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One of the reasons I love doing case studies is because our readers come from such a wide and varied background. Sometimes they’re tech entrepreneurs, sometimes they’re non-traditional earners such as actors or artists. Today’s case study is from someone still in school and wondering what the right move is to set themselves up for a FIRE-friendly career, which is an excellent questions that I wished more people asked at that stage of their careers.
So without further ado, let’s dive in, shall we?
To Grad School or not to Grad School…
That is my question! I absolutely adore your FIRE blog! It is so inspiring and I have been reading it like crazy these past few weeks.
Currently, I am graduating my undergraduate degree and I am 22 years old. My partner is graduated from undergrad and has a full-time job. Right now I am trying to decide if I should get into debt and spend $70000 over three years to attend law school. I don’t have any way to pay for law school other than a small part time job earning less than $1000/month, so I am planning on taking on student loans or lines of credit. I read your article that explained that FIRE can even work on an income of $50000 a year (which I could start right after graduation) is it worth it to delay that income and try to become a lawyer? People around me tell me that lawyers make bank and that I should absolutely pursue that life… But I don’t want to have to be a Bay street tycoon to reach freedom. My partner and I want to reach FI and we are just at the beginning of our careers. What is the value of education beyond a bachelor’s?
Our gross/net annual family income is around $38000+?
Our monthly family spending We spend around 3000/month mostly on food, transportation, gym etc but planning on using YNAB or mint to track, budget and cut unnecessary spending.
We have no debts.
We have no fixed assets.
Our investments or savings (cash, bonds, stocks, etc.) We have about $15,000 saved up so far together, but it’s totally not planned or budgeted.
Almost $4000 of that is invested in ETFs and bank stocks in my TFSA which I want to use to start saving for FIRE!
This one stood out because it’s different from the usual “when can I retire” questions. It made me wonder “is a master’s degree worth it?”
Now, having only a bachelor’s degree, I can’t attest to whether the additional tuition is worth it, but Wanderer has a Master’s degree. I remember him complaining incessantly about having to bust his ass earning said degree while working fulltime. As result, it took him double the amount of time (4 years) instead of the normal 2-year period. Funnily enough, he actually never ended up using said degree as he didn’t need it to get to FI, so in that sense, it was time and effort wasted, BUT, at least he didn’t have to pay for it since his tuition was paid for by his job. So, it’s worth exactly what he paid for it.
In GSD’s case, not only is her work not paying for it, she is relying on a job paying less than $1000/month and debt to fund it.
As you know, I hate debt with the force of a thousand waterfalls, so naturally, this made me wince. But, as you know, decisions like these are best made with hardcore math and not feelings, so without further ado, let’s MATH THAT SHIT UP!
Option 1: Working toward FI with current salary
|Salary (After Graduation)||$50,000 gross|
|Expenses||$3000 per month, $36,000 per year|
I’m quite impressed that GSD already has $15,000 saved at just 22 years old and given that she is only working part-time while in school.
She mentions her expected full time gross income after graduation is $50,000. Plugging that into a tax calculator, we get a net salary of $41,481/year after maxing out tax sheltered contributions.
GSD gave us her current spending of $3000/month, which seems to be the combined spending of her and her partner. However, because we don’t know what his earning potential is (or even if they’re going to stay together long term), it would be unfair to use this number as is since that would be modelling her earnings to pay for both of their spending.
So we’re going to estimate what her individual spending is. A good rule of thumb is to take around 60% of it, since as a single person you’d have a harder time using economy of scale to reduce housing costs. This is of course an estimate, so if GSD has more accurate numbers on her end, she can plug in her spending into the below analysis to get a more accurate model.
So 3000 x 60% x 12 = $21,600/year spending for one person, which gives her an FI target of 25 x $21,600 = $540,000. Assuming a $41,481 net income after graduation and a starting net worth of ½ of the $15K they have saved together, GSD should reach FI in:
Around 16 years.
That might sound like a long time, but remember that she is only 22 years old. At that trajectory, she would become FI at around age 38, which is really impressive.
Now let’s see if her time to FI improves with the addition of a law degree:
Option 2: Increase Salary with Law Degree
When it came time for me to decide on my degree, I picked Engineering over Creative Writing based on a formula I describe in our book called the POT score.
And it paid off! Because as it turns out, after I started writing children’s novels on the side while working as an engineer, the median salary of an author was $10,000/year. Less than minimum wage, so I’m super glad I used the POT score rather than feelings.
