Taking large salary cut (biglaw mid-level to public interest)

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Taking large salary cut (biglaw mid-level to public interest)

Postby Anonymous User » Mon Apr 17, 2017 1:09 pm

I am a 4th year biglaw litigation associate very seriously considering a jump to public interest (and it was a super hard gig to land b/c of that biglaw refugee stigma thing). Would be facing about 1/3 of my current salary, although should rise to >6 figures within a couple years + defined benefit retirement plan. No debt left from law school, but high COL area. Anyone done this before? Regretted it? I'm afraid if I don't take this opportunity now, it won't happen again and I'll be golden handcuffed to my biglaw misery forever -- and doing work I find fulfilling is a big personal priority. On the other hand terrified because this gig is the kind of thing that makes it virtually impossible to turn go back to civil lit if I regretted it. I'm most scared for financial reasons. Can anyone speak to this -- how you/someone you know handled a large salary cut for a more fulfilling job and whether there was regret with that choice?

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Re: Taking large salary cut (biglaw mid-level to public interest)

Postby Dr. Nefario » Mon Apr 17, 2017 1:45 pm

I know several ex-biglaw civil litigators that jumped the ship to local government/non-profit orgs and they generally don't regret it. Most felt overworked and underappreciated at their firms and giving up the money in exchange for a 9-5 was a good trade off for them. I think once you're out of debt (and if you've been able to save up money) it really isn't a bad transition. If fulfilling work is what you want, making the jump would probably be a good thing. Although it sounds like you're not 100% sold on wanting to be done with biglaw civil lit. If this is the case, it should probably be a really long thought out personal decision. But if you are only being held back by the fear of finances, I'd go for it.

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Re: Taking large salary cut (biglaw mid-level to public interest)

Postby albanach » Mon Apr 17, 2017 1:46 pm

Anonymous User wrote:I am a 4th year biglaw litigation associate very seriously considering a jump to public interest (and it was a super hard gig to land b/c of that biglaw refugee stigma thing). Would be facing about 1/3 of my current salary, although should rise to >6 figures within a couple years + defined benefit retirement plan. No debt left from law school, but high COL area. Anyone done this before? Regretted it? I'm afraid if I don't take this opportunity now, it won't happen again and I'll be golden handcuffed to my biglaw misery forever -- and doing work I find fulfilling is a big personal priority. On the other hand terrified because this gig is the kind of thing that makes it virtually impossible to turn go back to civil lit if I regretted it. I'm most scared for financial reasons. Can anyone speak to this -- how you/someone you know handled a large salary cut for a more fulfilling job and whether there was regret with that choice?


Do you have an offer somewhere? I'm wondering why you can't just set a budget similar to PI take home pay and see if you can manage?

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Re: Taking large salary cut (biglaw mid-level to public interest)

Postby Anonymous User » Mon Apr 17, 2017 1:50 pm

I did something similar - took a huge paycut after a few years in biglaw.

I was completely miserable in biglaw, so it was well worth it for me. I had already saved $250k liquid and had no debt by the time I left biglaw. My spouse also works, but only makes like $70k. We don't have kids or a mortgage or any other debts.

We pretty much didn't spend any money when I was in biglaw, which is how I paid off my debt and amassed savings. As such, our lifestyle didn't change at all even after I switched jobs. We even live in the same, relatively expensive apartment.

The big question is - do you want a family? If so, that makes it a harder decision. Raising kids with a PI salary is almost impossible unless your spouse makes a ton of money. We aren't even sure we want kids, so it was an easy decision for me. If you aren't concerned with having kids in the near future, then I say it's an extremely easy decision. YOLO - wasting your youth in a job you hate just for money sounds stupid to me.

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Re: Taking large salary cut (biglaw mid-level to public interest)

Postby TheSpanishMain » Mon Apr 17, 2017 1:58 pm

Anonymous User wrote:The big question is - do you want a family? If so, that makes it a harder decision. Raising kids with a PI salary is almost impossible unless your spouse makes a ton of money. We aren't even sure we want kids, so it was an easy decision for me. If you aren't concerned with having kids in the near future, then I say it's an extremely easy decision. YOLO - wasting your youth in a job you hate just for money sounds stupid to me.


I'm not sure the kids question really helps resolve it. There are trade offs in both directions.

