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Reader Case Study: Harvard Law Superstar or Family Man?

Many of our reader case studies have profiled people who are earning an average income, and looking for ways to make the most of it. They want to pay off debts, support a family, and save for eventual financial independence.
Today’s story comes from another side of the spectrum: a recent Harvard Law School graduate who is now making some serious dough, which comes at the cost of very limited time to spend with his young children. There’s plenty of money to go around, but it turns out that money isn’t everything. Let’s check it out in detail:
Hi MMM,

Your column has truly changed my life.  Before I started reading it, I thought I was doing well by putting about 15% of my income into a savings or brokerage account.  Now, I know better.  But I need (want?) some advice.  I am a recent law school grad.  I am currently working in a “Biglaw”  (tall buildings and large clients).  My current firm has some nice benefits.  But, I do not see my wife or kids nearly as much as I would like to.  So, here’s my question.  Should I stick it out in Biglaw for a couple more years until I am FI (or at least debt free), or strike out on my own and gain some flexibility in my schedule?  I love the idea of early retirement, but not at the expense of my relationship with my family.  (My wife and I are 28, our kids are 6 and 3). Here’s the financial picture:

Salary: $210,000

Assets:
Home- $380,000 (with a $311,000 mortage at 4.5%)
2 cars- $32,000 (with $21,000 in loans at 1.9%)
A bunch of other crap- about $1

Liabilities:
Student loan debt- $240,000  (interest rate 6 – 6.5%) (ouch!)

Monthly Expenses:

Mortgage/HOA/taxes- $2,800
Student Loans- $3,000 (my law school will pay these for me if I start my own firm and don’t do well)
Utilities- $200
Cable- None!
Internet- $55
Cars (auto loans, insurance, gas, maintenance)- $1,200
Cell phone- $25
Entertainment (e.g. eating out, movies)- $200
Misc (food, clothing, everything else.)- $600

Total: $5080 of living expenses
Plus $3000 in student loan principal+interest repayment.

More Details:

We live in a high-cost-of-living area right now. The $380,000 home is a 1300 square foot condo (in a great school district).

I started at Harvard Law already in the hole from college. When I started, tuition alone was north of $40K/year.  After I graduated, My total student loans  (college plus law school plus principal due to deferred interest) was around $250K.  HLS was a great experience, but I sometimes wonder whether I should have gone somewhere on scholarship.

We live in the DC area.  I bike to work when it’s not raining/snowing/below 40 degrees (I know I’m a wussypants!).  It’s about 6 miles each way. My wife is now getting her own law degree at a local university, so we can’t easily move out of the area.

Starting my own firm would take away the student loans (unless I do really well), and would drop my car expenses from $1,100 to $300/month.  It would also mean giving up the high salary and benefits.  My projections are that I could earn between $40,000 and $60,000 in profit in the first year, and probably stabilize around $100,000 after 3-4 years.  So the pay cut would be significant.

So, here’s the big issue.  I could obviously reach FI far faster by staying in the firm.  But, that means giving up on seeing my wife and kids in a meaningful way until I get there.  Alternatively, I can start my own firm where I would work really hard but have a more flexible schedule.  This would push off FI, but allow me to see my family.  What do you think?

- Dave in DC

To me, this seems like an interesting story to publish here, because it directly addresses the tradeoff of Time vs. Money that all of us will have to make as we advance further along in the process of becoming wealthy.

When you have a severe shortage of cash, the needle usually points to “Money”. But what about this guy, has a choice between earning a Whole Lot or just a Lot, but also has high debts? And all of this is set against the backdrop of a ticking clock that cannot be stopped. Those kids are on their way to growing up – do we miss their childhoods in search of a higher income?

When it comes to work/life balance when kids are involved, Mr. Money Mustache stands clearly on the side of “Life”. Not everyone feels that way. But I think you could have predicted that I would say it, because Mrs. M. and I retired from work specifically to start a family, and we regularly turn down moneymaking opportunities to stick to that ideal. From what Dave has told me – in this summary and in another private email, I know that time with his kids is very important to him.

So our goal in crafting the advice is this: make him work in the high-paying job only long enough to ensure financial stability, then let him come home to his family, set up a law office in the spare bedroom, and start living life his own way.

This means that the standard Upper Class East Coast lifestyle for this salary range has already been ruled out: upgrade the cars and house, enroll the kids in ivy-league private schools, take a liking to $50 bottles of wine, and be locked in to working forever.

But right now, I still see some trouble. Those monthly costs are enormous, requiring a $60,000 take-home pay just to cover them – and that’s even after the nifty feature of the law school temporarily taking over the student loan payments. To get out of your situation, you need to cut your monthly expenses to a level where you can easily afford them even while starting your own business.

Step 1 – costs:
The Cars: You have duly apologized to your fellow Mustachians for financing two brand new cars while simultaneously owing money on your education and your house. That’s a good start. You pointed out that your car costs will drop once you stop commuting to work, but guess what? We can drop ‘em right now instead!

First of all, both financed cars need to go –  you can’t afford such expensive cars when you’re in debt, although you will be able to in the future. Since you live only six miles from work, you can easily drive a very old car and still not run into frequent maintenance issues. With low annual mileage, you don’t need to carry a lot of vehicle inventory. Similarly, your wife can choose a second affordable car if needed that suits her own requirements.  These steps should drop your car ownership costs to the $300 range right away, with no car loans.

The House: You have listed $2800 in monthly housing costs, yet the mortgage payment on a $310k mortgage is only $1570/month. I find it amazing that the taxes, HOA, and insurance on a condo add up to $1230 per month. But if it’s true, you might want to look around at the rental market in your area. Can you get a similar house at a lower monthly cost by renting? If so, you should consider it! There is no shame in renting in a high-cost market like yours if rentals are a better deal than housing. This would also free up most of the $70,000 in equity you currently have in the house, to eventually be used to pay down debt.

The Other Costs: the rest of your budget looks pretty reasonable for a busy family. You could always tweak your entertainment and restaurant budgets to give yourself more breathing room (remembering that even though I am typing calmly to you to avoid making you spill your coffee, you are actually in the middle of a DEBT EMERGENCY!!!). Although you’ll maintain the composure of a calm husband and father, there should be a constant Red Alert Siren playing at least somewhere in the distant background of your head at all times. So let’s assume we can get your $5080 in living expenses down to $4000 per month.

Step 2 – the Job

Now that your budget is streamlined, how can we leverage that kickass job you have acquired for yourself? This is the happier part of the story.

With an income of $210,000, you are theoretically taking home about $140,000 after federal and state taxes, social security, medicare, etc. This will further get sucked into:

$48,000 living expenses
$36,000 student loan payments
Total: $84,000

This leaves a net savings of at least $56,000 per year. Plus $20,400 of your student loan payments are actually principal, as well as $5,000 of the mortgage payments. Adding in some allowance for the tax deductibility of your 401(k) plan, and the home and student loan interest, your net worth while working will increase by about $100,000 per year.

With a current net worth (after ditching the borrowed cars) of about -170,000, you’ll be wiping out more than half of your your negative value after one year, and if you work two years, you’ll be at the breakeven point. There will still be a mortgage and a student loan, but the combination of home equity and retirement savings minus debt would add to roughly zero.

All this is good to understand, but it’s still not a plan of action. So how about this one:

Get a digital countdown clock, set it to one year in the future, and stick it on your fridge. Tell your family that’s the countdown until Dad comes home. Cut your budget in whatever way you can – including moving to a rental house if that is practical. Continue to work like crazy as you currently are, and put all your surplus monthly cash into the mortgage (or into a somewhat liquid investment if you decide to rent).

Near the end of the one-year period, visit a high-quality lender and set up a home equity line of credit for your house. Since the balance will be lower by then, and you’ll be further along in your career, this will maximize the size of loan you will qualify for.

