What’s Harder to Leave: Money or Status?

When lawyers, especially those in big firms, think about doing something else, the first question that comes up is almost always this:  how would I make enough money doing anything else?  Those fabulous associate salaries are easy to get used to, especially when you have debt.  For newer lawyers, the money question matters mostly because of debt – whether it’s the $240,000 of law school debt that many people graduate with, or the mortgage they took on when they settled into their new jobs.  For lawyers who have been in practice a bit longer, the money question may have more to do with their kids’  school tuition or the “lifestyle to which they’ve become accustomed.”  It gets a lot harder to justify those gorgeous suits and handbags, or the lease on the Lotus, on the salaries that most college graduates earn.

But is it harder to give up the money or the status that comes with being a lawyer?   In general, it’s pretty easy to feel good about yourself at a cocktail party where the conversation stays superficial.    Isn’t it nice to be able to impress people with the three little words, “I’m a lawyer”?  Being a lawyer – any kind of lawyer – gives you a certain status that can come in handy, say, with the parents of the person you may hope to marry.  If you come from a lower-income family, as I do, your family may also take a certain pride in telling people what you do.   Moving from law to a different profession usually results in some sense that the ground is shifting under you in large part because you no longer have that quick status signifier to fall back on – at least, not immediately.

What do you think the hardest part of leaving the law is:  the likely drop in income, or the change in status?

 

 

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6 Comments

Filed under Other, Transition Issues

6 responses to “What’s Harder to Leave: Money or Status?

  1. Lisa

    I left the practice of law after 9 years, taking a significant paycut to handle legal malpractice claims for an insurance company. I did not have the same prestige, but the work was interesting and the better hours allowed me to spend time with my young kids. The work-life balance is much better and I still get to work with very smart people in the legal field and use my skills. I have no regrets whatsoever. Also I recently was promoted and my salary now is much more livable. I see a lot of room for professional growth ahead of me, which I didn’t see in law practice.

  2. Great question. I lean toward status. As lawyers, we are so conditioned to believe that status is really important. In law school, most students strive to get into the top firms. Then, when you get there, the brass ring is partnership. At that point, that’s all we really know. For me, it was really difficult to leave the firm life with being only 2 years away from partnership. A part of me thought that I had failed. It wasn’t until I left that I saw a whole new world open up. While the money is great, I think the status is a bigger pull for many lawyers.

  3. Great question. I lean towards status. The money is great, but you get so conditioned to think that the status is really important. In law school, most students strive to get into one of the top firms. Then, once you get there, the brass ring is partnership and that’s all you know at that point. For me, the decision to leave with only 2 years to go was very difficult. A part of me felt that I was failing. It really wasn’t until I left that I saw a whole new world. So, I think while at a law firm, the status is really important for many lawyers.

  4. Thanks, for the kind words, Leila, and congratulations on your move! Glad to hear your transition has been a success.

  5. leila0915

    Great blog, love the posts!
    I left my biglaw salary to work for myself and the drop in salary was initially hard, but it quickly was forgotten about once I realized how wonderful life was with better work/life balance. I think if I left law all together though, the drop in status may be harder….

  6. Leila

    Great blog, love the posts!
    I left my biglaw salary to work for myself and the drop in salary was initially hard, but it quickly was forgotten about once I realized how wonderful life was with better work/life balance. I think if I left law all together though, the drop in status may be harder.