Yeah, kids are expensive and BigLaw money makes that easier, but it also means you won't actually be around to raise them much. If OP takes a job that is a steady 9-5, he can actually have time and energy for the family at the end of the day, as opposed to being a walking zombie that the kids sometimes see on the weekends.

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Re: Taking large salary cut (biglaw mid-level to public interest)

Postby Anonymous User » Mon Apr 17, 2017 2:05 pm

TheSpanishMain wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:The big question is - do you want a family? If so, that makes it a harder decision. Raising kids with a PI salary is almost impossible unless your spouse makes a ton of money. We aren't even sure we want kids, so it was an easy decision for me. If you aren't concerned with having kids in the near future, then I say it's an extremely easy decision. YOLO - wasting your youth in a job you hate just for money sounds stupid to me.


I'm not sure the kids question really helps resolve it. There are trade offs in both directions.

Yeah, kids are expensive and BigLaw money makes that easier, but it also means you won't actually be around to raise them much. If OP takes a job that is a steady 9-5, he can actually have time and energy for the family at the end of the day, as opposed to being a walking zombie that the kids sometimes see on the weekends.


Right, but raising a kid in a high COL big city is extremely expensive (like probably 5 times as expensive as raising one in the suburbs). If both parents work and you don't have family to help, you have to think about daycare, which can cost $3 to 4k per child a month. It's basically like renting another luxury apartment. If OP lived in the suburbs or a smaller city that's more affordable, I'd say this is a no brainer.

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Re: Taking large salary cut (biglaw mid-level to public interest)

Postby Anonymous User » Mon Apr 17, 2017 2:14 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
TheSpanishMain wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:The big question is - do you want a family? If so, that makes it a harder decision. Raising kids with a PI salary is almost impossible unless your spouse makes a ton of money. We aren't even sure we want kids, so it was an easy decision for me. If you aren't concerned with having kids in the near future, then I say it's an extremely easy decision. YOLO - wasting your youth in a job you hate just for money sounds stupid to me.


I'm not sure the kids question really helps resolve it. There are trade offs in both directions.

Yeah, kids are expensive and BigLaw money makes that easier, but it also means you won't actually be around to raise them much. If OP takes a job that is a steady 9-5, he can actually have time and energy for the family at the end of the day, as opposed to being a walking zombie that the kids sometimes see on the weekends.


Right, but raising a kid in a high COL big city is extremely expensive (like probably 5 times as expensive as raising one in the suburbs). If both parents work and you don't have family to help, you have to think about daycare, which can cost $3 to 4k per child a month. It's basically like renting another luxury apartment. If OP lived in the suburbs or a smaller city that's more affordable, I'd say this is a no brainer.


OP here. I actually already have a kid... But also tons of family help locally which is huge. I hear you, but I am actually not quite as stressed about that angle -- I don't plan on private schools, etc. My spouse should be making about $100k in the near future. And I should add, it's high COL but not like SF/NYC level.

I also do not have a mortgage yet (thankfully) and roughly ~200k in savings for when we cross that bridge. Not a huge nest egg but I'm hoping it's enough to make this leap without too much stress.

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Re: Taking large salary cut (biglaw mid-level to public interest)

Postby Anonymous User » Mon Apr 17, 2017 2:16 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:
TheSpanishMain wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:The big question is - do you want a family? If so, that makes it a harder decision. Raising kids with a PI salary is almost impossible unless your spouse makes a ton of money. We aren't even sure we want kids, so it was an easy decision for me. If you aren't concerned with having kids in the near future, then I say it's an extremely easy decision. YOLO - wasting your youth in a job you hate just for money sounds stupid to me.


I'm not sure the kids question really helps resolve it. There are trade offs in both directions.

Yeah, kids are expensive and BigLaw money makes that easier, but it also means you won't actually be around to raise them much. If OP takes a job that is a steady 9-5, he can actually have time and energy for the family at the end of the day, as opposed to being a walking zombie that the kids sometimes see on the weekends.


Right, but raising a kid in a high COL big city is extremely expensive (like probably 5 times as expensive as raising one in the suburbs). If both parents work and you don't have family to help, you have to think about daycare, which can cost $3 to 4k per child a month. It's basically like renting another luxury apartment. If OP lived in the suburbs or a smaller city that's more affordable, I'd say this is a no brainer.