When you’re all ready for it, make the jump and start your own law practice. If you can get things started on the side even before quitting your real job, that’s even better. You’ll have $4,000 per month of outlays to cover, which you’ll have to meet with a combination of your new income, and your home equity line of credit as needed.  Things will be exciting at first, but I have faith in your ability to get this done. Compared to graduating from Harvard Law, making $4,000 a month will be a piece of cake. As your practice grows and thrives, you’ll be phased back into making student loan payments, but that’s all in a day’s work for a Mustachian.

This advice may sound a little crazy to those who love high incomes, but for some of us, things just change when you have kids. If Dave has a chance to control his own schedule to make more time to be a Dad, and do something he loves more than working a high-demand office schedule, he should take that chance. It will take him a few years longer to reach financial independence, but he’ll have a chance to more than double the amount of time he spends with his kids while they grow up.

Also, funny things happen when you start to do your own thing. The business may take off. His wife will graduate with her own law degree and there may be opportunities to collaborate for the ultimate flexible family practice – two workers, part-time. This will speed up the saving process and work will become completely be optional long before those kids finish high school.

So I wish you all the best! In one year’s time, I’ll be standing next to your fridge counting down alongside your family, so please ensure you have it stocked with beer for my arrival.

 

 

 

  • Physics March 2, 2012, 6:10 am

    Great case study, great advice.

    Your description of the Dave in DC family life after a year of hardcore mustachianism made me smile really big and go give my wife a hug.

    Reply
  • Physics March 2, 2012, 6:12 am

    By the way, what an amazing improvement it would be if the whole “financial advisor” industry had the balls to give proper advice like this article.

    Reply
    • James March 2, 2012, 10:01 am

      I agree!

      Reply
    • Chris March 2, 2012, 12:44 pm

      Totally!

      Reply
  • lurker March 2, 2012, 6:30 am

    I know I am a total wussypants but is the success of his own firm a given? he could end up working harder than he is now and still fail. right? why not get his financial house in order and then ease out of the firm by leaving the partner track and doing less…is that possible? the guy has a family to support and I imagine starting up your own practice is like starting up any other business…correct me if I am wrong and good luck on everything……

    Reply
    • Luke March 2, 2012, 7:01 am

      I think the fact that Harvard Law is willing to pay his loans if the practice doesn’t take off speaks volumes to their confidence in graduates. My guess is graduation from Harvard Law basically means you won’t need to advertise in the yellow pages for clients.

      Reply
  • AlexWilsonii March 2, 2012, 6:33 am

    What great advice! I love seeing a case study from a completely opposite side compared to the norm found on most financial blogs. It’s good to hear it from a more typical perspective, but hearing some of the same worries come from a guy in this situation is really cool!

    Reply
  • Another Reader March 2, 2012, 6:47 am

    I don’t see any mention of the costs of the wife’s law school in this. What is her tuition and associated expenses? How are they being paid? Is daycare needed because she is in school and how much does that cost?

    When she graduates, will she have employment? How many more years will she be in school? How does her anticipated future employment affect the income and expenses? None of this is addressed.

    I will bet the rents are high in the “excellent school district.” With kids aged 6 and 3, he might consider renting in a lesser school district for the next couple of years while he gets the debt under control. Commute costs and time away from home may increase, however, if the family moves farther away from the job.

    In his shoes, I would probably go for the two year countdown. Realistically evaluate the employment prospects for the wife, and consider interrupting her law school if there is no income light at the end of the school tunnel. Cut all expenses to the bone, pay off the student loans, and drop out of the high pressure career when the debt is gone.

    Reply
    • JMK March 15, 2013, 12:45 pm

      This was the part of the story I also zeroed in on. All the advice was great for getting them out of debt and on track. It also assumes that she isn’t racking up student debt as fast as he’s paying it off. This solution only addresses half the story.

      Reply
  • Robin March 2, 2012, 6:54 am

    On the one hand, I totally agree – when it comes to choosing between work and life, I choose life. On the other hand, does starting your own thing mean you’ll have more of a life? As the daughter of a loving father who started up his own law practice, he wasn’t always home for dinner (granted, this was back in the day before email communication). It is also important to keep in mind that starting up your own business takes a lot of work and comes with its own expenses – what if you hire an administrative assistant? Accountant? Will you rent an office instead of working from the home so you can have a place to have meetings? I’m not saying you shouldn’t go for it – I just think it’s important to keep in mind all of the extra costs of starting up your own gig. Good luck and report back in a year!

    Reply
  • Early FI March 2, 2012, 7:02 am

    Fellow HLS alum / current Biglaw slave here – glad to see others reading this site. Something about your story doesn’t seem to add up, though. If you’re a recent grad, how are you making a 4th year BigLaw salary (I assume that salary doesn’t include your wife since she’s a student)? And if you’re a 4th year, how have you only paid down $10,000 of principal on your loan?

    If you are indeed a first year, you really should stick it out in Biglaw for a few years before leaving for greener pastures. Even though you have LIPP to fall back on, it would be nice to get some decent savings ($50,000 or so) in the bank to help from a liquidity perspective when you start your new firm. I know it sucks to do this with a wife and kids, but a few more years does a ton for your financial security.

    Reply
  • Dragline March 2, 2012, 7:10 am

    Well, I have a lot of experience in this area, having been in a DC law firm for 20 years and starting deep in debt like you (with a lawyer wife to boot!)

    Boring conventional financial advice actually works well for high earners such as yourself due to the opportunity cost factor — i.e., you are worth much more to your family right now as a cog in that big law machine than you would be doing anything else. Accept it. You chose to incur the debt and get the degree and now its time to deal with all of the consequences of that choice for the next few years. And you are way to young to make rash choices that could adversely affect your family.

    That means take advantage of any tax-avoidance options (401ks, 529s etc.) But my best advice is to put every extra dollar you have against that debt — especially any bonuses you get. Paying it is like getting a 9% guaranteed after-tax return at your pay grade — you won’t be able to beat it. When that is nearly gone you can think about other things.

    Unless you really hate your job, don’t even think about leaving it. You would work MORE starting your own firm, not less. And you probably have very few skills that clients would pay for right now. Learn as much as you can in your present position. I cannot tell you how many scores of young lawyers I have know that have gotten impatient and “made the jump” way too early and then had to come back to the big law firm life later with fewer prospects. You will probably make almost nothing the first couple years after you leave — this is also why you need to get rid of that debt.

    I will join the chorus of chiding you on your ridiculous car situation. You could have used that $20K to pay down your debts. That was a missed opportunity my young Paduwan. Don’t make that mistake again and see if you can get rid of one of your cars and replace it with something cheap. For comparison purposes, we drove a Saturn when I was in your shoes. Now I’ve moved up to a Hyundai.

    Reply
    • Early FI March 2, 2012, 7:21 am

      Agree 100%. If he’s really a first year, he should stick it out until he’s at least a midlevel and then he will have lateral opportunities to easier work environments. Leaving now as a first year means he has no skills, no reputation and if he fails at the firm, he’s going to be in a serious hole because no firms want to hire first years as laterals. Firms weren’t even doing that in 2006-07 when the economy was good. He needs to suck it up and stick it out, unfortunately.

      Reply
      • Mr. Money Mustache March 2, 2012, 7:39 am

        “and if he fails at the firm, he’s going to be in a serious hole because no firms want to hire first years as laterals”

        Wait a minute here. We seem to be living in different countries. I don’t know ANY business owner who wouldn’t be MORE thrilled to hire someone who had gone out and started his own business – even after it failed. That shows some serious badassity and fearlessness, aka initiative. It’s what most employment candidates are lacking.