So, let’s apply it to GSD’s case.
POT stands for Pay Over Tuition and it works like this:
POT = (Annual Pay – Minimum Wage)/Tuition
Since you don’t need a degree for a minimum wage job, it helps you figure out whether the degree is worth it. And if you can’t make enough to pay back your tuition, the degree is not a worthwhile investment.
GSD is considering a law degree. According to Talent.com, the average salary of a lawyer in the most populous province is $100,000/year. The minimum yearly wage is $31,200. So in order to get into debt to pay for the law degree, the amount earned over the minimum wage must be worth the effort. Given that a 3 year law degree would cost $70,000, the POT score is:
POT = ($100,000 – $31,200)/$70,000 = 0.98
Not great. Since this score is below 1, it means the degree is not multiplying your salary over minimum wage enough to offset the high cost of the degree.
Plus, given that GSD’s is already about to complete her bachelor degree that will secure a $50,000/year salary, we’re not really comparing not going to university at all and working minimum wage versus law school. We’re actually comparing her finishing her undergrad and earning $50,000/year versus earning $100,000 after law school. In which case our modified POT score becomes:
POT = ($100,000 – $50,000)/$70,000 = 0.71
Ouch! Even worse. And not only that, GSD doesn’t just have $70,000 in cash just lying around. Not only would she have to go into debt, she would also lose 3 precious years where she could’ve been earning the $50,000 salary. This means she’d incur more debt to cover her living expenses during those years.
Assuming it takes 3-5 years after she starts working as lawyer to pay off this debt, this would tack on to the 3 years she’d be stuck in law school, pushing back her time to FI by an additional 6-8 years.
However, with a $100K salary, after tax that would be $79,076. If GSD avoids the potential lifestyle inflation driven by this fancy new degree (doubtful) and keeps expense as $21,600/year for a single person, she would reach FI in:
Around 7.5 years.
Now that sounds great, but remember that she had to go to law school and then pay off that student debt, which adds an additional 6 years. That means that the actual answer is 13.5 years, which means she’d be FI at age 35.5!
So is this a win for law school? Eh, not quite.
Reducing time to retirement by 2.5 years isn’t that huge, considering the risks and costs she’s taking. Remember, this is all under the rosy assumption that a) her cost estimate of $70k is accurate, b) she graduates and c) she successfully finds a job in her field paying the median salary. If any of these assumptions turn out to be wrong, she could potentially be in for a world of hurt if she ends up stuck with the student debt but no job to pay it off. For a risky bet like this, the potential upside has to be a whole lot higher than just 2.5 years for me to feel comfortable recommending it.
This feels like a risky bet to me, especially given that less than stellar POT scores of going to law school.
So, in terms of whether to get the law degree, I would say only go for it if your current bachelor’s degree doesn’t end up securing that $50,000/year job, you are committing to finishing the law degree in 3 years AND you can be sure that you’ll earn a 6 figure salary straight out of grad school. If any of those stars don’t align, I wouldn’t risk it.
If GSD wants to increase their earning power, given their young age, I would consider pivoting to tech or even considering an associate degree in the trades. Again that depends on GSD’s skills and preferences so only she can answer that question. Take a look at some fields, calculate the POT score and see if it’s worth it.
With a $50,000 gross salary, low expenses, and a partner who also earns an income, given that she is only 22 years old, she has lots of time to get promotions and raises at work to improve her earning power. I’m not convinced grad school is worth it in this case.
What do you think? Should GSD go into debt to go to law school, or should she start working right after undergrad? Let’s hear it in the comments below!
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57 thoughts on “Reader Case: Should I go To Grad School?”
This is way too much overanalyzing. If she wants to be a lawyer, then go to law school. If not, find a full-time job. You don’t have to rush to FI, especially when you’re that young. It’s much more important to find a good career at that age. IMO.
One thing to consider is that lawyers making a strong income have a very specific type of life, generally driven by “billable hours”. If taking it on, consider the reality of day-to-day life:
* tracking time in 6 to 15-minute increments
* generally working a LOT more than other professions
* higher exposure to legal liability than many fields
100% agree with find a career you like/can-tolerate; nothing in her post suggests a desire to be a lawyer other than $ which likely will lead to a miserable existence. I’m a lawyer, I see it daily with my colleagues.
