Celebrating 10 years! 2007-2017

Year 4 Update - Started New Practice Straight from LS in '09

I guess it's time for my annual update. I have posted these hankstamper01/22/14
First, I want to say that I, as a new solo straight out of s adamb01/22/14
I think he may have confused gross and net. The 4th paragra shouldalearnedmath01/22/14
Yeah, maybe I wasn't clear. Our business cleared well over 1 hankstamper01/22/14
Congrats, dude. I wish you the best with your practice. I hankstamper01/22/14
How do you get clients? skokie01/22/14
We get clients a variety of ways. In the first year, lots of hankstamper01/22/14
Hank, I just want to commend you for sticking it out. As so mbison01/22/14
Thanks a lot. I appreciate it. Sometimes it is hard, beca hankstamper01/22/14
Nah stick with it. You don't want to work for someone else i gribble01/22/14
Just want to echo the others who have commended you. It soun tttheaven01/22/14
Thanks, brother. A few more years, and hopefully I will hit hankstamper01/22/14
Sounds like you are on the verge of very good things, congra trollfeeder01/22/14
Respectfully, I think you need to think about ways you can e encinoman01/22/14
Thanks for your comments. I hear you. Thanks for being less hankstamper01/22/14
I'd say a good strategy is to try to get some contingency fe skokie01/22/14
I have about 4 personal injury cases now, they should be res hankstamper01/22/14
Would you rather do what you do now or be an associate at a kw6713a01/22/14
I am not 100% sure about this. When I graduated in 2009, the hankstamper01/22/14
If you have the option to go someplace for $75, you need to encinoman01/22/14
I've had several cases with two of the "top" family law atto hankstamper01/23/14
I greatly appreciate the insight. I am trying to decide whet kw6713a01/22/14
Thanks, and good luck. From my experience, I would say that hankstamper01/22/14
I just started a firm. I haven't had a real client yet. It aspiringlawyer01/29/14
When I first started out, I did not know anything about fami hankstamper01/29/14
Thanks for the update, it's nice to here a successful story dudeingorillasuit01/23/14
I'm not married now, but was before. I don't really want to hankstamper01/29/14
I'm going to have to side with encinoman on this one: Is la rollinitin01/23/14
Law is indeed such a dumpster fire. But it's actually pr gribble01/23/14
the median salary for an individual who actually works a ful rollinitin01/23/14
Well 39% of households have two incomes, I bet that's higher gribble01/23/14
well he also has 100k in debt, which really brings down his rollinitin01/23/14
You're living in a completely different world from 95% of Am murdock01/23/14
$75K per year is what is needed to live in an apartment in a whiteguyinchina01/23/14
OP lives in "mid-sized" city in PNW. I can see 75k sucking N vohod01/24/14
My legal assistant earned 10k more than you last year. Not reasonable_man01/23/14
So what do you do? Same as your old mentor? Family to bring superttthero01/23/14
I work at a mid-sized firm. I have some clients of my own - reasonable_man01/23/14
I give you a lot of credit for the success you have had. I a tobeornottobe01/23/14
This is, almost entirely, awful advice. encinoman01/23/14
Thanks, this is my plan. Each year is better than the last. hankstamper01/23/14
This is not a good idea. You really do not know how to run a encinoman01/24/14
In this regard, I agree with encino as well. Buying a prope adamb01/25/14
It will be a messy "divorce" no matter what. If we buy a hou hankstamper01/28/14
If you're bringing in 150-200K and only getting 53K in pay, raskolnikov01/23/14
I think that's $150k-200k for two people though. So his tak jackiechiles01/23/14
Even so, overhead would be eating up about 1/3-1/2 of their raskolnikov01/23/14
Yeah, we need to cut overhead. We are saving to buy a house hankstamper01/23/14
Sounds like a plan. The law library near me offers free Wes raskolnikov01/24/14
... raskolnikov01/24/14
This is a case study in why one should not go to law school, eddiemunster01/23/14
The problem is the debt. I don't think lawyering is a bad jo superttthero01/23/14
Funny, but if you look at all the lawyer presidents the US h eddiemunster01/23/14
I agree with you about the debt. I don't regret my decision hankstamper01/23/14
I don't understand the negativity in this thread. $50k a ye cheapbrass01/24/14
Well that one guy is in the top 1% trashing everybody, as if gribble01/24/14
300k salaries may not be normal, but they are far more commo rollinitin01/24/14
I don't want to beat a dead horse, but are you implying it's gribble01/25/14
I think people are missing the fact that homeboy is running shtlawaspiration01/24/14
Thanks, brother. You make a good point. When I see the ridic hankstamper01/24/14
You've done well and will do better. It seems like your str adamb01/24/14
what you fail to understand apparently is that in many profe rollinitin01/24/14
Proof? Dude working in Pierre, SD clearing the same as the b vohod01/24/14
I wasn't talking about law- that's the point. People in rur rollinitin01/24/14
"I think my life is pretty good." Game, set, match. If yo rustbeltlawyer01/25/14
This. pherc01/25/14
Do you fund a retirement account, do you pay for medical ins stephen01/24/14
Thanks for your comment, Stephen. I do not fund a retirement hankstamper01/24/14
Based on your replies, you seem very even tempered and patie jd199701/24/14
It is actually cheaper for you just to pay the penalty. It's gribble01/25/14
Thanks, Gribble. I like your posts, and you seem like a smar hankstamper01/28/14
As someone who works in one of those compliance jobs, I'm pr pherc01/25/14
Thanks, JD. I wish you and DSE the best. I hope her practice hankstamper01/25/14
You mean those weeks and weeks without any phone calls? Whe adamb01/25/14
For 2013, I will gross between 300k and 400k. I would trade mississippilawyer01/25/14
Mississippi, wow - been a long time. Sounds like things brok stephen01/25/14
Hi Mississippi, I really appreciated your encouragement back hankstamper01/28/14
if anyone here saw my tax bill, they wouldnt complaint about mississippilawyer01/29/14
My bad JD1997, I think I mistook you for DSE's husband. Simi hankstamper01/28/14
Well I know three people with undergrad degrees only working stephen01/25/14
Yes, you are a boomer. Those jobs at those pay rates are not pherc01/25/14
Also 300k is not common among any cohort. Two percent of all pherc01/25/14
Or enjoy pretending with a lot of anonymous people on a foru jd199701/25/14
My expenses are huge, but if people here think I'm making it mississippilawyer01/25/14
I don't doubt your numbers. 300-400K gross with probably a jd199701/25/14
I think he meant the other guy, there are two people in this gribble01/28/14
remember, i didnt disclose my taxable income, which is WAY l mississippilawyer01/29/14
Good for you OP. I think that $54k a year is a good salary i employmentlawyer01/25/14
Thanks a lot. I made it through Year 1 by deferring my stude hankstamper01/28/14