OP here. I actually already have a kid... But also tons of family help locally which is huge. I hear you, but I am actually not quite as stressed about that angle -- I don't plan on private schools, etc. My spouse should be making about $100k in the near future. And I should add, it's high COL but not like SF/NYC level.

I also do not have a mortgage yet (thankfully) and roughly ~200k in savings for when we cross that bridge. Not a huge nest egg but I'm hoping it's enough to make this leap without too much stress.


Doesn't sound like a bad transition then, esp with the family help. I'd probably pull the trigger - YOLO.

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Re: Taking large salary cut (biglaw mid-level to public interest)

Postby lolwat » Mon Apr 17, 2017 2:42 pm

With the additional information in the later posts I would say go ahead and do it.

Fulfilling legal job > biglaw misery

More time with family > stuck in office at midnight for half the year

Spouse making $100k + you making ">6 figures within a couple years" = way more than enough to live a comfortable life in a non-SF/NYC market. You might not be able to just go out and buy literally whatever you want at any given time without a second thought to your finances but you'll be fine.

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Re: Taking large salary cut (biglaw mid-level to public interest)

Postby TheSpanishMain » Mon Apr 17, 2017 3:00 pm

Yeah, non-NYC/SF cost of living + 200k in savings + no debt + two incomes seems like you'll be fine. You won't be sitting on a gold plated toilet, but unless you are supremely dumb with your money you'll be quite comfortable.

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Re: Taking large salary cut (biglaw mid-level to public interest)

Postby Civilservant » Mon Apr 17, 2017 3:17 pm

I think you should take the job and then commiserate with one of your coworkers who has worked at the office since graduation, and hash out how difficult it is to survive with a joint $160k per year, and $200k sitting in the bank.

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Re: Taking large salary cut (biglaw mid-level to public interest)

Postby Anonymous User » Mon Apr 17, 2017 4:43 pm

Civilservant wrote:I think you should take the job and then commiserate with one of your coworkers who has worked at the office since graduation, and hash out how difficult it is to survive with a joint $160k per year, and $200k sitting in the bank.


I get where you're coming from, but I have been depressed in biglaw and feeling like I've wasted four years on a job that was never "me" in the first place. It is intimidating starting at the bottom of the totem pole at a new job with a salary cut that makes me a first year at the PI job. This all would be intimidating for any person, but maybe especially one like me with a toddler in their charge. I'm thankful and fortunate to have saved a bit but it was not without significant personal cost. Having perspective is very valid but shouldn't discount my fears here.

In any case, thanks all for the responses -- I was already pretty sure but now am more sure I'm ready to take this leap.

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Re: Taking large salary cut (biglaw mid-level to public interest)

Postby Civilservant » Mon Apr 17, 2017 8:28 pm

I'm glad that you took my post constructively. I come home for dinner every night, I put my son to bed at night and put him on the bus in the morning. You cannot put a dollar sign on that. You will have more than enough to provide, you will be happier, perhaps even satisfied in your career. Do it, don't look back.

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Re: Taking large salary cut (biglaw mid-level to public interest)

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Apr 18, 2017 6:24 am

Just wanted to say, I'm also a 4th year biglaw associate currently considering a similar move and have nearly decided to take the job. I realized that money will never stop being a concern, no job I want to exit into will pay what I make now, and I don't want to do biglaw forever. If you feel similarly, then once you come to terms with those facts, the decision becomes a lot clearer. It becomes a "when, not if" kind of thing.

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Re: Taking large salary cut (biglaw mid-level to public interest)

Postby elendinel » Tue Apr 18, 2017 9:18 am

Anonymous User wrote:
TheSpanishMain wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:The big question is - do you want a family? If so, that makes it a harder decision. Raising kids with a PI salary is almost impossible unless your spouse makes a ton of money. We aren't even sure we want kids, so it was an easy decision for me. If you aren't concerned with having kids in the near future, then I say it's an extremely easy decision. YOLO - wasting your youth in a job you hate just for money sounds stupid to me.


I'm not sure the kids question really helps resolve it. There are trade offs in both directions.

Yeah, kids are expensive and BigLaw money makes that easier, but it also means you won't actually be around to raise them much. If OP takes a job that is a steady 9-5, he can actually have time and energy for the family at the end of the day, as opposed to being a walking zombie that the kids sometimes see on the weekends.