        Reasonable diligence is still a good thing. But pure fear of failure like I’m starting to read in these comments? I think you guys might want read a bit more about the natural human tendency towards risk and loss aversion. The Magic of Thinking Big really does work better than being afraid of everything. I believe this is one of the reasons I have received a job offer for every job I’ve ever interviewed for.

        Reply
        • Early FI March 2, 2012, 7:45 am

          It’s just the way law firms work. I have several friends from HLS who didn’t get jobs from the traditional On Campus Interview process, and it was very difficult to find a job outside of that process. Firms hire two sets of associates: (1) 2Ls who join the firm as soon as they graduate and (2) midlevel and senior associates from other firms. I can count on one hand (one finger maybe) the number of associates with less than a year of experience that have been hired by my firm (other than through the traditional process).

          The lateral market for junior associates is terrible – even for HLS grads. It’s just the way it is. I hate it as much as you do.

          Reply
        • Teresa March 2, 2012, 7:58 am

          The husband of Money Saving Mom started his own practice and took an alternative track. Being able to run your own business most always looks favorable to potential employers. Generally, it means you can solve problems on your own which is an incredibly overlooked and useful skill to have. Hey, if his own practice does not work he can go back to being a cog in the machine as he is only 29? He is a youngin’ with some time ahead of him. It might be a much riskier proposition if the Law School did not pick-up the tab for the school loans, but since they are I think it presents a very unique opportunity.

          Reply
        • Mike March 2, 2012, 12:29 pm

          I think you ARE living in different countries, from an outsider’s perspective. One country seems to be full of unbelievable levels of productivity, values risk-taking and isn’t burdened with that unfortunate delusion unique to certain industries on the east coast that one is somehow more productive when one is wearing a fancy suit and tie. The other country is, well, certain industries on the east coast where taking a risk that doesn’t pay off is apparently thought of as a career-killing mistake and perceptions of an individual’s productivity are seen as directly and positively correlated with how many family dinners you skip and how tight that tie is cinched around your neck.

          Spoken as one who spent the first seven years of his professional existence wearing olive-drab (and sometimes sand-colored) pajamas to work and being highly productive while doing it.

          Reply
          • Early FI March 2, 2012, 12:37 pm

            I don’t disagree at all that lawyers are risk averse. We are probably the most risk averse profession out there. But there are risks and then there are SERIOUS risks. Leaving a $200,000/year job with a young child, $240,000 of student loans, no savings, few practical skills and a spouse who is a student is a SERIOUS risk. Not to mention that he will most likely be leaving for a job that is likely to have as much if not more stress and hours than the job he has now.

            I’m not here to defend the Biglaw job – we all dream of getting out someday. But he should be careful about leaving his current job before he builds up his skills and his savings. That’s all I’m trying to say here.

            Reply
            • Mike March 2, 2012, 12:50 pm

              Good points, and I’m not trying to minimize his risks. I’m facing a similar situation, with smaller numbers: business school debt, a young family and an entrepreneurial itch that I’ve suppressed for a while in order to be a provider. Its maybe easier for me because my hours are much less onerous than the case study and my job is (usually) pretty enjoyable and after 4 years my debt is almost gone.

              I couldn’t resist some digs at the suit and tie mentality, but I know its easier to SAY someone should take that leap than it is to ACTUALLY take that leap. See my less-sarcastic and potentially more-useful comment below.

              Reply
        • Whiskers March 3, 2012, 12:36 pm

          MMM, I’m a HUGE fan, but this is the 0.01% of the time I disagree.

          As a business owner (100+ employees), I am very wary of folks who have been self-employed. In some cases they are bad asses, but in most cases there are reasons they were self employed that are negative from the perspective of an employer — doesn’t work well in a team, has issues prioritizing, flight risk, “if they’re so good why are they asking me for a job”, etc… This may not be the case with law firms, but this is usually the case in my industry.

          As for the 1 yr plan versus 2 yr plan… personal values and risk tolerance seem to be the key factors. I personally would opt for the 2yr plan… but I’m not walking in his shoes.

          Reply
          • Mr. Money Mustache March 3, 2012, 2:43 pm

            All right, I guess I now know one business owner who doesn’t like hiring other entrepreneurs. Damn you, Whiskers, for destroying my claim! :-)

            Reply
            • Troy September 24, 2013, 9:39 pm

              I completely disagree with whiskers and agree with you MMM

              I too am a business owner with employees, and I prefer prior self employed people hands down. I don’t have to explain where I am coming from to those employees, because they have been there. They understand profit and loss and employees from my side.

              MY attorney, CPA, etc are all self employed people as well. I much prefer dealing with the owner, instead of an employee who has less at stake in my relationship with them.

              Reply
    • Another Reader March 2, 2012, 7:24 am

      Totally agree. He’s made that bed….

      He could use it as a teaching opportunity with the kids. Dad can’t do x with you today, because Dad is working to pay off the family debt. Once the debt is gone, Dad will have more time to spend with you. Teach the kids that debt is bad and living a financially independent, cash basis life is much more enjoyable.

      Reply
      • Southerngirl March 2, 2012, 3:30 pm

        But not all debt is bad! Agreed there is bad debt but student loans that eventuated in a good career (note I didn’t say well paying) shouldn’t be used to teach kids that debt is bad – otherwise they won’t invest in an education.
        As to comments about jumping off the career ladder. I did this – not the same industry – but I did it after going to a women in business seminar and sitting beside a leading female entrepreneur. Her attitude was – by jumping off the career ladder you don’t lose the skills and can get back on it if necessary. This guy is Harvard and got a job from college. That has to be worth something and to say he will kill his career by leaving is overly dramatic. I now earn 20% of what I did but I don’t work 12 hr+ days and now have a beautiful child. My husband doesn’t earn what is even classed as the average wage but he can play golf and watch our daughter grow.
        We moved to cheaper accommodation – not the newest house but I also don’t have to work. We only have one car which was tough to get used to the ‘lack’ of freedom to go anywhere but over the year the savings are considerable
        Another ‘forgotten’ income source can be contract work. I’ve done this 3 times for a few months to topup the coffers before baby was born. He may well find that there are a few businesses in the area that can’t pay the large corporate legal firm pricetag but are more than willing to align themselves with a Harvard grad.

        Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache March 2, 2012, 7:30 am

      Hmm, that’s an interesting perspective. Advice from a guy in the same field in the same area is definitely valuable. I suppose the validity would hinge on whether or not Dave has extra knowledge that we don’t have regarding the success of his potential new business.

      I wrote this bit assuming what he said about income is accurate. After all, I could very easily earn $60-100k per year just doing solo carpentry projects around my neighborhood, and still be home for family dinner each night. Surely a lawyer could accomplish the same thing. When people tell me they can do something, I tend to believe them rather than questioning them. Not everyone has such an optimistic slant on life.

      I do have some even better advice for any younger people thinking about these problems we older people get ourselves into: Get your financial house in order BEFORE you have kids. You don’t have to be retired or anything, but you should definitely live frugally and drive cheap cars while you’re saving up for parenthood. It makes the work/life decision very easy during your saving stage, and makes the kid-having part very positive as well. It is worth it!

      Reply
      • Early FI March 2, 2012, 7:40 am

        “Surely a lawyer could accomplish the same thing.”

        You would think so, but the over-supply of lawyers is incredible. I would imagine that carpenters are in much higher demand relative to the supply of people willing to do the work.

        I’m very skeptical that he would be able to make $100,000 from his own law firm after only a few years, which he suggests in his email. It would certainly take him a couple of years just to become profitable, and he would be working long hours to do it.

        Reply
        • Mr. Frugal Toque March 2, 2012, 8:34 am

          “You would think so, but the over-supply of lawyers is incredible.”

          That’s an interesting statement. How is it that lawyers are paid so much if there really is an oversupply? Maybe this is just a rumour from which certain businesses profit?