hankstamper (Jan 22, 2014 - 2:22 am)

I guess it's time for my annual update. I have posted these updates for the past 3 years or so. All the titles of my past threads have been very similar, so I guess you can search for them if you are interested.

Late night tonight. Past 11 p.m. here. Just finished work at the office. Had 3 big deadlines I had to meet before noon tomorrow. Staying this late is very rare for me these days.

I started a small firm straight out of LS in 2009. Took anything that walked through the door at first, then started getting more and more into family law, because that was where the demand was. Now I do about 90% family law, and I feel like I am pretty good at it. Do a little personal injury and general civil litigation, and write a will here and there, but not too much anymore.

I looked at the books, and my partner and I grossed $53K each last year (i.e. that is what we paid ourselves for payroll after paying all overhead). I am slowly getting to where I want to be.

My path has been this:
Year 1: grossed 19K for about 60 hrs. per week of stress and hell, learning along the way.
Year 2: grossed 30K for about 55 hrs. per week
Year 3: grossed 40K for about 50 - 55 hrs. per week
Year 4: grossed 53K for about 45 - 50 hrs. per week, less stress, learned to stop caring about small stuff

Well, that's about it. I am in a mid-sized city in the Pacific Northwest, doing family law. I am very comfortable in court now, and my partner and I have a pretty solid reputation in the local family law bar. I am getting better and better at collecting up front, and cutting off deadbeat clients once the advance fee deposit runs dry.

My goal is to get to $100 - $150K per year in the next few years. This is a stressful job, and will never be easy. But, I guess it is called work for a reason. For those who care, I have about $105K in student loans, am paying them off (non-IBR), and graduated magna cum laude from a school ranked 50 - 100 in 2009.

Feel free to talk shit or ask questions. I am busy for the next 2 days or so with court stuff, but will try my best to respond.

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adamb (Jan 22, 2014 - 7:45 am)

First, I want to say that I, as a new solo straight out of school, appreciate reading stuff like this update. I appreciate you being totally honest about how hard this path is. Even if you are working harder, not necessarily "smarter", you still are making it happen, albeit slowly. Most people cannot even enter this race, so slow and steady may benefit you in the end.

Now, I will sound like a little bit of a dick (who? me? sound like a dick?)

I made about $40,000 my first year -- that is NET. There are two factors to consider when comparing my earnings to your own: 1) NYC has a much bigger population for hunting clients and 2) COL is much higher than in the northwest. That said, it sounds like you have had a hard time building a flow of clients despite years of practice at this point.