Alot of people go into law without much clue on “why” or know the real demands of earning money as a lawyer.
I’m sorry to say serving justice isn’t necessarily that: you are representing the client (no matter what their morals are),m who should pay you. And lawyers find it sometimes hard enough to get clients to pay their invoices.
Some lawyers don’t even want to get involved in court cross-examination / going to court. Do you have the natural personality to strongly advocate verbally complex matters and even compete hard?
Why not go with third option. Get 50,000 a year job and go to law school at night. You can pay for it out of pocket.
I have yet to meet a happy lawyer so I’d strongly suggest GSD go talk to at least a dozen and see if they like what they do. I once asked our General Counsel why he went into corporate law and he said (I’m paraphrasing):
“It’s less awful than the other alternatives, but I still think all employees are near worthless lumps of DNA that are just looking for an excuse to sue us.”
While I find law fascinating, the hard reality is that lawyers only deal with conflict and the worst in human behavior. Every. Single. Day.
It’s like being a police officer – there’s a very good reason why they can quit with a full pension after 20 years, they need it!
Again, as a lawyer, I 100% agree with this comment. It’s not all doom and gloom but 75%< of the time it is.
Very interesting and impressive case study. While reading GSD case study, I was thinking about mine master degree debt and the years I had used to get good job, and definitely after reading the case study, it was not worth it. It’s totally her choice but in my opinion, I would not recommend to debt for masters degree.
Regardless, they need to work 8-16 years, and if law is more interesting, I think they should pursue it and maybe find a cheaper program. If they are only thinking of law school to “make bank”, it’s probably not worth it.
I would recommend for her to gain experience working in the legal world after she finished her undergraduate, perhaps as an office assistant. This will help confirm whether it is the right career for her. You don’t want to spend time and money only to discover that you hate it after.
Do some research as well, I hear that there are too many lawyers nowadays.
If you’re only interested in FIRE, consider the following scenario:
Drop out of high school at age 16 (forget about college),
start working at McDonald’s for minimum wage ($15 per hour / $30,000 per year),
live with Mom and Dad the entire time,
save and invest $9500 per year every year (assuming average annual return rate of 8.5%),
by age 36, you will have ~$500,000 !!
(And that’s assuming you don’t get any salary increase the entire 20 years working at McDonald’s !! )
20 yrs at McDonalds? urgh
Or you can work anywhere for minimum wage for 20 years. Doesn’t have to be McDonald’s .
The point is that FIRE is relatively easy, as Wanderer and Fire cracker have pointed out time and time again .
The key is persistence and patience , as in many things .
easy, yeah..only if you live in a cave, spend 20 yrs without a car, without going out, saving your * off and living w/ your parents (insanity). Not worth it at all
Life you only get one. Enjoy, make mistakes, save, spend, live!!
Are you saying he/she can’t enjoy life after FIREing at age 36?
Still pretty young to enjoy, make mistakes, save, spend, and live at age 36. No?
( Also, note that in many, many cultures, it’s quite common for people to live with their parents into their 30s and 40s . )
live with their parents into their 30s and 40s ?
Wow..I’d be ashamed ! When my boys turn 18, my shoe will kick them where the sun doesn’t shine! No grownup will live under my ceiling, eating my food. I didn’t do it and won’t let them do it either.
Plus 20 yrs is a lifetime!
I’m old so maybe this is not as much as a thing anymore. As a woman, I think going for an advanced degree was The Thing that made FIRE possible for myself + spouse. I would have been slotted into different roles based on my gender so it wasn’t just about money, it was also about challenge. Taking out student loans for the advanced degree was totally worth it.
I think it probably is still a thing. To be fair though, I am all about choosing education for education’s sake as well as for employment. I agree with the comments above that say if she wants to be a lawyer go be a lawyer! Here’s another alternative, be like me and take lots of courses/degrees after you’re FIREd just because they’re fun. MOOCs rule.
Some people enjoy the intellectual aspect of studying law and having a law degree gives you more job mobility than having only an undergraduate degree. You can work in either the private or public sector and you can branch into other areas of work outside of legal where your law degree will still be appreciated.
This is assuming that after her law degree she passes her BAR exam… how much would that earning potential be if she doesn’t pass and how much time she needs to study and be a trainee before she can take the BAR….