          Reply
          • Early FI March 2, 2012, 9:13 am

            Salaries for junior lawyers is bimodal. If you are lucky enough to get one of the top jobs, salaries are very high. If not, you’re more likely to be around $30,000-50,000. The difference is huge – especially with $240,000 of student loans outstanding. The risk is that he is not able to come back to a top position in a few years and will have to take a much lower salary with the exact same hours as Biglaw.

            http://www.elsblog.org/the_empirical_legal_studi/images/2007/08/30/nalp_bimodal.jpg

            Reply
            • Early FI March 2, 2012, 9:14 am

              yuck, “are’ not “is”

              Reply
          • Mr. Money Mustache March 2, 2012, 9:15 am

            Yeah, I’ve heard that repeatedly from one of my local lawyer friends (who also works many hours and gets paid more per hour than I ever earned in software, and his firm bills out his time to clients at thrice that rate).

            I don’t want to diminish the points of the Mustachian lawyers here – their advice is very much appreciated and I actually know nothing about the legal profession.

            I do, however, want to point out the value of ignoring the conventional advice somewhat. Everyone always told me that it would be impossible to retire early without winning the lottery, for example. More recently, I read that it is impossible to start a blog and have anyone actually read it – “the field is too competitive and it’s a winner-take-all field”.

            Of course, I don’t want to focus on “success” as if it were the only goal. I also failed spectacularly at a business in the past and that will surely turn out to be more valuable than the successes!

            Reply
            • Mike March 2, 2012, 12:43 pm

              Maybe the answer is to stay in the biglaw job until the debt is gone, while building legal expertise in a field that would allow him to transition to non-law business or a corporate law position.

              A trained lawyer with specific expertise could start a business that is NOT a law firm. For example my brother in law realized in his first year of law school that he didn’t want to actually practice law. So he became well-versed in real estate law and now builds houses for a living. Several of my colleagues are law school grads that tried practicing as attorneys and didn’t like it, so they are putting their legal expertise to use in energy development.

              Many firms across almost all industries have in-house counsel. The salary might not be as high, but the hours might be much better. I know some corporate attorneys who are law-firm refugees.

              Reply
              • Trifele April 21, 2014, 4:57 am

                Speaking as a Biglaw refugee who went in house, I can confirm this is true. Before we started our family, I left the law firm treadmill and joined a corporation as in house counsel — best move I ever made. I made less money, but worked many fewer hours and was able to negotiate a very flexible schedule. There is a saying among lawyers — “Go in house, and keep your spouse.”

            • Mike March 2, 2012, 1:30 pm

              I concur with the “debt emergency” language. I graduated from b-school almost 4 years ago, packing $55k of student debt along for the ride (started with $0). That red light has been flashing for me ever since, and it’s definitely tough to keep a calm, cool and collected persona with that thing going off in the background. Just ask my wife!

              Reply
            • T-Lou March 2, 2012, 3:15 pm

              love, love, love your blog – but on this one I say, respectfully of course, you’ve been smoking crack!

              If he wants to open his own firm he has to get out of “biglaw” as those large corporate clients will not follow him. He needs to get to a small firm environment where he can learn an area of practice that will allow him to transition to opening his own practice. For him to plan to open his shop within a year, having only a limited “biglaw” background is silly.

              Practice in a smaller town will also be a lot more sane than “biglaw” where they squeeze every conceivable drop of sweat from young lawyers to finance the extravagant non mustachian lives of the senior partners. But I’m assuming he is where he is to allow his wife to get her ticket.

              This is not a one stage transition situation. Collect the pay check to slash the debt while your wife finishes school, keep a look out for a job out of “biglaw”, which will vastly improve your day to day outlook, change jobs to a saner work environment where you will build the skill set and contacts necessary to open your own practice. Then and only then, after more than only a few years of experience, hang up your own shingle.

              Reply
              • Cass March 3, 2012, 11:33 am

                I would also suggest our case study look for a middle ground. In my area, at least, there are many 2 and 3 partner firms that hire on recent grads at around $50,000/yr base. The East Coast environment might have a higher base, closer to what his entrepreneurial take-home would be. So he would be gaining valuable career experience, work less-crazy hours, and still be within a familiar structure (without the added costs of starting a business).

                Alternatively, his wife could probably easily transfer law schools after 1 year, and they could all move to a much more affordable area of the country.

          • Erin March 2, 2012, 9:15 am

            Sad truth…there are too many law school graduates for available jobs. This is coming from a paralegal at a mid-size law firm.

            Of course corporate lawyers (as well as some other specialty lawyers) are paid a lot…however, most are not. I know for a fact that the associates at my law firm don’t make that much more than I do, and I don’t make a lot. In fact, the most junior lawyer here makes LESS than I do (granted I have 9 years experience and this is his first job out of law school). We are in Michigan, so everything is relative when compared to East Coast/Ivy League standards.

            Reply
          • Mike March 2, 2012, 1:05 pm

            It’s true from a microeconomics standpoint. See “The Magee Curve”, a study done by economist Stephen P. Magee across 54 countries using 25 years of data. It shows that the optimal lawyer : white-collar-worker ratio is 23 : 1,000. At fewer than 23 attorneys for every 1,000 white-collar workers, economic growth gets a boost. Once you pass that number, though, “denser packs of lawyers inhibit growth at rates that are increasingly negative” as “Litigation becomes excessive, and talented people become lawyers who would have been more socially productive as, e.g., engineers.”

            About 2/3 down the page:
            http://www.unc.edu/depts/econ/byrns_web/ModMicro/ModMicro00_intro0.htm

            Reply
          • MacGyverIt March 3, 2012, 1:12 pm

            Reply
      • MGM March 2, 2012, 12:07 pm

        Your advice is extremely valid for individuals who have yet to children.

        With respect to the case in question, where children are already in the picture, I believe it is extremely wise for Dave in DC to create a comprehensive cost/ benefit analysis. In his current state, there is a high probability that he can achieve his goals much more quickly, but with a high probability of it continuing to reduce his quality time with his family.

        What are the probabilities (to name a few) that
        1. His new firm’s income will materialize?
        2. That he will actually work less in the first few years of creating his own firm?
        3. That he will actually have more QUALITY time with his family?
        4. That he handles any associated stress well or poorly and, in turn, what impact that has on his family?

        With every financial decision, there are positive and negative consequences. Some known, some unknown. I believe it wise to assess what he can assume are the knowns with a high degree of confidence and the assumptions that he can’t make with a high degree of confidence and then make his personal decision.

        Questioning conventional wisdom is always valid.

        In this case, if the facts presented are valid, we can know that with a reasonable degree of confidence and elementary math, that Dave could be debt free, even of his home (not inclusive of any of his wife’s law obligations) within a few years (5-7) depending on bonuses and how mustachian, to borrow the term, he and his family choose to live.

        At 28, this is not a position that should be taken lightly. It is reasonable, that he could start his own firm, working when and if he wants without any of the stress of necessity by his mid thirties. As others, with applicable law experience have mentioned, it would not be unwise to have a firm pay you a reasonable salary while you continue to learn your craft and prepare to start your own firm.

        In his current situation, Dave has made financial decisions that have given he and his family a nice shelter in an upscale area, an excellent degree and earning potential, but the consequences are that he has entered into obligations where others have a claim on his future productivity.

        The key in life from a financial perspective, is to mitigate the amount of claims that individuals or any other entities have on your future productivity, while increasing the claims that you have on other’s future productivity. It is really that simple. MMM has done an excellent job of that with his rental properties, his tenants must, through their own productivity or the productivity of their capital, recompense him for their inherent shelter on a monthly, presumably, basis.

        Excellent case study and comments, I enjoy learning from everyone.