I think that your slow path toward making 53K GROSS (after 4 years) shows a fundamental problem in how you operate your business. Also, just to be clear, what other expenses do you have after business, meaning what the hell do you keep out of $53k (or is that what you take home minus taxes?)

I would try to analyze, as honestly as possible, where you lose money. For example, what are your business expenses? Is that one of the reasons why you take home so little? Are you wasting a lot of money on unnecessary office stuff? Also, I am very very leery of partners, as so few of these two man operations actually work in a fair manner where both people bring in equal business. If your partner is bringing in substantially less business, drop him. Move on.

Solo practice is lonely, sometimes I talk to my stuffed animals during our afternoon tea parties, but it may be more lucrative if you are currently stuck performing most of the hunting, yet you end up dividing the caribou carcass with a gimp.

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shouldalearnedmath (Jan 22, 2014 - 9:21 am)

I think he may have confused gross and net. The 4th paragraph says the 53k was after paying all overhead and expenses, implying 53k is net.

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hankstamper (Jan 22, 2014 - 7:59 pm)

Yeah, maybe I wasn't clear. Our business cleared well over 100K last year. My partner and I each had gross payroll checks of 53K (before personal taxes), so I guess the my net personal earnings were around 15%-ish lower than 53K, so around 40 - 45K.

Like a truck driver would say he grosses 60K, and his net might be around 45K. That's what I meant when I said I grossed 53K, so my personal net might be around 40K. I guess I was unclear on business gross earnings vs. personal gross pay.

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hankstamper (Jan 22, 2014 - 8:02 pm)

Congrats, dude. I wish you the best with your practice.

In my post below, I explained my pay situation a little more. Our business grossed well over 100K (probably between 150 - 200K), and my partner and I each cut ourselves checks totaling 53K, which we then paid personal taxes on.

I plan on cutting some overhead in the next year or two, but I have some fixed obligations that I can't get out of just yet. I understand about a penny saved being a penny earned, and all that.

My partner is good, and earns as much as me, so no worries there.

Reply Like (0)
skokie (Jan 22, 2014 - 11:30 am)

How do you get clients?

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hankstamper (Jan 22, 2014 - 8:04 pm)

We get clients a variety of ways. In the first year, lots of free Craigslist ads, and attempts at "networking," and friends and family.

Now we have a few referral sources (local bar, one paid for internet, and one fee-splitting arrangement). We also do some county appointed work. We get some through our website, and some is word of mouth. But the best clients are word of mouth referrals, and you really have "build your business" to get those.

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mbison (Jan 22, 2014 - 7:23 pm)

Hank, I just want to commend you for sticking it out. As someone who practiced briefly and moved to another field I can only begin to understand how much discipline and self sacrifice it has taken you. I wish you continued success and for whatever it's worth my sincere belief that you can accomplish the realistic goals you set. Just remember to take care of yourself and find happiness along the way, otherwise it's all for naught.

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hankstamper (Jan 22, 2014 - 8:06 pm)

Thanks a lot. I appreciate it.

Sometimes it is hard, because I know I have the skills now to earn around 80K working as an attorney for someone else. But I am getting close to that now, and prefer not having a lunatic boss, despite all of the extra stress of running a business.

I am trying to take care of myself, but this job is inherently stressful. But, I have goals and am working towards them, so that is better than nothing.

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gribble (Jan 22, 2014 - 8:56 pm)

Nah stick with it. You don't want to work for someone else in this psychotic field. It's only bearable in government work, but even then I hear horror stories all the time with experienced professionals getting enraged at HR's stupidity.

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tttheaven (Jan 22, 2014 - 8:27 pm)

Just want to echo the others who have commended you. It sounds like you're on your way. 53K before taxes isn't a horrible salary. And not having to work for someone else, on their schedule, and having to answer to them must be great.

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hankstamper (Jan 22, 2014 - 9:05 pm)

Thanks, brother. A few more years, and hopefully I will hit my goals. I have worked for psychos before, so the freedom of my practice is nice. BUT, answering "emergency" e-mails and phone calls over the holidays sucks big time, so it's not all roses . . . .

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trollfeeder (Jan 22, 2014 - 9:26 pm)

Sounds like you are on the verge of very good things, congrats are in order. I think the fact that you are comfortable practicing and there is growth in your practice is the most important part. Seems like sticking it out was well worth it.