I absolutely second the advice to 1st talk to lawyers about what their work is like before choosing that path. I once read law is the top 3 jobs of folks who commit suicide!… I also recommend this article, which isn’t specific to law school but grad school in general, and imho, a wonderful take on the question: https://www.bitchesgetriches.com/22-year-olds-dont-belong-in-grad-school/ TLDR: getting an advanced degree just to make more $$$ isn’t guaranteed…. and this matches the Wanderer’s experience, too. Just my 2 cents.
I think it makes a big difference in what your going to grad school for. If you have a liberal arts degree and are getting an MBA, I think it makes you more employable at a better salary. However, if you already have a business degree, a regular MBA (not from an ivy league or elite school) doesn’t do much coming straight our of school – at least not for most of my buddies. It can do wonders after a couple of years actually working if your career has stalled out to kick start it tho.
Your reader wrote “Bay St” so it’s safe to assume they are Canadian.
No way a Canadian first year lawyer makes a 6 figure salary! It takes 5 to 10 years to get to that. Also, they will need to “article”, meaning get an internship after their 3 year of law school – good luck to find one, the market is saturated. Articling takes around 1 year. So it’s not 3 but 4 years of law training. Finding a lawyer job is also very challenging.
Getting into so many debts to get into a saturated legal market isn’t worth it. They can go to law school later, have it paid by their employer, and use their JD to get an even better salary at that time. But first, put that undergrad degree to work to make real money and build your safety net and get on track for FIRE.
GSD, I don’t see where in your letter you’ve indicated any reason why you would want to be a lawyer beyond “making bank.” Be warned – the people that make a lot of money as lawyers are the partners of law firms, not the new graduates. That’s why the average salary is so high – new law school grads can be paid for much more cheaply while shouldering a ton of the necessary background research, preparation of documents for court and other responsibilities, while the partners bring in much larger amounts of money that create outliers and skew the average.
If you’d like an example, I have a family friend who has over 10 years of experience in her specific area of law, living and working in Manhattan for a partnership and she’s making about 78k per year. There are other factors contributing to that number, but a six figure salary is not a guarantee, even in high demand specialties like my friend is in. In her specific case, she’s preparing to pivot to tech, where her skillset could garner a higher salary, but your letter indicated that tech isn’t where your interests necessarily lie.
I would highly recommend you listen to the other people in the comments who have suggested that you talk to as many lawyers about what their lives are like before you make this decision. Gap years between undergraduate and law school are extremely common and a few working years could allow you to gain some valuable experience and insight as to whether you want to go to law school at all or go in a different direction. That would also give you the opportunity to save some more money to reduce your debt burden as much as possible, if you do choose to go to grad school.
I am a US lawyer and unless your friend is working part time or in a public interest job, they are atypical salary wise. Nearly all lawyers who’ve been working 10+ years make $78k generally (I suppose if you in the middle of Montana or somewhere remote, the average 10 year salary might be that low). I know you mentioned she had special circumstances.
The issue with law isn’t that you can’t make a ton of $ doing it. It’s that its hard earned money with a big start-up cost for a hard way of life; it can be extremely financially rewarding and most folks do make good money in long run. The trade off is long hours, strained relationships and a general discontentment which is what I think makes it an undesirable profession. That said, you can do a lot of things to negate some of those issues (e.g. work for yourself [once you know what your doing], go to the best & cheapest school you get into, make living your life a priority early). Gap years are great and I strongly recommend anyone who’s on the bubble to work at a law firm for a year as an admin or any other job they can get there to see how it really works.
Dave, you are correct that she’s underpaid for her location and experience, but I thought it was worth mentioning because some of those external circumstances are, unfortunately, things that can happen to all of us. Therefore, this example was meant to illustrate that a high salary is not a guarantee, even with experience. I think this dovetails nicely with your point about needing to choose your law school carefully (unfortunately, from what I understand, you do need to be concerned about your program’s prestige, which will influence starting pay and networking opportunities), as well as anticipating and actively negating some of the less desirable facets of the profession, assuming that they choose to take that gap year to work with a law firm and get a solid understanding of what the profession would require before deciding whether or not to sink the time and money into law school.
At the end of the day, though, GSD, the point is that I think the majority of commenters here want you to make sure that law school is something that you actively want to do for reasons other than making money. The core goal of Financial Independence is reclaiming your time and law school along with an ensuing career as a lawyer is going to cause the opposite effect. At the end of the day, the best advice I could give is to go ahead and get a feel for the field by taking a gap year and use it to weigh the opportunity cost of your time and what law school would require you to give up to pursue it – and whether you think it’s worth it.