        Reply
      • Jess March 2, 2013, 9:13 pm

        Two sad words that apply in law, but not in carpentry, fuck it up for the lawyers:

        FACE TIME

        Fucking horrible concept but it seriously Runs The World in law =P

        Reply
      • mysticaltyger June 23, 2014, 4:26 pm

        “Get your financial house in order BEFORE you have kids.”

        This is what I was thinking the whole time I was reading the post. Most law school grads don’t have kids in their early/mid 20s–and for good reason.

        Reply
    • jlcollinsnh March 2, 2012, 11:40 am

      “You would work MORE starting your own firm, not less.”

      this is a critical observation and, while work more you’d be earning less.

      Better to focus on your job, cut your living costs and get to FI. From there you make decisions from a position of strength.

      Since you are only six miles from work you can easily dump one car. Your wife can drop you off and pick you up on the days you can’t bike to work. Takes some planning, but even an old car cost thousands in operating expenses you don’t have.

      Reply
      • Ben March 2, 2012, 12:30 pm

        May be tough to have her pick up/drop off he is working late hours and the kids are in bed. Also, she is in law school as well. My guess is that they will have to stay a two car family for the time being.

        Reply
    • Lazyretirementgirl March 3, 2012, 5:40 pm

      These comments are well taken. I am a retired big firm partner who reared two children ( mostly on my own) during my thirty years of practice. I can tell you in a big firm you have support and infrastructure you will never have on your own — everything from people who know what they are doing with technology to people who collect the bills when clients don’t pay. You are free to concentrate on generating revenue and bringing in business.
      I did trial and litigation work, where you can and will find jerk opponents dumping last minute crises, which become work marathons, on you on, say, your son’s birthday or two days before Christmas. If you are on your own, good luck with that. In a big firm, you can find help down the hall. Spend some serious time talking to as many sole practitioners as you can to see whether your life work balance is a
      realistic outcome or a fantasy. Having young kids and practicing law is very difficult, because both are demanding of time and energy. Before you walk away from a well paying gig, work very hard to educate yourself about whether the alternative self employment will really give you the breathing space you want. And good luck, whatever you decide.

      Reply
  • Baughman March 2, 2012, 7:17 am

    If your family is looking for more balance in life, why bother with a second law degree? If the intent is to self-insure against the primary income earners death, I understand that. If the intent is to rake in two salaries while juggling raising kids, I don’t get it. The income of the second earner of the family will be taxed at your marginal tax rate….no deductions; no nothing. I know too many women with successful careers that would trade it all in for the right to be a full-time mother if they could figure out the financial side of things. However, once they become accustomed to the dual-income lifestyle, they view themselves as trapped for life.

    Reply
    • Emmers March 2, 2012, 7:46 am

      Just a hypothesis, but my guess is that the LW’s wife is the kind of person who enjoys having a job. Not a 100-hr/wk soul-sucker like LW has right now, but maybe a nice 40 (or 20!) hour deal where she accomplishes things but can maintain a good work-life balance.

      Feeling trapped for life by the dual-income lifestyle is definitely a problem, but lots of people enjoy working!

      Also, your point about the marginal rate is taken, but at the same time, 65% of 100k is still $65,000. That’s a heck of a lot to be sinking into 529′s or what have you (after basic needs are met).

      Reply
  • Guitarist March 2, 2012, 7:24 am

    Man, I didn’t want to pile on, but my thoughts about starting your own firm are the same as a couple others. It could end up being more work, especially at first.
    Though MMM’s plan of working hard for the next year is a good one. Cut expenses, raise your net worth, see where you’re at in a year, and you’ll have a better understanding of what options you should pursue.

    Reply
    • mike crosby March 2, 2012, 10:23 am

      I’m one that almost always opts for taking the independent route. But in this case “NO”. Suck it up. Stay away from lifestyle inflation, then in a few years think about the move.

      And I like what Baughman says, have the wife stay at home. That would balance dad being gone so much.

      And MMM–you sure do give detailed posts for being retired. Excellent.

      Reply
      • Fangs March 3, 2012, 2:05 pm

        I have a problem with stating the wife should stay at home. Who states she wants or desires that kind of lifestyle? She has the ambition to be a lawyer–she should no more put that aside than the man should. He could always work until she graduates and then stay at home after she gets a job if he wishes or they could invest in day care if not already.

        Reply
        • Emmers March 5, 2012, 1:12 pm

          I agree with Fangs. We don’t know that the LW’s wife wants to stay at home, so saying “The wife should stay at home” is either (a) a reasonable thing, if she wants to do that, or (b) a super-jerkface thing to say, Yellow Wallpaper style. And since we haven’t collapsed that waveform yet, I prefer to avoid the possibility of being a super-jerkface to people I don’t know anything about. ;-)

          Reply
  • Dragline March 2, 2012, 7:47 am

    Oh, I should say that I’d be happy to meet you for coffee or lunch sometime Dave (and I will buy). I do know couples in the DC area that have successful started their own firms together. More importantly, us older people like to blather on about life, the universe and everything and pretend other people are actually listening.

    I don’t see a way to PM me here, but you could do it if you go to the forums at http://www.earlyretirementextreme.com

    Reply
  • T-Lou March 2, 2012, 7:55 am

    Like Dragline, I too am in a similar situation to you and I agree with Dragline’s advice. I don’t know about the Washington situation for lawyers but generally, the experience you get working with seasoned lawyers is invaluable. I left my employment after 5 years and opened my own shop, working from home. I was earning as much within a few months, but my employment income was much lower than yours is now. I wouldn’t jump ship yet, particularly if your wife is still in law school. Incidentally, I note there are absolutely no expenses noted with respect to her schooling.

    There were too many years where my husband and I were hanging on by our fingernails, trying to juggle employment obligations, raising young children, coping with aging parents and debt.

    You don’t say what year of call you are, but I’m assuming only a few years. I would follow MMM’s advice regarding debt reduction, try to squeeze in some hours with your family as you can w/o screwing up at work, attack your debt, then swap positions with your wife, once she’s been up and running for a few years and you have more to offer your clients.

    This too shall pass and you will look back fondly in years to come and pat yourself on the back for using your newly acquired mustachian ways to getting to FI. The earlier post about the value of hard work is relevant to where you are now. Until you are debt free you owe it to your family to suck it up and continue pulling in the big bucks to cope with your earlier decision to get the ivy league degree. Law is a profession that is known to “eat it’s own young”. Soon, you will no longer be a young lawyer, if you just keep grinding for a few years. Now it’s time to pay your dues.

    Reply
  • Marcia @Frugal Healthy Simple March 2, 2012, 8:29 am

    I’m not a lawyer, but I’d have to go with the 2 year plan. Or more importantly, go with MMM’s 1 year plan, and revisit. If I am at net 0 at that point, I’d be tempted to go another year.

    My FIL is a lawyer, went to Georgetown back in the 60′s. He worked “BigLaw” for a few years before starting his own business. Now, he was a small town lawyer, not a DC lawyer. But his income was solidly “middle class” and he’d be comfortable now in his retirement if he didn’t decide to leave his wife in his 60′s.

    I used to live in DC, and still visit occasionally. I am always amazed at the pace – it is SO fast paced and people work like dogs…really long hours, and not just lawyers. I know there are people there who have more balanced lives, but I never met them while I was there. Of course, I was young, in the Navy, and doing the 100-mile-an-hour life thing.

    I guess Cali has mellowed me out a bit.

    Reply
  • Dollar D @ The Dollar Disciple March 2, 2012, 8:40 am

    Seems like a solid plan. Personally, I might work another year or two at the firm to build up a big ol’ chunk of cash before starting on my own but either way the prospects are exciting!

