Unfortunately when deciding to pursue a career in law, the lawyer salary is the consideration that many prospective law students give the most weight. Many candidates who want to become a lawyer think that lawyer careers are a guaranteed path to wealth straight out of law school. Perhaps you also fantasize about how nice life would be if starting out of law school you were getting paid $160,000 per year? I must admit that I had similar dreams regarding the lawyer salary when I applied to law school and was considering different lawyer careers.
Be advised that chasing money can lead to a very unsatisfying psychological and emotional state. Money should be viewed as a tool to permit you to do what you want (freedom), and take care of the people important to you… money is not the end game.
In furtherance of comprehending this surprisingly complicated matter, there are certain truths of the relationship between graduating law school, lawyer salary, lawyer careers and acquiring wealth which I will identify for you:
1. There are many graduates of law school who do not actually practice law (i.e. those who are lawyers but do not have lawyer careers), who have acquired a vast amount of wealth in their given industry. They may or may not have actually practiced law at one time, but did not acquire their wealth via the practice of law. Many CEOs of large and small companies have their law degree, and that degree was instrumental to their success.
2. There are many lawyers who ACTIVELY practice law who have acquired wealth. (Be advised that it is much more difficult for the active practitioner of law to acquire the same quantity of wealth compared to a lawyer who moved on to more entrepreneurial or financial ventures. Professional service businesses are difficult to scale upward, and tasks are not easily delegate-able, thus this business model results in fewer profits. For example, consider how many people on the Forbes list of the wealthiest people in the world are managing partners of law firms? Zero. But if you looked at how many had a law degree there would be quite a few).
3. If you do go to law school and practice law, it is likely that this further education will lead you to a financially comfortable life. The practice of law is still an avenue to obtain a very comfortable salary. But obtaining the fabled lawyer salary takes time for most lawyers.
4. If you expect to obtain an attorney salary of $160,000 right after graduating from law school, think again. I am going to let you in on another little secret, very few lawyers make this fabled lawyer salary straight out of law school, only approximately 18% of the graduating class of 2010 made close to this salary. Further, you have to practice in a major urban area to obtain a salary in this range.
Additionally, legal employers that pay that level of compensation have very high expectations and demands on your time. Would you want to work 6-7 days a week 12 hours a day for the fabled lawyer salary? Remember that often the jobs that offer such a high salary are positions where you will doing only one sort of activity (cog in the wheel) over and over, and not learning anything that would advance your future career.
Additionally, there is no guarantee that your lawyer salary will remain so high in the future, the universe will find a way to thwart your grandiose life plans. In choosing to enroll in law school, the lawyer salary should weigh very little in your final decision. The important question is what will obtaining a law degree prepare you to do? (Quite a bit actually…)
There is nothing to say that you can’t achieve wealth by becoming a lawyer, but chances are you will not be offered such a high level of compensation straight after graduation, in fact you may not want it! Your goal should be to find a legal career that matches your personality. It is best to explore a law niche that interests you and then find a way to make money in it.
Through this approach not only will you be happy, you will eventually become financially successful. People are generally skilled at work that they enjoy. However, you must act now and prepare yourself accordingly by arming yourself with as much knowledge concerning the legal world as you can, and eventually (if it is your goal) you can acquire significant wealth, but nothing will be handed to you.
-You should not make your career decisions based solely on money, this is a sure fire way to fail to discover the type of work that you are best suited for, will enjoy the most, or will be the most successful at (including financially successful). Making a career decision based on attorney salary may only provide you with the most money possible at that PARTICULAR MOMENT in your life, and not the future.
-Just because you see a large starting salary out of law school does not mean that the salary will increase drastically in the future. It also doesn’t mean that your job will still be there in the next couple of years.
-Also, don’t forget that often an employer pays a high salary because the work associated with said position is extremely unpleasant. Further, if the market changes and that type of work is no longer required what kind of future are you prepared for and what salary will you have then?
-Finally, there are many ways to make money with a law degree. Find what legal area/niche honestly interests you the most and pursue it… you will make money (if that is a your personal goal).
Again, we advise that instead of focusing on money, find your passion and see if it matches with a niche of the law... Keep learning about what lawyers do and what options are available for your possible lawyers career!
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