BigLaw and Financial Independence: A Primer

BigLaw? Financial Independence? Shouldn’t I be billing right now?

Welcome to the blog. It’s not much, yet, and it will probably never catch up to some of the blogs that were the inspiration for this one, but one has to start somewhere.

I am a 30-something husband and father of a young child in a major, fairly high cost-of-living city. I also happen to be about 8 years into my legal career. The vast majority of that career has been at the same major “BigLaw” firm–more about what BigLaw is and where I am in my career trajectory in another post.

Like many (perhaps most) new lawyers, I graduated from law school with a lot of debt. About $200k, in fact. That is a lot of debt, though not nearly as much as many other law students manage to rack up. I also happened to be a law student during the most significant downturn in the legal job market that has occurred for a generation–the 2008 financial crisis was catastrophic for many people in the legal profession. So, when I was lucky enough to manage to snag a BigLaw job, there was one constant thought in my mind: Pay. Off. The. Loans. At the time, I thought that I would “live it up” after paying the loans off–or quit BigLaw and pursue something else, as many young BigLaw attorneys do (again, more on that in a later post).

Fortunately, in the process of paying off my student loans, two things happened that prevented me from running off into the high-spending lawyer trap that catches so many BigLaw attorneys. First, the process of paying off my student loans awakened the moderate frugality gene instilled in me by my modest upbringing that had been left somewhat dormant during my student loan-fueled undergrad and law school days. Second, I ran into White Coat Investor, Mr. Money Mustache, and a handful of other personal finance blogs that gave me a kick in the teeth. The combination of those two things made me realize that until I bought the shiniest prize in the room–financial independence–I shouldn’t really be thinking about living it up, at least not the way that my BigLaw colleagues took to.

And then something else happened, too. I realized that I actually like my BigLaw job. So I’ve stuck with it, even after successfully paying off my student loans. However, I am at the point in my career where I am about to face down the dreaded “up or out” moment: do I make equity partner, or not? The prospect of losing what is now a $400k+ salary (factoring in bonuses) has a way of sharpening the mind and making a person take stock of their current position. More on that in another post.

To be clear, I’m nowhere near as frugal as I could be. My spouse and I have reached a fairly delicate saving/spending balance, we have a lot of intentional inefficiency built in (which is growing, because of our growing bundle of joy), and we have allowed ourselves some lifestyle inflation, mostly in the form of moving on from a one-bedroom apartment to a house that is certainly nicer and more expensive than we needed. But we’re doing ok, and hopefully, our path to where we are can help some of you set yourselves on a similar path.

Looking forward to writing more as time goes on. In the meantime, feel free to subscribe so that you can see what I come up with.

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