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encinoman (Jan 22, 2014 - 9:32 pm)

Respectfully, I think you need to think about ways you can expand or pivot or do something a little different. Growth should not be linear if you want to be successful in this industry. You're not doing that well, let's be honest. Not horribly, and you deserve some modicum of credit for what you've done thus far. But you do not deserve all the kudos you're getting here. You may get to $80 from where you are now, but you are working too hard and not making enough money. Perhaps $100 in a good year.

You know by year 3 usually, certainly by year 4, where you're going to end up. You can either piss into the wind or you can look for ways to be more profitable, it's up to you. But thinking you'll take home $150 consistently from where you are now is a fool's errand. You have to find a way to get more profitable on an hour-for-hour business - you are working too hard without any tangible reward. This can be by leveraging (though you're not at a point where this is possible unless you find a firm that will take you), by billing higher rates, by finding a few good clients, by getting in an easier high volume practice area/niche... frankly lots of things. But what you are doing now is not going to get you where you say you want to get.

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hankstamper (Jan 22, 2014 - 9:52 pm)

Thanks for your comments. I hear you. Thanks for being less harsh than last year, too.

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skokie (Jan 22, 2014 - 10:06 pm)

I'd say a good strategy is to try to get some contingency fee matters to come in through the door as well.

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hankstamper (Jan 22, 2014 - 10:24 pm)

I have about 4 personal injury cases now, they should be resolved this year. I have done about 15 or so personal injury cases since I opened my firm, and worked at a firm that did personal injury while in LS. However, PI is kind of a pain, and the adjusters are pricks and want to make me arbitrate or try a lot of the cases. Quick settlements are rare. I did refer one out, and should get a fee on that later this year, but I just don't want to put the time and effort into PI cases anymore. But, I would like to sign more up, and then refer out, if possible.

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kw6713a (Jan 22, 2014 - 10:50 pm)

Would you rather do what you do now or be an associate at a firm?

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hankstamper (Jan 22, 2014 - 11:02 pm)

I am not 100% sure about this. When I graduated in 2009, there were no jobs to be had. I did quite well in LS, but I still could not find anything.

In LS, I worked at a horrible poop law firm. I would much rather do what I am doing now than work at some psycho's poop law firm for 40-75K.

However, in LS I also externed for an amazing federal judge. He was a great man, and an excellent mentor. If I could be an associate for an intelligent, fair, honorable person like that judge, who would mentor me into being a better attorney, than I would probably rather do that. But, that opportunity hasn't presented itself.

I feel that now I could go work for small or mid-sized firm as a family law attorney. I feel that I could make about 75K doing that. But, I highly doubt I would like the billable hour requirements, and I fear I would end up working for people I don't like or respect. And those doubts and fears have kept me from applying anywhere for the past few years. That, and my hopeless optimism about my practice and my future.

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encinoman (Jan 22, 2014 - 11:12 pm)

If you have the option to go someplace for $75, you need to take it, and stat. If someone can pay you that, they are clearing over $200, probably more in the $300+ range. You will learn more about the business of being successful there in a month than you have in 3+ years on your own. I can assure you of that. If you want to do what will be the most profitable, both long and short run, that is your only option.

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hankstamper (Jan 23, 2014 - 8:44 pm)

I've had several cases with two of the "top" family law attorneys in my jurisdiction. Both make well over $200K, and have a few associates. And I could probably go work for either one of them, because I have beaten them both (and been beaten by them both) in court before several times, and we get along.

With that said, I would never want to work for either of these two guys, regardless of what I might learn. The first guy is a notoriously high biller, who turns every case into an insanely high-conflict case, and routinely has divorce cases costing his clients 50K to 100K. He is ruthless, but does "high quality" legal work, but is really unethical in my opinion. He is feared in the community, but he also has a terrible reputation and is despised by most attorneys. If I worked for him, my name would become associated with him, and the reputation that I have worked so hard to build the last 4 years would be irreparably damaged. That is not worth $22K to me.

The next guy has very internet-savy marketing, and he has a very high volume firm, and has a few associates. He is pretty good attorney, but now he has become something of a joke because he will have like 6 hearings per day, and he routinely misses deadlines, asks for continuances, and never returns communications because he is too busy. He must make tons of money, but I don't want to "learn" from him or become like him, either.

I have actually learned a lot about business and lawyering on my own the last 4 years, and I have learned a lot from other attorneys, without working for them. Like I said, I know the 2 family law attorneys in my area who make 200K or 300K, and I don't want to sell my soul to be like them.

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kw6713a (Jan 22, 2014 - 11:23 pm)

I greatly appreciate the insight. I am trying to decide whether to start out on my own so it is very helpful.