Right, but raising a kid in a high COL big city is extremely expensive (like probably 5 times as expensive as raising one in the suburbs). If both parents work and you don't have family to help, you have to think about daycare, which can cost $3 to 4k per child a month. It's basically like renting another luxury apartment. If OP lived in the suburbs or a smaller city that's more affordable, I'd say this is a no brainer.


There are people in those cities raise their kids on less than one PI salary. It will not be the end of the world if you can't do things like put your kid in private school and pay for their college tuition. People have been there, done that.

I would agree that often time with kids can be worth not being able to pay for X or Y, but it's a personal judgment call. I would also point out that when you are miserable at your job, you will bring that misery home with you, even if you try not to. So in terms of establishing a relationship with your kids and making sure they feel comfortable when you're around, it's sometimes better to be in a job you don't hate, even if you earn less, than to be in a job that gives you a ton of money but has you clenching your teeth until you walk through your door. Your kids will pick up on that negativity and it may impact your relationship with them (i.e., "Mom/Dad is always angry, I don't like talking to her/him.").

In terms of making the move in general, I've heard it's possible to move back from PI to BL (even if you go to a DA's office for 3 years), but I think you're probably going to get shut out of the application process to PI entirely if you wait too long to try and make the move (especially if you have no recent work experience in the field). From what I've heard, if you wait too long it'll look as though you're just deciding to move to PI because you couldn't make partner, and this isn't attractive to PI offices who are looking for people with a genuine interest in the field. I'd only wait if you're also planning to try to be a volunteer attorney on the side to get more experience in the PI field you plan to do into.

So if you seriously want to try PI, then go for it ASAP. If it's something you thought about briefly but aren't sure about it, try doing a volunteer position instead.

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Re: Taking large salary cut (biglaw mid-level to public interest)

Postby zot1 » Tue Apr 18, 2017 9:41 am

Good luck, OP. Make sure to come back and update us after you take the new job.

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Re: Taking large salary cut (biglaw mid-level to public interest)

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Apr 18, 2017 11:49 am

elendinel wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:
TheSpanishMain wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:The big question is - do you want a family? If so, that makes it a harder decision. Raising kids with a PI salary is almost impossible unless your spouse makes a ton of money. We aren't even sure we want kids, so it was an easy decision for me. If you aren't concerned with having kids in the near future, then I say it's an extremely easy decision. YOLO - wasting your youth in a job you hate just for money sounds stupid to me.


I'm not sure the kids question really helps resolve it. There are trade offs in both directions.

Yeah, kids are expensive and BigLaw money makes that easier, but it also means you won't actually be around to raise them much. If OP takes a job that is a steady 9-5, he can actually have time and energy for the family at the end of the day, as opposed to being a walking zombie that the kids sometimes see on the weekends.


Right, but raising a kid in a high COL big city is extremely expensive (like probably 5 times as expensive as raising one in the suburbs). If both parents work and you don't have family to help, you have to think about daycare, which can cost $3 to 4k per child a month. It's basically like renting another luxury apartment. If OP lived in the suburbs or a smaller city that's more affordable, I'd say this is a no brainer.


There are people in those cities raise their kids on less than one PI salary. It will not be the end of the world if you can't do things like put your kid in private school and pay for their college tuition. People have been there, done that.



Those people probably have lots of family who can help watch their kids when they are at work and also help with other stuff. They probably also have rent controlled/rent stabilized apartments or bought when it was dirt cheap or have insane commutes.

If you want me to be perfectly honest, if I can't afford to pay for my kid's college, then I'd be very disappointed in myself. I want the kid to start out in the net positive - not with a potentially huge negative net worth that will take many years to dig out of. That's just one reason why I'm not sure I'm going to have any kids. The world is only going to get much tougher for future generations to survive in (due to globalization, AI, insane population growth and therefore, increased competition). We can't compare what boomers did in the past (when college was like 20 bucks a year and the US population was 1/2 of what it is now) to what is reasonable for us or future generations.