Burnout is real and there’s a hidden cost to some of the more lucrative career options. After-hour and weekend work can abound, with work sometimes taking up all of your free time.
Ever watch white collar? That’s glorified for media consumption.
The first several years after law school are tedious at best and often destroy relationships. I’ve seen it many times with family and friends.
The higher you climb in tech, the more likely that is too occur as well… Constant OnCall and 60-80 hour weeks for years on end.
The money isn’t always worth it, make sure it’s something you enjoy before you spend your life on that track. Realize that you don’t have to climb to the top to be successful or reach FIRE.
Phew, this one is close to home, as my husband and I were in about the same position with no debt and cash in the bank after living abroad and then we BOTH went to law school and incurred debt to do it! Short story is practicing law is suuuuper stressful and probably one of the reasons FI is so appealing to both of us – and ironically, we got some of the best jobs out of it and finally have good quality of life in jobs that don’t totally suck (and paid off the six figures of debt in five years, which was also really tough but important to us). Ironically, at no point did GSD say they actually WANT to be a lawyer, which is a common mistake of people going to law school (myself included). Eventually you can do what you want with a law degree, but you actually have to be a lawyer for awhile for anyone in the rest of the world to take you seriously. Additionally, only 5-10% of lawyers make six figures out of law school – the rest make between 40-80k US – the average is deceiving because of this and the numbers are quite skewed. My advice – come talk to us and let us talk you out of it. At the least, work for a year or two and get a little more cash cushion and if you still want to go, bust your ass studying for the LSAT (or Canadian equivalent) so you can apply for scholarships or go to a better school (unfortunately pedigree matters, at least in US) so you’re more likely to get a higher paying job coming out. In our experience, if we had known about FIRE before law school, we wouldn’t have gone to law school and might be more than the Partial FI we are almost at after ten years practicing (+3 years of school). You’re in an awesome spot – maybe hold and think on it before taking this leap!
8th year lawyer here, seconding this sentiment. I was a paralegal for 8 years before I went to law school, so I went in with eyes wide open with respect to the work/lifestyle, and having run my own numbers. The numbers said it would be about 15 years before I likely broke even on going vs. not going, so the deciding factor was that I really wanted to become a lawyer. Personally, I love my area of practice and my firm, but it is definitely a way of life (and there’s a reason I’m commenting on a FIRE blog).
If you’re just going to “make bank”, then you’re probably not going to last long enough for it to pay off. The schooling is hard, the bar is harder, and practice can be absolutely grinding, especially in the early years. I’m echoing the sentiment to talk to some lawyers, maybe job shadow or if possible get an internship to see what the lawyer life is really like before you jump in and go to law school. Otherwise, stay out and save your money (and sanity) for a different career.
Fellow US lawyer here; co-signing with this excellent comment. I try to talk all would be lawyers out of law school unless they are super serious about it, have a ton of $ already (or a huge scholarship) or already have a big in (family owned law firm, etc). I don’t regret law school but I think the days of going b/c “what else am I going to do to make the big bucks and I can always use it for something” are long gone given the job market, lifestyle and debt involved.
The days where going to college was a smart decision is long gone.
Also, the investing game is not for everyone. I lost a year of income to the market when I bailed out in June with a 23% loss. Since I started investing last year I was worried all the time and couldn’t sleep well. Terrible feeling.
Working and keeping everything in cash is not bad. At least I know the money at the end of the month is pretty much a certainty, unlike investing…
Got the same initial experience investing as you did. I invested a bunch of money a few months before the 2008 financial crisis. Lost -50% of my investments, not considering I was on margin.
I did not withdraw the money though. And I eventually paid back the margin loan. Today, I’m up +322% on those investments after 15 years – plus a lot more added to it over time.
I hope you don’t stay on the sidelines for too long. Investing isn’t really a choice. There’s nothing wrong with keeping a little bit of cash on the side. But the only way to get very wealthy – other by starting your own business – is to make good investments over a long period of time.
My guess is you still lack the knowledge to have to confidence to stay invested. If that is the case, read as much as you can on this subject and try to find strategies that fits you well.