    Reply
  • Kevin M March 2, 2012, 8:51 am

    Talk to some other lawyers outside your firm that have started their own practice. You might actually end up working more and earning less. I’m all for doing your own thing and having some flexibility with that, but really think about how you want your business to run, what clients you want to work with and why that will be better than where you are now. I’m shooting to open my own CPA firm in a few years, the best advice I’ve gotten so far are from a group of peers that have done it already.

    Reply
  • Jason March 2, 2012, 9:38 am

    As a DINK couple (no plans to ever not be DINKs) I have a hard time understanding some of this situation. First you had children while in HLS that can’t be easy to do. You likely didn’t see them much then either. But you made that choice, you wanted to be a lawyer took out huge debt to do so. You made that choice.

    Good news is that you can fix it. Bad news it’s not easy. You’re never going to live in DC (or any expensive metro area) for peanuts. If you want to stay plan now. Sell the cars buy cheaper, target that money we aren’t seeing in your email plus the savings you are going to have by cutting spending to the bone along with bonus and pay raises to cut down your debt as fast as possible. Don’t wait to pay down the student loan because someone else “may” pay it someday.

    Once your future looks more stable think about that firm. I can’t imagine you would be working less. Maybe you have more flexibility in the timing of work but you’re still going to be as (or more) dedicated than you are now. But again once you’re on solid footing those decisions are much easier.

    As the child of a military father who was gone frequently on deployments when I was young it’s not the being there every afternoon thats important. What you do when you’re together with the kids is what makes memories. Make the most of the time you see them, not just tuning out infront of the television. Skype them in the afternoon if you have to, take/do the things you say you will but don’t over promise and fail to deliver.

    Just my two cents.

    Reply
    • Marcia @Frugal Healthy Simple March 2, 2012, 11:25 am

      Very good point about the military. Many of my friends are still in. WHenever I think about complaining about my husband’s business trips, I remember my friend Shawn, whose husband is a submariner.

      Reply
    • James March 2, 2012, 1:18 pm

      Got to agree with this, I’ve purposely set aside time to spend with my kids, and then have found myself doing things that wasted the very time I set aside. Growing up my dad was around a lot, but we rarely really “communicated”, it’s one thing I’m trying to change with my children, and it’s hard sometimes despite having the time to do it.

      Reply
  • jd March 2, 2012, 9:39 am

    Hey MMM, better check the “vehicle inventory” link in the article…

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache March 2, 2012, 10:11 am

      Woops, thanks for pointing that out – looks like I had made a cut/paste error when making that link. It is fixed now!

      Reply
  • Cdn Gwen March 2, 2012, 9:58 am

    Taking a step back from the mechanics of how to achieve his goal, I would offer one piece of advice from a mum who worked 2 jobs frequently while my child was young.
    MAKE THE TIME YOU HAVE WITH YOUR KIDS COUNT!!
    During the rare time you have at home until you can pull the pin on this, don’t just “be home”, but spend the time having quality interaction. It will be remembered more than if you spent lots of time at home, but were otherwise occupied.
    Good luck on your Plan!! (which ever one you choose)

    Reply
  • et March 2, 2012, 10:00 am

    You can do Misc (food, clothing, everything else.) – $600 for 4 people? That’s impressive considering you’re both so busy.

    Reply
  • James Petzke March 2, 2012, 10:21 am

    Great advice MMM. I have always wondered how people deal with such massive student debts, and if there is any way to get to financial freedom in a practical way.

    Reply
  • rjack March 2, 2012, 10:27 am

    Like MMM, I’m just a software guy, so I know little about law practices. However, I wonder if there is some sort of middle ground to solving your problem.

    Is it possible to morph the law job into something more enjoyable? Can you work part-time? Can you slack off slightly given that you know you are going to leave? Can you switch to a type of law (corporate, family, whatever) that is less demanding and stressful?

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache March 2, 2012, 10:39 am

      That’s right – stodgy law firms are not the only people who want to hire someone with your degree.

      In fact, I heard of a guy who grew up without any money or connections, went to the same school you did, and ended up becoming the President of the United States. And one of the five youngest guys to ever earn that office. I’ll be voting for his re-election later this year ;-)

      Reply
      • Mike March 2, 2012, 3:24 pm

        I’ll be joining you, MMM. I can’t support the current direction of the other party. Or any of the contenders they’ve fielded.

        Reply
    • Ross March 2, 2012, 10:52 am

      RJack. Not likely possible to slack off or go part-time as a lawyer. Big firms are about one thing, billing. In order to bill you need to docket ever hour of your day and bill it a the client. Big Firms require annual quotes for docketed time, if you don’t fulfill your quota there are going to be questions.

      His best option may be to transition to a in-house corporate job. In my area there are plenty of company and government lawyer jobs available that offer benefits and a fair wage (probably around $80,000-110,000) and only require 9-5 hours. They also offer security. However, I do not know whether his student loans would be forgiven if he took this option.

      Reply
      • mlvm March 2, 2012, 12:14 pm

        I think there could be a middle ground to this situation…if he decides to switch to a government or nonprofit job (which typically have better hours), he could enroll in the Dept. of Education’s Public Service Loan Forgiveness program – http://studentaid.ed.gov/PORTALSWebApp/students/english/PSF.jsp. He would need to make 120 monthly payments to a qualifying employer (which is limited to government or 501c3), but then the DoE would forgive the remainder of his debt at the end of the 10 years.

        Reply
      • Carolina on My Mind March 2, 2012, 3:31 pm

        Exactly what I was going to suggest. I’m a DC lawyer too, twelve years out of school, and I and all my lawyer friends would tell this guy the same thing: if you are lucky enough to have landed a firm job in this market, don’t even think about changing jobs until you’ve been there for a good three or four years. Stay there, get trained, learn how to do the job, develop contacts/references, rake in the dough, reduce your spending, and pay down your debts as much as you can. Then find yourself a government job (or an in-house job, if you can find one where the work-life balance is satisfactory). You’ll take a big pay cut, but it will be worth it because your life outside work will be far better, and oftentimes the work itself is more interesting and challenging too. And you’ll be able to afford the pay cut because your spending is low. That’s exactly what I did. I’m not retired yet, but I’m getting there. :)

        You are much more attractive to other potential employers (and no doubt to potential clients, if you really want to go that route) once you have a solid few years of firm experience under your belt. Personally, I wouldn’t consider hanging out a shingle without at least ten years of working experience behind me; I know people make it work, but that’s much more risk than I’d be willing to take on.

        Good luck!

        Reply
        • Mr. Money Mustache March 2, 2012, 5:59 pm

          Man, good thing I didn’t know there were so many Washington DC area lawyers reading this blog, otherwise I might have been nervous to post a bit of advice to one! :-)

          Anyway, I hope you haven’t all scared Dave out of his plans. Your knowledge of the hardships of the legal profession is much appreciated. But just remember that I wanted to go based on the information he gave me, rather than reading in my own pessimism. If the man says he can make $40k in the first year and go up to $100k shortly thereafter, I believe him. In the event of failure, he learns still more. That’s not my idea of a disaster.

          All this talk about the world of Lawyers is surely very instructive to the rest of us as well. My fellow Software Engineers are probably having a good chuckle at how much more worker-friendly our profession is. In Engineering, there will be mass rioting if the company cafeteria loses its head chef at the free sushi bar and they have to make do with sushi from an unknown chef. If you try to impose suits, ties, and formal office hours, you might as well just de-list your stock and nuke all your facilities, as this will cause less damage.

          Reply
          • Sherry March 5, 2012, 10:31 am

            MMM – The world of law is truly its own, peculiar, beast. I write as an attorney who graduated from an elite law school nine years ago and have classmates who have been unemployed for years.

            1) The legal market is horrible – this man needs to sit tight for a few years and rake in the biglaw salary.

            2) Bizarre as it might seem to outsiders, new attorneys – especially from elite schools – have little ability to practice law, much less establish and manage a law firm. Lawyers generally only can move from a law firm after 3-4 years.