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Re: Taking large salary cut (biglaw mid-level to public interest)

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Apr 18, 2017 12:07 pm

Anonymous User wrote:Just wanted to say, I'm also a 4th year biglaw associate currently considering a similar move and have nearly decided to take the job. I realized that money will never stop being a concern, no job I want to exit into will pay what I make now, and I don't want to do biglaw forever. If you feel similarly, then once you come to terms with those facts, the decision becomes a lot clearer. It becomes a "when, not if" kind of thing.


OP here, I hope you do it too -- I've had all these same thoughts. Even an in house gig (which doesn't appeal to me personally) would be a pay cut at least in my city (although much milder). But I also think there's a 'now or never' element by the time you're a midlevel -- you wait too long and these PI places will have a tougher time with you as a biglaw burn out/sell out rather than genuinely interested in PI.

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Re: Taking large salary cut (biglaw mid-level to public interest)

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Apr 18, 2017 12:08 pm

zot1 wrote:Good luck, OP. Make sure to come back and update us after you take the new job.


Thank you -- will come back and give an update!

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Re: Taking large salary cut (biglaw mid-level to public interest)

Postby elendinel » Tue Apr 18, 2017 2:58 pm

Those people probably have lots of family who can help watch their kids when they are at work and also help with other stuff. They probably also have rent controlled/rent stabilized apartments or bought when it was dirt cheap or have insane commutes.

If you want me to be perfectly honest, if I can't afford to pay for my kid's college, then I'd be very disappointed in myself. I want the kid to start out in the net positive - not with a potentially huge negative net worth that will take many years to dig out of. That's just one reason why I'm not sure I'm going to have any kids. The world is only going to get much tougher for future generations to survive in (due to globalization, AI, insane population growth and therefore, increased competition). We can't compare what boomers did in the past (when college was like 20 bucks a year and the US population was 1/2 of what it is now) to what is reasonable for us or future generations.


I mean, that's fine, but plenty of people raise kids who can survive in the real world without getting some of the luxuries you want for your kids. My point is that it's hardly "almost impossible" to have a family on a PI salary. If it would be hard for you personally to do it, fine, but that's not the point.

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Re: Taking large salary cut (biglaw mid-level to public interest)

Postby A. Nony Mouse » Tue Apr 18, 2017 3:03 pm

elendinel wrote:
Those people probably have lots of family who can help watch their kids when they are at work and also help with other stuff. They probably also have rent controlled/rent stabilized apartments or bought when it was dirt cheap or have insane commutes.

If you want me to be perfectly honest, if I can't afford to pay for my kid's college, then I'd be very disappointed in myself. I want the kid to start out in the net positive - not with a potentially huge negative net worth that will take many years to dig out of. That's just one reason why I'm not sure I'm going to have any kids. The world is only going to get much tougher for future generations to survive in (due to globalization, AI, insane population growth and therefore, increased competition). We can't compare what boomers did in the past (when college was like 20 bucks a year and the US population was 1/2 of what it is now) to what is reasonable for us or future generations.


I mean, that's fine, but plenty of people raise kids who can survive in the real world without getting some of the luxuries you want for your kids. My point is that it's hardly "almost impossible" to have a family on a PI salary. If it would be hard for you personally to do it, fine, but that's not the point.

Pretty much exactly what I was going to say.

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Re: Taking large salary cut (biglaw mid-level to public interest)

Postby lolwat » Tue Apr 18, 2017 4:06 pm

If you want me to be perfectly honest, if I can't afford to pay for my kid's college, then I'd be very disappointed in myself. I want the kid to start out in the net positive - not with a potentially huge negative net worth that will take many years to dig out of. That's just one reason why I'm not sure I'm going to have any kids. The world is only going to get much tougher for future generations to survive in (due to globalization, AI, insane population growth and therefore, increased competition). We can't compare what boomers did in the past (when college was like 20 bucks a year and the US population was 1/2 of what it is now) to what is reasonable for us or future generations.


Agreed with the above posts... I don't think it's bad to have a goal of providing the luxury of a completely debt-free life for your kid (should you choose to have one), but I would imagine most of the people on TLS probably graduated college/law school with at least some debt and I think most of these people turn out just fine, too. I'm sure I would have enjoyed life so much more if I had a pile of resources and no debt, but I'm fine where I am now. (And I'm almost confident my work ethic probably would have suffered quite a bit had I not felt like I consistently needed to bust my ass just to make a living. But everyone's different.)



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