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hankstamper (Jan 22, 2014 - 11:59 pm)

Thanks, and good luck. From my experience, I would say that if you start out on your own and practice "door law" (i.e. anything that walks in the door), then you will end up doing quite a bit of family law. Also from my experience, you will make very little in the first year or two, and you will have to deal with crazy clients (BTW, get all money up front and trust no one to make payments later, 80% will screw you) and prick attorneys (family law solos are the worst, and will treat you, as a newbie, like total crap). It is even more of a hazing experience than LS and the bar. But I made it through the first few years, and I'm nothing too special, so you probably can too.

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aspiringlawyer (Jan 29, 2014 - 2:34 pm)

I just started a firm. I haven't had a real client yet. It's a bankruptcy practice, and I can take a couple other areas. I recently started thinking about adding family law as an option. How much money do you get up front for family law cases, and how do you know how to gauge how much you should as for?

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hankstamper (Jan 29, 2014 - 3:55 pm)

When I first started out, I did not know anything about family law, and we were desperate as hell. We did some flat fee cases (one at $2,000 (custody), one at $750 Child Support)), and that was a huge mistake. There is no incentive for the clients to settle or be reasonable, and they call non-stop, so never do flat fee in family law.

We charged $150/hr. with a $1500 advance fee deposit for quite a few cases at first. But, we ended up with broke clients, and after the retainer ran out, we extended credit, and the clients very rarely paid, so we wrote off a lot of time at a big loss. That was a part of learning the business, I guess.

Now, I charge $200 per hour, and I do $2000 advance fee deposits for easier cases, and $2500 for most regular cases, and $3000 to $5000 for more high-conflict/complex cases. This makes me pretty competitive on price for my area.

One important tip: In about 75% of cases, the first advance fee deposit is the only money you will ever see. Your hourly rate does not matter much - whether you bill at $100 or $500 per hour. If the client can only come up with $1500 for the deposit, you are probably only gonna get $1500 out of the case, no matter how many hours you put into it.

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dudeingorillasuit (Jan 23, 2014 - 12:02 am)

Thanks for the update, it's nice to here a successful story on here.

Are you married?

Do you come across a lot of psycho clients?

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hankstamper (Jan 29, 2014 - 4:01 pm)

I'm not married now, but was before. I don't really want to get into that.

Yes, I do come across quite a few psycho clients (and psycho opposing attorneys and psycho guardian ad litems).

In my first year or two, I was desperate for cash, and was not as good at spotting and/or cutting loose problem/psycho clients. Now, I am excellent at it, and tell a psycho/problem client within about 1 minute of interaction, and avoid at all costs. This is another important part of learning the business of family law.

In fact, prior to obtaining my prestigious J.D., I had very little contact with meth addicts, DV perps, child abusers, sex offenders, pedophiles, incest victims and perps, and mentally ill individuals. But, now that I am a prestigious attorney, I come into contact with these types of people on a weekly or monthly basis.

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rollinitin (Jan 23, 2014 - 12:11 am)

I'm going to have to side with encinoman on this one: Is law such a dumpster fire that congrats are in order for a lawyer busting his tail and clearing 53k before taxes(incuding both ends of fica) in year 4?

Hell....he's in year 4 and making the equivalent of:

-$21 an hour as a 1099 no benefit contract employee
-$19 an hour as a no benefit salaried employee
-probably about $15 an hour as a salaried employee with modest benefits

As a comparison, high school graduate administrative assistants are paid about $15 an hour(as a salaried employee with good benefits) after 3-4 years for the county in my low COL area. And they're hiring often! So he's making about as much(actually maybe a little less depending on if he can piggyback on his wife's health insurance or not) as someone with a high school diploma who works for the county and does fairly unskilled office work.

You guys are throwing a lot of congrats his way, but he still isn't making any decent money.

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gribble (Jan 23, 2014 - 12:42 am)

Law is indeed such a dumpster fire.

But it's actually pretty hard to turn a profit for your own business. Most small businesses flat out fail, they can't even turn $50k in profits their fourth years. Usually those business owners try to pay themselves a decent salary and then their businesses just fail because of that too, since the profits just are not there.

There is a definite premium to owning your own firm/business. Also I don't know how easy it is to get those jobs, otherwise most people wouldn't even bother going to college if they had good job security and at least that type of wage.

The median salary in this country for an individual is about $26k at last count, and it's been dropping for years so it's probably even lower. 48% of the country makes less than $25k. 75% of the country makes less than $50k.

These are the real numbers, not what the media and government propaganda machine wants you to think people make. People are broke, government assistance and unemployment are at very high levels. To have your own business and be in the top 25% of wage earners, well, that is actually something impressive going by the numbers.