If you simply have a big “loss aversion” problem, then try to rationalize what is real loss (investing in a company going bankrupt) versus an unreal loss (temporary market fluctuations). It takes some nerves to bear the volatility – it has been pretty rough recently – but a lot of it is really just noise…
Anyway, wish you can invest as soon as possible !
Hard pass on being a lawyer. Don’t do it. Full Stop.
As my wife mentioned above, we get it – the siren song of law school is strong – you’ll make lots of money. You’ll prove to the world that you’re smart. You’ll have privilege and class. It will be intellectually stimulating.
Only go to law school if you want to be a lawyer and NOTHING else. Follow your passion – it must be beyond your passion! You cannot just be curious.
The costs – financially, emotionally, and spiritually to you and your family and your relationships – are too great to go for any other reason.
If you’re reading FI blogs and emailing Fiery Millennial you are in a great place. You’re smart and I’m sure you could “succeed” at law school. But why go? Literally, do anything else. Want to be a fancy corporate person – banking, tech, wall street! Want to help the downtrodden then be a social worker, teacher, non-profitter. Like people then go into sales. Want to be a writer then write.
But if you must persist (cavaet emptor!) – a few considerations.
1 – Work as a paralegal for a year or two before law school. Find a lawyer whose life you would trade yours for in a heartbeat. If you can’t find that lawyer, don’t go to law school. Stay a paralegal and FIRE!
2 – Your LSAT (entrance exam) score can be gamed. Take the prep courses or books. Take the practice tests. Don’t stop until you are in the top 10% of scores. Specifically, you should be able to get 95-100% on the logic games (1/4 of the test as of 2009 :). (There are only so many games, which you’ll master).
3- Median salaries suck. Remember – mean vs median. Also starting salaries vs. “lawyer salaries.” When I graduated law school the average starting salary was something like 90K. But, 80 percent of the jobs were in the 50-60K range and the others were $120k plus.
4 – Big Law i.e. the law firms that represent large businesses (that you invest in through your index fund!) post their starting salaries on the website or in places like abovethelaw.com. Starting salaries might be $180K. Do graduates of your law school get these jobs? How may alum get them? Is it 1% or 75% of the graduates?
Or would you like to be a government attorney? Essentially you’ll make a school teacher’s salary. $60K.
If you have a FI mindset, you’re looking at salaries for the first ten years or so. So focus on the data for that time period. The 30-year law partners’ income skews the whole calculation.
5 – Writing. IMO, being a lawyer is being a writer. If you hate writing avoid the law!!
6 – Isolating work – IMO not every lawyer, but many, don’t work in teams. This goes back to being a paralegal before law school – find a lawyer whose work you envy.
7 – Opportunity Costs. As noted above, it’s not just what it costs you directly to go to law school, it is the fact that it takes other opportunities away from you. Including your youth. 22-25 is a great time of life. Do you want to be locked into school?
8 – Sunk Cost Fallacy – Once you start sinking costs into law school it is very difficult to change course.
Yoga Dan is someone I respect the most from my law school class. After one year, he quit law school to focus on his yoga practice and teaching. That’s an expensive lesson and hard to pay back on a yoga salary (could say is a stretch). But, 1000% guarantee that guy is happier than everyone else.
9 – Location – consider mid-tier cities that have higher salaries but less competition. So out with NYC, DC, LA, San Fran, Boston, etc. Maybe Houston, Philly, Baltimore, Seattle(?), Denver (?), etc.
Phew, that’s a lot. Good Luck!
If you made it this far – check out the song “Don’t be a lawyer” from the TV show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.
100% agree here but as a lawyer in Chicago, I’m salty you didn’t mention our market. 🙂
I love the suggestions to talk to a number of lawyers before considering law school. I am a ripe old age and have not met one lawyer who liked their career as well. If this is a decision you are making only based on FI, I would take a hard pass.
