance of a full scholarship to a top law school.  Everyone's advice is going to be colored by their own experience.   I've loved all of the law jobs (3 - all government) I've had since graduation.  I'm still in debt and it was and will never be about the money for me.  I was 25 when I started law school and had babies in my second and fifth years out.  But I purposely chose non-firm jobs that have a good work life balance.   

If you want to be a lawyer, do it.

Jrr85

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Re: Law Degree or Stay Put?
« Reply #29 on: July 21, 2016, 12:21:50 PM »
- FIRE: In many ways I think having a JD would be immensely helpful in reaching early retirement but I can also see how it would improve my life in semi-retirement as well. I would honestly enjoy helping people I know or their friends set up their wills & estates, incorporating little businesses, etc. and it would help provide a minimal income should we need additional money down the road. I suppose I could do something similar from a position like my current one but I'm not a natural salesman or anything like that so I think it would be harder (and less fun) for me to develop those opportunities.
Again, thank you for all the input. It truly is invaluable to me!

There are some retired/semi-retired lawyers on the board that could better speak to this point, but I would not bet on doing legal work in your (semi) retirement for a couple reasons.  One, training at most places has become more and more specialized, because clients want lawyers who are hyperefficient at X, not good at X, Y and Z.  Unless your career is setting up wills/estates or incorporating little businesses, you may not have the training to do this.  Two, carrying professional liability insurance can be a burden that outweighs financial benefits you get from doing part-time work.  Three, unless you practiced in exactly where you're firing, local courts have their own admission rules, and you can't easily jump between them without jumping through some non-free hoops.  Of course you know about being admitted to practice in certain states and not others.

If I do a sort of semi-FIRE out of biglaw, I think it might be as a project-based attorney brought on when someone is out on maternity leave or sick or something.  Going in house at a client (I'm a transactional lawyer) would be the most common choice, but more full-time.  I haven't dug down on how feasible this project-based work would be, but it's something that seems increasingly popular, and not just for folks who were unable to get full-time jobs.  There's a great brochure on various "alternative" routes in practice (for established attorneys) somewhere, but my google is failing me. I'll post it if I find it again.

The best option I have seen for partial retirement in law is to contract with one business on an as needed basis.  We have done it with a former outside counsel.  The outisde counsel gets to drop all overhead (including mal practice insurance, as my employer viewed her as a part time employee) and thereby can charge us low rates.  We used her on an as needed basis so we could keep our inhouse staff leaner and not have to worry about high hourly rates when we needed extra help on projects that did not require a particular expertise only found in firms.   I don't think this is a common arrangement, but it makes a lot of sense and I think companies and attorneys that tried it would like it.