Source is wikipedia and huff post articles, the links are there on the wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personal_income_in_the_United_States

Oh and as an edit-yes that makes the debt incurred for higher education absolutely ridiculous. Most people are just not going to be able to pay their loans off. It also makes the whole residential housing meltdown all the more preposterous, there was no way 60% of the country somehow made $100k+ as was stated on the mortgage applications. The brokers had to have known, and the bankers had to have known too, because they know the numbers.

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rollinitin (Jan 23, 2014 - 12:52 am)

the median salary for an individual who actually works a full time job has to be much more than 26k though. I'm not saying you made up that number, but whatever that number is taken from includes a ton of high school kids working, part timers, etc....

the data I just pulled up says median household income is 51k+, so if median household income is 51k+ then individual median has to be much more than 26k.

A better question would be: what is the median salary of americans who work full time and possess at least a college degree? Using those two reasonable qualifiers produces an answer that is more meaningful to the OP's situation. My guess is around 55k, with a higher mean.

Reply Like (0)
gribble (Jan 23, 2014 - 1:59 am)

Well 39% of households have two incomes, I bet that's higher now but let's just put that at 40% to round it off. The 60% that don't have two incomes likely have a much higher income anyway, such as physicians or bankers or other high paying positions, so they're not likely lowering that average. As a rough estimation it does make sense the individual income would be close to half the household income.

I take your point about who is working full time and such, and I agree if you adjust your categories the numbers will likely be higher, but my point is the numbers aren't as high as people like to think they are.

We can extrapolate the college degree salaries a bit. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/24/education/census-finds-bachelors-degrees-at-record-level.html That tells us more than 30% of American adults have those college degrees.

You can just go through the chart and look for the average if you want, I don't care enough to. There's generally enough info to guess, especially if you think the 30%+ with college degrees are making the highest incomes. If that's the case the average is going to be somewhere between $42k and probably $75k, closer to $75k obviously.

Either way, he's very much in range of even your guess at the median salary, and if he continues to make more, he goes above it.

Personally I think $75k is a very good salary and about all you need. As long as you don't have any debt and can keep up with inflation what more do you need? If you're in a low COL area especially.

Reply Like (0)
rollinitin (Jan 23, 2014 - 2:07 am)

well he also has 100k in debt, which really brings down his effective salary a lot.

But that aside, I couldn't imagine living on 75k as an adult done with all education and training. You're not going to eat at nice restaurants regularly. You're not going to be able to save significantly. You're not going to be able to buy a house in a *good* neighborhood. You're not going to be able to travel. To *really* travel.

I make 320kish now, and while I am very comfortable, my lifestyle would definitely improve somewhat if I had another 75k or so a year.

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murdock (Jan 23, 2014 - 3:12 am)

You're living in a completely different world from 95% of Americans. Make sure you don't forget that when you are wishing for an extra 75k.

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whiteguyinchina (Jan 23, 2014 - 7:26 pm)

$75K per year is what is needed to live in an apartment in a fairly decent neighborhood in California, drive a car, and save a few hundred bucks a month. $75K doesn't really go far anymore, esp. if you have kids. it's kind of scraping by. if you're willing to have roommates or live in the ghetto, you might be able to save a bit more.

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vohod (Jan 24, 2014 - 4:56 pm)

OP lives in "mid-sized" city in PNW. I can see 75k sucking NYC, LA, D.C., but I think peeps might be over exaggerating how "shit" 75k is in a mid-sized PNW city.

I am willing to bet its likely >1% of people in OP's town makes close to the 320k boasted by the above poster, let alone the 400k said poster demands.

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reasonable_man (Jan 23, 2014 - 3:16 am)

My legal assistant earned 10k more than you last year. Not trying to be an asshole, just giving you some perspective and suggesting that you're doing something wrong.

During LS, I worked for a very successful solo. He was a great guy, much older (nearing retirement when I was there) and his work flow was unreal (and all word of mouth). He did a bunch of family law - most solos do. But he made way more money off of estate work and other easy areas like that. This was a low income/low COL area, so each estate client was not huge, but when you start adding each small estate client up, they can translate into a lot of money. I always though the family law cases were sort of a loser money-wise and to some extent, many of them were losers. Where this guy made money was either cross-selling new will, trusts, etc. to those clients and by getting new clients and referrals off of the family law clients and selling those other easier services like estate planning, etc.

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superttthero (Jan 23, 2014 - 1:14 pm)

So what do you do? Same as your old mentor? Family to bring in clients and cross-sell wills/trust?

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reasonable_man (Jan 23, 2014 - 5:25 pm)

I work at a mid-sized firm. I have some clients of my own - that I've brought into the firm, but nothing that would relate to a small firm practice.

