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?