For people defending the biglaw lifestyle and saying that choosing lesser paying jobs over biglaw is "shortsighted" you just have to understand that its all about priorities. What do you prioritize in this age of your life, while being fully aware that you can't buy these years back, and can't reverse what the stress does to your body?
The money is awesome, and biglaw on your resume will certainly set up your career for hopefully good exit options down the road. A person working at Reed Smith for 3 years is going to have infinitely better exit options than someone working at a rural DAs office or some Johnson & Smith unknown 7 attorney firm. That person will also likely make millions more than the ADA or the small firm lawyer over their lifetime, will drive a nicer car, wear nicer suits, buy nicers seats at sporting events, have a nicer house, take nicer vacations, etc.. You will also likely not see your wife very much, not see your kids grow up (or maybe miss their first word or first steps), spend more time in the office than literally anywhere else, grow a ton of gray hair from the stress, knock years off your life expectancy due to a combination of stress and lack of sleep, likely gain weight, likely screw your health up with a bunch of fast food/ unhealthy food, lose some friends due to simply never being around or always cancelling plans, have constant shakiness in your marriage due to not being around and cancelling plans leaving your spouse to feel like she/he is not in a relationship but alone (maybe divorce, maybe not), etc etc etc.
Now, what matters more to you? Pick a priority and roll with it. There is no right or wrong answer.
I have a friend who is a partner an a V100 in California and has been there since he graduated from law school 21 years ago. He and his wife drive Bentleys, he has an insane house in LA and he literally told me "I don't know where else to put the money cause we maxed out just about every account we have, the kids college funds are maxed, we have 6 figures in emergency funds, the house and cars are paid off and we could both probably retire today and be just fine." (Hint: Pay my student loans off with your money dammit, THATS where the money should go!
). After spending 10 minutes with him and his family I never in a million years want his life. His kids cling on to their mom and barely talk to him and the relationship he has with his wife is as cold as I have ever seen. You can pay me 7 figures and I don't want that life, its not worth it to me, I will take a high 5 figure salary and get to actually spend time with my kids. There are plenty of people that would make the tradeoff though, because they care about the career and the money and the lifestyle and the cars and the vacations and the houses much much more than the family, relationships, health and personal interests.
Thats really it. I don't get why there is this argument about shortsightedness, one being better than the other, etc.. They aren't better or worse, they are just different. If I was single I would probably give biglaw a shot for a year or two if I had that option. I would deal with the stress and shortened life expectancy for 2 years to set myself up well enough, pay the loans off and get good exit options. With that said, A.) I'd never in a million years stay there once the loans are paid off and B.) I'm married, so no thanks, I want to spend time with my wife and, you know, actually have kids who don't hate me.
The "golden handcuffs" are a really interesting thing though.Its one thing to say it, but its another to literally cut your salary, voluntarily, from 160K to 70K for a better lifestyle and more free time. Certain people just wont be able to do it I think, other people may do it and then panic and regret it, idk. One of my friends who does the "I am x-ing out the calendar days on my wall until 2 years so I can leave" is a girl who really likes to shop, buy $400 shoes and fly out to Italy twice a year for a week. I legitimately don't think she is gonna be able to mentally flip to a much lower paying job because she won't be able to give up the lifestyle.