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tobeornottobe (Jan 23, 2014 - 9:14 am)

I give you a lot of credit for the success you have had. I also think there is too much criticism for the fact that he isn't making more in year four than $53K gross, although as someone said he might have confused that with net. The first few years of starting any business are often rough, with long hours and little profits. That's why so many people fail.

I also wouldn't throw away what he's done quite yet for a job as an associate for $75K. The extra money isn't worth the loss of professional freedom, and walking away from what he has built. But my view would change if he isn't making $75K net after another two or three years. You have $100K in debt. It has to be eliminated ASAP.

I knew a lot of lawyers in your position in Northern Virginia and DC. Solos or people in one or two person firms, where even after three or four years, each was only making $50K or so after expenses. Many had side jobs in retail, doc review, in one case, delivering pizzas. Many were also thinking about closing their practices.

Give it another two or three years. If you are still at your current level, then look for other options. But right now, I would stick with what you've got. You've built something, and there is some upward progression.

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encinoman (Jan 23, 2014 - 6:05 pm)

This is, almost entirely, awful advice.

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hankstamper (Jan 23, 2014 - 8:48 pm)

Thanks, this is my plan. Each year is better than the last. Next year we plan to buy a house or small office building, so that we can stop "throwing away" money on rent. We are saving for the down payment now. I think things will be better.

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encinoman (Jan 24, 2014 - 10:15 am)

This is not a good idea. You really do not know how to run a business. You are going to have to wind up taking a job at a firm if you want to learn how to be profitable. When you do that, you will not want this burden. Of course, I know you won't listen.

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adamb (Jan 25, 2014 - 9:03 am)

In this regard, I agree with encino as well. Buying a property commits you too much...especially buying it with your partner -- terrible idea. If you and the partner are in a good relationship right now, awesome! But if you want to split up in a few years, but you own a house together, it's gonna be a messy divorce.

And in your location, I doubt that your house is going to be a great "equity" investment. In fact, you could easily lose money on the purchase between the time of purchase and the time you two need to sell it to move on.

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hankstamper (Jan 28, 2014 - 9:41 pm)

It will be a messy "divorce" no matter what. If we buy a house, we would set up a separate LLC for it, and hopefully just sell it to break even (or for a mild loss) as part of the "divorce." If it works out, we gain equity and can sell later, or maintain it and have rental income for retirement. I will take the risk.

I can't expect you to understand the relationship I have with my business partner. We went through hell together in LS working for psychos, and we went through hell together the first few years of our practice. Just like I'm not qualified to speak about the strength of your marriage, I don't really think you are qualified to speak about the strength of my "marriage." I probably spend more time per year with my business partner than most people spend with their spouse, so I think I have a handle on things. My work is focused on messy divorces, so it's not that big of a deal to me. If you have kids, that's messy. If you have a house, not so much.

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raskolnikov (Jan 23, 2014 - 12:33 pm)

If you're bringing in 150-200K and only getting 53K in pay, you have way too much overhead.

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jackiechiles (Jan 23, 2014 - 12:34 pm)

I think that's $150k-200k for two people though. So his take home would only be half of that.

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raskolnikov (Jan 23, 2014 - 12:48 pm)

Even so, overhead would be eating up about 1/3-1/2 of their collectibles. That's way too much. My firm grossed about 300K last year, split between two people, and our overhead was only about 30K. Admittedly, that's really low and there are some things we have lucked out on (sharing admin. support with other lawyers in our building), but it sounds like OP needs to look at where he can cut the fat.

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hankstamper (Jan 23, 2014 - 8:52 pm)

Yeah, we need to cut overhead. We are saving to buy a house or small office building, so that should take some of the pain out of paying rent. I plan on dropping our legal research provider after our contract expires, as we don't use it too much in family law. There is probably some other fat to trim, too.

If you only have 30K for 2 attorneys, that sounds great. Must just be cheap rent, cheap malpractice insurance, bar dues, minimal marketing expenses, no staff to pay, and office supplies. That sounds nice.

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raskolnikov (Jan 24, 2014 - 12:39 pm)

Sounds like a plan. The law library near me offers free Westlaw, so whenever I have any research, I head down the street. I also get casemaker with my state bar dues, which is an alright substitute.

Our rent and malpractice insurance was really cheap this year. It's going way up, but still reasonable. All my marketing is through seminars, newsletters, and meeting people face-to-face. I don't pay much for this. We share a paralegal with all the other lawyers in our building. It's like a lawyer collective here. Everyone works for themselves, but we will refer clients to eachother and share expenses. There are ten lawyers in our building.

