The practicing attorney of seven years is also interesting. I have to say, I was at one point excited about law school and thought it was a pretty good decision. After reading these types of threads, I t really seems like a bad idea for someone like me who could not stand being stuck in a job that I hate just to pay the bills.
Another terrible thing about law (well, at least non-Biglaw/corporate gigs) is that your own "trade organization" (i.e, the state bars and ABA) utterly loathe and despise solo practitioners and small firms (i'm a partner in the latter), and try to make our lives as miserable as possible and destroy our revenue streams whenever they can.
For example, the NJ bar (i practice in nj), recently passed a "bona-fide office rule," which requires all lawyers to have a real, physical office space full-time (a Regus mail drop or virtual office does not qualify, nor does a home office). It didn't affect us (we have a small suite in an office complex a family member of mine own and lets us use in exchange for doing his colllections work), but it does really hurt recent grads who want to keep costs down. It also hurts older lawyers (esp solos) who have seen revenue dry up so badly that many decide to work from home and just use a virtual office for client meetings (those Regus shares are like $79 a month).
A friend of my dad's who has practiced consumer bankruptcy for 30 years just got disciplined by the NJ bar for having a home office. I borrowed some forms off him the other day, and he told me this is his last year. He made, after expenses and such, a whopping 35 K last year. Of course, you'd think (and I myself thought) that Ch 7 BK would be booming given the economy. But he told me it's worse now than ever, because large "mill" type operations who are #1 google hits can do a Ch 7 for like $800, because they have squads of outsourced paras in India who fill out the paperwork, then send per diems (mostly recent grads) to cover the 341 hearings for $75 a pop. There's no way a solo can compete with those prices and that ad budget.
We ourselves used to do OK with expungement work, but now the genuises at the NJ bar put a "do it yourself" kit online:http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/prose/ ... ge_kit.pdf
Take a good look at that kit- it is DAMN good, very through/well explained, and, worst of all, 100% free. Once they posted that online our expungement cases went from 15-20 a year down to a whopping 2 last year. It's the same thing for small-time stuff like LLC formation. To a large extent, the rinky-dink small town lawyer is for the most part obsolete.
Law licenses are also not portable: new state=new bar exam, even if you've been practicing for 30+ years. Then there's bar dues, CLE fees, malpractice insurance- plus of course those good old student loans.
I also fail to see how things going fwd. will not get much, much worse. The ABA continues to accredit new law schools by the bushel, and there are already so many experienced lawyers willing to work for peanuts that a recent non-Biglaw bound grad faces long odds of landing any job period, much less one that can pay off student loan debt and provide a higher quality of life than a Mcdonald's employee. The traditional thinking on here (and elsewhere) goes "Well, even if I have to take a 45 K job to start, in a few years I can advance to a 60 K job, then an 80 K job, then a 100 K job, etc." My advice is: Don't count on it.
In fact, it often works in the reverse for some practice areas. Take personal injury, for example. I had 3+ years at a small firm, did trials/motions, settlement, learned the whole area inside and out. When I shopped my resume when ready to leave that firm (where I made 60 K), it was hard even getting interviews because many of those firms PREFER inexperienced people since they can nowadays pay them like 35 K (or less). The problem is that in a lot of practice areas (personal injury, insurance defense, landlord/tenant etc), 5 or so years experience isn't much more valuable than 5 minutes, since the work is 99% cut n' paste pigslop. Sure, someone with experience would be better (and do a better job), but not a better enough job to warrant paying them a premium. (And as I said above, nowadays experienced people will work for peanuts out of desperation since jobs are so scarce across the board). It is, in a word, a fucking nightmare. The stories you hear about how rough it is aren't true: things in reality are far, far worse than even the grim articles all over the media now about law being a terrible career choice. Hell, the average solo attorney in the US earns like 46 K a year nowadays. In real dollars, lawyer salaries have been in steep decline for years, and will only go lower thanks to massive oversupply.
Again, OP, congrats on your decision, and don't EVER look back. You dodged a bullet by getting out of this dying farce of an industry, an industry that has every chance of getting much worse and almost no chance of getting any better. The only thing that ever "elevated" law to a prestigious gig was the supply/demand metrics, and the fact that lawyers had a monopoly on the forms/paperwork needed for routine crap like LLCs and such. With google and legalzoom plus the massive oversupply thanks to easy student loans and Cooley opening campuses on every street corner, those days are not coming back.