A lot of great comments here for GSD as well as Firecracker’s POT analysis. GSD is only 22 and she should chill a bit. It’s great GSD has FIRE aspirations at 22, but she has some misconceptions about what “being a lawyer” is all about. First, not all lawyers make bank; those salary estimates are biased because they’re based on self-reported data and those who are doing well are those who report; you don’t hear from those who either didn’t pass the bar, or didn’t get a high-paying law job, or left the field all together. Second, law is a huge field – corporate law which is like business, family law that is more like social work, public defender and civil rights law which are more for passionate advocates, etc. GSD needs to do more thinking about what kind of lawyer she wants to be besides a career that makes bank. In fact, just saying “I want to be a lawyer” without more specifics doesn’t get you far in the law school application process. She doesn’t mention what her undergrad major is, is there an aspect of her job after graduation that has legal connections which might be the path she wants to follow? I went to law school at 39 after a career in academia and had plenty of job offers that wanted both my law degree and the experience and knowledge from my first career. At my state university law school class of 150, only a handful of people were 22. Most were older and had work experience that made them attractive to legal and non-legal employers. And, contrary to the poster above who said they never met a happy lawyer; I was a happy lawyer (mostly retired now) because I found a niche that used my education and experience and truly enjoyed the work.
Not to be pedantic, but law school is not really graduate school, it’s a professional school like medicine. I have a PhD also and the training and how you are perceived by potential employers are vastly different. Except for academic jobs, you often have to convince employers a PhD has a lot to offer and just isn’t a person crammed full of esoteric knowledge, but a law degree opens many doors. I’m very glad I sacrificed three years of good income at 39 to go to law school because of the career experiences I’ve had over the past 30 years; but I paid $2000 a year in tuition, now the tuition is $30,000 a year at my law school. I’m not sure I’d make the same decision now. IMHO, GSD should take the job after graduation and see where that leads her.
Aging Boomer that is FI but did not RE
I suspect the job of lawyer will be obsolete soon, thanks to advances in AI.
lol man….while we have people like Trump and Hunter there will be always the need for them. AI? lol
Who knows.. Maybe Elon Musk already completed his ai.lawyer.software and is testing it live on Twitter. Don’t laugh too quickly unless you are 100% you’ll get the last laugh ! LoL ! 😀
If there’s just one area where AI will never have a chance is in law. Not even in 500 yrs there will be a robot capable of twist the truth like some good lawyers I know do
GSD is excited about becoming FI than becoming a lawyer. Otherwise, GSD would not be reading these FIRE posts. If FI is possible with the current income and job in 16 years, it makes no sense to take on a debt to become a lawyer and become FI in 13.5 years. 16 years as a non-lawyer is a large time window to earn promotions or switch to higher paying jobs and thus reduce the time required to attain financial independence.
Another thing to consider (as if there aren’t enough already) is the opportunity to grow your salary. How quickly will the $50,000 salary turn into $100,000? Is that under 5 years or would it take 15?
I don’t think GSD knows what she really wants at this time. Good though she questions taking on so much debt. Most don’t and just take it on only to regret it later.
I am a lawyer (8+ years now) and have worked at the top-tier firms (and I love this blog btw).
1. Agree with the comments above re talking with lawyers. The experience can vary widely.
2. $100,000 is too low of a salary though. If you do end up in large law firms, the salary increases in a step-ladder manner (130 > 150 > 175> 195 > 215 > 235> 255).
3. That said, controlling your expenses is the hardest part and it is easy to feel like you have to keep up with others around you – new condo, new car, new clothes, $100 food tabs etc.
Go in eyes wide open. Talk to lawyers that you admire. Ignore comments from those who aren’t lawyers or know “of lawyers”.
Enough lawyers in this thread.
…Alright I was a law librarian for 15 years: Ontario provincial govn’t, national law firm, 1 global firm (PwC, tax), B.C. legal aid and Ontario court libraries.
so…..my clients were lawyers and judges. I’ve met and worked for wide range of lawyers and practice areas (as any lawyer can figure out here).
I think in public sector jobs, some of the lawyers do truly interesting work (drafting legislation , intepreting for senior execs., public) and representing the Crown in court cases. Then if one gets tired, there are other non-lawyer jobs where strong knowledge of law and its application is greatly appreciated in policy development and management. By the way my brother-in-law was a securities lawyer for Ontario Securities Commission..good benefits and of course not same salary dollar as Big Law firms, but good without the huge stress of “finding” clients.
A ton of great comments about becoming or not becoming a lawyer here.
I’m only going to comment on a more general sentiment – going to school in order to get into a high-paying bracket is one of the best decisions you can make. Even if the math tells you it’ll add a couple years to your retirement age.
You never know what life would throw at you ten or twenty years from now. You may be already retired, living happily on a modest income, and then boom – something crashes around you. A health scare (you can tell I’m in the US), a messy breakup, crazy lawsuit (happened to a couple friends, won’t wish it on anyone). And you suddenly need funds, and/or need to get back to work.