            3) Law firms are ridiculously conservative when they hire. Unlike the rest of the work world, they become skittish at the slightest whiff of risk. A lawyer who left a large firm to start his own will always be considered a flight risk in the future. If he leaves biglaw now, he needs to understand that he has a minuscule chance to re-enter at a later date.

            4) Part time or life/balance work in the field of law is rare and usually hard-earned. Unless he lands a government or not-for-profit gig (which are even more competitive than firm jobs) he will have almost no opportunity at this point in his career to downsize his hours. There are scores of attorneys working 80+ hours a week for far less than $100k.

            5) Many other comments note that starting his own firm will almost certainly entail equally long hours, with neither the benefits nor the assurance of any income. His projections are unduly rosy, unless he has some secret lawyering abilities that other new Harvard lawyers lack.

            6) Health insurance? What about his wife’s current monetary input/output? Is she on scholarship, or is she racking up debt, too?

            I usually encourage people to take risks with their careers and finances, but this man needs to stick with biglaw for a few more years until he gains the skills to successfully jump ship.

            Reply
          • The Money Rat August 28, 2012, 4:35 pm

            I know this comment is late, but . . . as a fellow BigLaw attorney, my recommendation is to stay where he is and take advantage of the opportunity to be paid big bucks to learn on the job. Associate salaries are lockstep. Based on his reported salary of $210k he sounds like a 4th or 5th year . . . stick it out and make close to $300k for 2 or 3 more years and turbo down that debt. I am late to the ERE party and wish I discovered the principles when I was in my 20s and my kids were his age. Better to be home more when they are in their early teens than when they are under 10. As an “of counsel” at a white shoe NY law firm I am making over $400k per year. I commute 2 hours so I can live well below my means. I drive a car that is 13 years old. I see my kids for 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes at night. There are trade offs everywhere. Once you make the mistake of getting entangled in the Rat Race it takes a lot of discipline and more than a few years of hard work to get out.

            Reply
          • Erica / Northwest Edible Life September 27, 2012, 12:06 pm

            My husband, whose first “real job” was for a (at the time) small and very dynamic, casual web retailer, recently transitioned from a very Old Skool Stodgy Corporate Position – where people honestly had multiple meetings to set up what timeline they should use to ensure that plans for future meetings could be planned “efficiently” – to a flexible contract position working for the website side of a large wireless company. After the first day it was like he was a new man. He came home and said, “Honey, I’m with WEB PEOPLE again!” Since then he’s worn jeans to work. He’ll probably never work for Stodgy Corporate again.

            Reply
  • steveinFL March 2, 2012, 11:22 am

    When I was in my early 20s, I had limited skills and worked a bunch of McJobs to pay the bills while trying to work my way up to a high paying career. My wife worked a lower paying social workers job. We had 2 children and by juggling our jobs, we were able to be home every night for kickball games, dinner, baseball coaching, homework and family time.

    During those years, my maximum income was ~20K and we struggled with bills every month. We had crappy cars, lived as renters and had no financial cushion.

    But we had food, shelter and a loving home. We paid most of our bills on time bit did carry too much credit card debt.

    I once took a nightshift newspaper delivery job for 9 months so I could be home after school so my son didn’t have to go to after school daycare.

    Fast forward ~15 years to today. Our daughter died in an accident before graduating college which truly sucked. This was life altering for the entire family. Our son graduated college and is becoming a semi-successful artist. I’ve worked up to a high paying corporate sales job and I am becoming Mustachian. Life overall is pretty good.

    Although the years of being broke were tough, I have no regrets for the time I spent with the kids when they were little. I thought they needed it. In retrospect, I realize I needed it just as much. Some of the years were the best years of our lives.

    I’ve learned that money comes and goes. It’s not really that important.

    Reply
    • BDub March 2, 2012, 3:26 pm

      This puts a lump in my throat… So sorry for your loss.

      There is no better advice than advice from someone who has (unfortunately) lived through times like this.

      Reply
  • JaneMD March 2, 2012, 11:38 am

    Dave, your problem appears to be your billable hours keeping you away from your family. What can you do at work to increase your billable hours? Are you operating at maximum efficiency? Did you cut out social lunches, personal phone calls, daily errands, law firm softball/march madness?

    Next question – can you work from home on the weekends? If you can block off 2 hours in the am before your family gets up you can easily sneak in some more billable hours. You could do this at night too if your wife will also agree to a study session after the kiddos are in bed.

    For a discussion on this particular lawyer earnings topic, I already wrote it up for you last month – http://cheaplifeexpensiveeducation.blogspot.com/2012/02/greedy-evil-lawyers.html

    Reply
  • MiniMMM March 2, 2012, 11:42 am

    I believe his student loan interest is not tax-deductible! I discovered that mine wasn’t last year. If over 75K income as single then not deductible. I’d assume it’s 150K married. Correct?

    Reply
    • Early FI March 2, 2012, 11:47 am

      Correct. It’s $150,000 AGI for married couples filing jointly. He makes too much to deduct.

      Reply
  • MiniMMM March 2, 2012, 11:45 am

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  • GayleRN March 2, 2012, 11:59 am

    Wow. Dug yourself a mighty big hole there. We all know Rule#1 about holes which is Stop Digging. You can do nothing about changing the rest of your life until you are Out of Debt. Attack one problem at a time until you are debt free. Start with the cars, then housing, then all freed up money goes to student debt. Then you can breathe freely enough to actually think rationally about the Next Step.

    Stop putting child care into a separate box from every other activity. While you are doing laundry they can help fold. While you are fixing dinner they can help set the table. They help you do the dishes. Teach them about nutrition while shopping for groceries. Take a nature walk and get some fresh air. Read books together. Kids don’t know that their bath time is your time to “do child care” They just have fun. You should too.

    The good news is by the time they enter their teen years you should have your act together enough to be present and available for more important purposes. Like making sure that those after school friend visits are not more friendlly than you want. Voice of experience speaking.

    Reply
  • Anon March 2, 2012, 12:08 pm

    I think that this post gets too bogged down in number and misses a key point: the writer (and mmm) assume that he only has two options: continue in current career path or start his on his practice.

    The way I see it is that the writer has a great educational credential as well as great work credential. He could probably use those as barganing chips to get a job that pays enough, provides good benefits, and gives him the work/life balance that he craves.

    My experience is that starting your own company is overrated. While it might be that it is the right decision for the writer, I feel that he should also explore the option of working/joining another firm to see whether his financial and personal goals can be met in that kind of work situation.

    Reply
  • Bill March 2, 2012, 12:22 pm

    If you live in DC proper there is surely bus or metro access from your house to your job. You guys should probably be a one (paid off) car family. This is true even if you live in Arlington or Silver Spring.

    Renting is super expensive here, but condo living is brutal – I’m guessing your monthly condo fee is ~500/mo. It’s worth exploring other options, but you may well not be able to find anything cheaper. I’m dropping 2k/mo for a 1 bedroom condo (renting) in Old Town. Not ideal.

    This really comes down to the degree to which you’re confident in your ability to bring in money out on your own. Your best bet here might be to leverage a relationship with someone a little older at your firm who is ready to strike it out on their own and is willing to partner with you (would this still qualify you for student loan benefits?) You’d have to be pretty confident in the arrangement, but that could be a win-win. Obviously the better you do the less time HLS will pick up the tab.

    Still, a 12-24 month plan with some hardcore frugality with big time salary is probably the most optimal.

    Check out No More Harvard Debt (google it) for another perspective from a Harvard law grad (no wife or kids though)

    Reply
  • BE @ BusyExecutiveMoneyBlog March 2, 2012, 3:50 pm

    As I have somewhat of a similar profile, my recommendation would be to stay at firm and payoff all debt. Refinance the mortgage and then decide whether to pay that off as well. Absolutely do not allow lifestyle to creep any further. This will give enough of a clear head to make best decision.