If your profession is in demand, and you can dust off your skills, you’d be in a far better position to land on your feet. Finding a job as a retired tech worker/accountant/plumber is way easier than fining a job as a retired receptionist. I’m not saying law is necessarily the way to go – I never wanted to be a lawyer, and have zero idea what it’s like.
But the overall sentiment – higher paying *profession* means more INDEPENDENCE, in all caps.
For a 2nd degree if that’s what she is looking for to complement her lst degree, then choose an area where there are defined work national /international standards for the professionals that practice in that area after graduation.
This could be teaching, construction technology, health care, etc. In many cases, the salary will be better than ie. hospitality/retail.
Strongly agree with previous comment about having a profession. Whatever you chose, I would advise considering how your skills and knowledge are future-proof.
HOWEVER, if you are miserable for most of the years leading to FI, it will not be worth it. Find something you like and ways to make it lucrative ! If that means going to law school, then awesome, and if it means working in your undergrad field, then good for you. I say this as a doctor who is adapting her practice to continue to make sufficient money while doing things that I love (an MD means virtually endless job opportunities), but who has also seen plenty of classmates going into medicine to “make bank” and not making it until the end of residency or becoming absolutely miserable.
Very interesting and nuanced case study, and good on OP for thinking ahead.
Kid, take the advice and DO NOT bet on GRAD school as shown by the sensible math!
It is futile for you to bet on GRAD school.
Think about it…
You are only 22 years old and just starting out living a full life…
Yet, you are thinking about quit working as soon as possible…
The law career will be the longest march toward FIRE for you!
Take a break if you need, but do not build up an “ALL or NOTHING” FIRE mindset.
If a law degree is from a crap school, job opportunities are crap. If from a crap school, you might get a public defender job which has crap pay and its a crap job too since all they do is plea bargain most cases. Being a low end lawyer suck to high heaven. Research what lawyers are doing that graduated from crap schools – many leave the job and many are just research assistants for actual lawyers (especially the ones that graduated from law school, but can’t pass the bar exam. There are a lot of crap schools graduating students that can’t pass the bar examine so ask the school the percentage of grads that passed the bar exam on first, second, third try. If they don’t have such figures, its a crap school. Some law schools are just a little better than culinary schools so be careful. There are a lot of lawyers or people with law degrees – only a small percentage makes big money because there are so many of them. They are a dime a dozen. Check out how many law grads end up in other careers like real estate which doesn’t require any college.
If I was in GSD’s position, I would try to find something I would really like to do and with the highest salary instead of aiming for FIRE right away. Planning for FIRE is better after you started working. Before that, there is just too many unknowns … including, you may actually like your job ! Who knows … ?
It’s helpful at this stage to think about what you want to do. Not what job, but what you want to do each day, and what jobs afford you that. If grad school is required, can you get some reimbursement from your employer? Do it online? There are more options now than ever, and at the same time less career options that require degrees and still make over $100k a year.
Does she have a passion for the law, or a corner of the law (environmental law, or elder law, or whatever)? If so, then go for it. 22! So much life before her. Go For It!
The truth is that this is not a right or wrong answer. Whether a person should go depends on them and what they are trying to achieve. Pros and Cons regardless of either decision. If you do attend graduate school, as i did, have a end goal in mind and start making connections or networking while your in school. Learn what employers are wanting so you can fit into that and be hired. If you have a clear direction or goal deciding to go to graduate school becomes easier. Regardless of going or not you must train your self to be wealth-minded to secure your future. You most learn how to plan your life and finances in such a way that over time you can stop working by choice and money still keeps coming in from assets and investments. I love the quote “the best way to predict the future is to create it”
It’s great that more and more young people are starting to be interested in their future, their careers and the FIRE movement since they left school. Perhaps such a conscious attitude to their future will help many to avoid serious problems in life. When I wrote a college essay for sale go to the official page for my classmates (it was with such a small step that my personal adoption of the FIRE philosophy began) I tried to convey this to them thought. Unfortunately, at a young age, many people do not think about their future, about the future when they will pay for the education of their children … This leads to big problems with loans and I hope the popularization of such information will change this.
In this reader, we’ll look at the advantages and disadvantages of attending college, as well as explore the different types of higher education institutions. We’ll also look at livecareer com review career options after graduation and discuss when is the best time to attend college and why it matters in some cases.
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