    Reply
  • another HLS grad March 2, 2012, 9:55 pm

    Wow. I’m pretty surprised to find another HLS grad, likely in my class year (08) who reads MMM. A couple of comments:

    First, I switched pretty early (in my first year) from biglaw to a government type 9-5 job at around 100K. I had plans to work <10 years at biglaw and then FI- after switching, I decreased my spending significantly and my expected years until FI did not really change. It truly is nice to leave work when the sun is still out and I think the salary reduction was worth it, especially since I am making more per hour and planning on FI before the big potential payoff from a law firm might come anyway.

    Second, with regard to starting your own law firm – it is much harder to be successful than most people think (unless you have some guaranteed revenue from family or something) and has all the hard work and problems with running any business, while at the same time being difficult to scale. I remember Professor Warren at HLS (likely future senator) saying that she failed while starting her own practice.

    I would say jump ship if you can find a job working for someone else with easy hours and a higher hourly pay. If the only choices on the table are starting your own firm and sticking with biglaw, I would stick with biglaw. In both cases I would focus on drastically decreasing expenses.

    Reply
  • Jill March 3, 2012, 6:09 am

    I used to have a pretty great job in IT in downtown Chicago. I made great money, had good benefits and vacations, but the job was stressful and I had to get up at 4:30 and didn’t get home until 7:00 provided everything went smoothly. My commute was insane.

    Now, I am divorced and moved to be by family. They watch my sons. I have a job that is five minutes from my house. The pay is low, but it’s a low cost of living area. I like the job. We are all happier and less stressed. Due to a very mustachian lifestyle we are making it fine and the other day my nine year old son told me he gets everything he wants and that made me happy, in part because I don’t overindulge him at all!

    Reply
  • Marlene March 3, 2012, 8:24 am

    Erm – Dave, did you talk this over with your wife? This is what I´m somehow missing in the picutre. That and I´d also second thinking about a third option, not only sticking it out or starting for oneself.

    Reply
  • Andre March 3, 2012, 9:25 am

    But Dave, do your kids & wife really ant to see more of you?

    Reply
  • Andre March 3, 2012, 9:35 am

    Family health insurance is a good reason to hang in there with BigLaw for as long as possible.

    Reply
  • MacGyverIt March 3, 2012, 12:48 pm

    Heard about this on the radio a while back:

    A Bunch of Young Lawyers are Suing Their Law Schools Because They Don’t Have Jobs

    http://finance.yahoo.com/news/bunch-young-lawyers-suing-law-195616601.html

    The DC area is crawling with lawyers, there is a Darwinian aspect to this issue. Best of luck on drilling down on your debt and getting your quality family time back!

    Reply
  • traineeinvestor March 3, 2012, 8:41 pm

    Another “BigLaw” lawyer here.

    I’d suck it up until (i) the debt is gone (possibly excepting the home mortgage) and (ii) the expenses have been reduced to the point where they can maintain a healthy savings rate off a much lower income and (iii) the wife has graduated.

    Once he leaves a a big law firm, getting back in is very very difficult and, as others have said, starting your own practice will be difficult for the simpel reason that the sorts of major corporate clients which use big law firms are not going to instruct small law firms and he will not have gained either the experience or the reputation to deal with other types of work. They may be better off going to a much smaller firm where the pressures are less or trying something outside the legal profession.

    FWIW, I went the other way and stuck with biglaw on the basis that I would be able to retire earlier (and will do so either at the end of 2012 or in early 2013).

    Reply
    • Dragline March 4, 2012, 8:35 am

      You raise and interesting point that readers of “Early Retirement Extreme” may appreciate, which is that for most people who want to become financially independent, reducing expenses is the place to focus one’s efforts –

      BUT — for a few outliers who either earn very little or earn a lot, focusing on increasing earnings may be the “lower hanging fruit”. Obviously, you want to do both, but someone who has landed a big law associate position can really maximize earnings in a shorter time frame than is possible for most folks if you can avoid living a lifestyle like your big law associate peers.

      Reply
  • Alex F March 4, 2012, 12:42 pm

    Mr. Money Mustache,

    Any chance your DC lawyer has sent you his reaction to your advice? I’m guessing that between your advice and this fascinating comment thread, his own thinking on his decision may have changed.

    My sense is that he was looking for permission from you to jump ship. These comments may make him think twice.

    I’m curious because I’m in a similar situation, just divide everything by roughly two. (a single lawyer, no kids, ~60K annual income, ~70K student debt) and thinking about striking out on my own.

    Thanks for blogging.

    Reply
  • DP March 5, 2012, 7:48 pm

    From your description I’m going to guess you live in Montgomery County and your commute to work is mostly downhill. If that assumption is correct, have you considered biking in 100% of the time, maybe with the exception of torrential downpours (which, I admit, are annoyingly frequent), and then Metro in the other days. That way you can get rid of one car altogether. If you go in before the peak times and leave after, you can actually catch a pretty good price. Also, the D.C. buses in some areas are a little cheaper, and sometimes no slower, than Metro.

    Reply
  • Jennifer September 20, 2012, 3:55 pm

    Wow, this is so much like my life, except when I graduated, I turned down my BigLaw job to move to Hawaii to try to have the work-life balance and save my marriage. Three years later we’re still not sure we did the right thing because we’re drowning in debt–but our marriage is stronger than ever and we have two beautiful young boys (who we probably should have waited to have…but how do you regret your kids? We can’t). And my law school does not do the amazing
    “we’ll pay off your debt if you start your own firm and it doesn’t do well” thing. Thanks for sharing his story, I’m glad I’m not alone out here with this much debt trying to recover and still be Mustachian. So many years until retirement with $300K hanging over our heads!

    Reply
  • hands2work October 4, 2012, 9:56 am

    I’m very curious as to what Dave in DC decided to do and how he is faring 6 months out…

    Reply
  • Jim Wood February 27, 2013, 12:32 pm

    MMM – any chance of an update on this case study. I’m in the high rent East Coast myself and would love to hear what the outcome was in this case.

    Reply
  • Nihongo Dame Desu March 16, 2013, 12:31 pm

    I’m a new MMM reader and have started from the beginning, so I’m just coming across this article. Since it has been about a year, I’m wondering if MMM has heard anything more or could contact this person for an update. I’d love to see what he decided and how it turned out.

    Reply
  • earthmother65 April 13, 2013, 10:14 am

    I’d also love an update! I do hope he has the courage to walk away or at least see his kids more while gaining that good professional experience. But be careful not to fall too deep into the stress trap. My husband retired at 48…but only after being surprised with a triple bypass at 47. He’s enjoying life tremendously, including life with our teenage sons, but acknowledges missed a lot while they were younger.

    Reply
  • southern dude June 10, 2013, 7:15 pm

    I’m also curious about what Dave in DC decided to do. I’m in a similar position – Harvard Law grad slogging along as an associate in Biglaw. Would be nice to hear a success story of someone escaping the grind.

    Reply
  • Carrie April 14, 2014, 10:38 pm

    “Things will be exciting at first [when you quit your job and start your own practice,] but I have faith in your ability to get this done.”

    I love how ‘exciting’ is optimistic-Mustachean for ‘really effing terrifying.’

    Reply
  • Sarah April 24, 2014, 10:05 am

    I’m a relatively new Mustachian and am coming to this article 2 years later but would love to hear an update on this case study. I also wanted to add that in my experience it is possible to break free from the conservative career path dictated by law firms – I clerked for several years after law school at the trial court and appellate level. I tried private practice and disliked the long hours and lack of control. I now have my own legal writing business. I enjoy the work and being my own boss. There are other opportunities besides Biglaw/opening your own law firm!

    Reply

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