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raskolnikov (Jan 24, 2014 - 12:39 pm)

...

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eddiemunster (Jan 23, 2014 - 1:02 pm)

This is a case study in why one should not go to law school, at least not without some kind of an edge (HYS, patent qualified, serious family connections, etc).

I can't ever imagine any of the people I see tweeting on law school lemmings page nowadays doing as well as the OP, or even wanting to work as hard as him.

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superttthero (Jan 23, 2014 - 1:40 pm)

The problem is the debt. I don't think lawyering is a bad job. I think it has a lot more upside than down. It's the debt. Why do we need 3 years of overpaid "education."

Make a 1 - 1.5 year or a 1 year + 1 year "residency" program. Let the good lawyers swim to the top, like the good carpenters, plumbers, artists, salesman. In other countries, a lawyer can be dirt poor or super wealthy. It's about your work and your connections. In many countries, it's 4 years, that's it.

Take the profession out of the pedestal. Remove the debt. It's hard work to succeed. Let people do it.

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eddiemunster (Jan 23, 2014 - 3:44 pm)

Funny, but if you look at all the lawyer presidents the US has had, there have been exactly four who are graduates of law school. FDR didn't even finish law school - he dropped out after the second year, once he'd already passed the NY bar. Try doing that nowadays.

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hankstamper (Jan 23, 2014 - 8:34 pm)

I agree with you about the debt. I don't regret my decision to become a lawyer and practice law. But I do regret my decision to debt-finance my education.

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cheapbrass (Jan 24, 2014 - 12:47 pm)

I don't understand the negativity in this thread. $50k a year in year 4 is pretty good considering there is an upward trend in his take home $. Working as an associate would mean his salary would be capped.

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gribble (Jan 24, 2014 - 1:38 pm)

Well that one guy is in the top 1% trashing everybody, as if $300k+ salaries are normal.

Everyone else is probably just trying to pretend they make decent money like that.

For my part, as I stated, $75k+ is fine with high job security, low stress, and low working hours/setting your own schedule. I posted up the numbers, I'm not the type of person that needs to be in the top 1% to feel like I am doing okay. If I have enough to live a comfortable life that's good enough for me. Most people are not doing as well in this country as everyone likes to pretend.

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rollinitin (Jan 24, 2014 - 10:11 pm)

300k salaries may not be normal, but they are far more common amongst college educated people who work full time without any disabilities than implied by general demos.

You lawyer types struggling to make 100k cannot compare yourself to others using such data. You need to look at graduate(or hell even professional...is law still a professional degree?) data amongst people who are not disabled and work full time. Putting those qualifiers on it changes the demo data.......dramatically.

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gribble (Jan 25, 2014 - 12:39 am)

I don't want to beat a dead horse, but are you implying it's more commong for a JD to make $300k+ than to make less than $100k?

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shtlawaspiration (Jan 24, 2014 - 3:38 pm)

I think people are missing the fact that homeboy is running a small-time shop in F*CKING SPOKANE [or a similar town in the Pac NoW]. $50k gross personal salary is good bro, keep chugging along and grinding that paper out.

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hankstamper (Jan 24, 2014 - 4:52 pm)

Thanks, brother. You make a good point. When I see the ridicule of others, sometimes I forget that lots of people on here live in NY, DC, Chicago, LA, or some other place with a crazy high COL.

BTW, I don't live in Spokompton, but the size/demo of my place is not far off. I don't want to discuss my location anymore, though.

Anyway, my personal expenses are pretty low, and I am pretty happy. Most months, I take home around $3500 after taxes. My housing, utilities, student loans, insurance, phone bill, and other fixed expenses are around $2000. I probably spend another $200 on gas, and another $250 on food. So that leaves around $1,000 every month for drinking, entertainment, small trips, etc.

I don't have any car payments or credit card debt. I think my life is pretty good. I have 4 vehicles paid off, including a classic car and a classic motorcycle (how I spent my late teens/early 20s). I have a garage full of tools and a safe full of guns. I live in a nice rental home on a quiet piece of property, filled with cool furniture I've restored (a hobby of mine). I have a good woman, and an okay dog. I have good friends, and I am healthy, and relatively young and good looking, not bald, and not fat.

I guess it doesn't take that much to make me happy. I have a business that is growing every year, and I am my own boss. Some guys like encinoman might laugh at me, but I guess I'm too dumb to know how bad I have it.

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adamb (Jan 24, 2014 - 5:04 pm)

You've done well and will do better. It seems like your strategy has worked for you and meets your needs. It is a case specific quasi-success (or survival in spite of things today).

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rollinitin (Jan 24, 2014 - 10:12 pm)

what you fail to understand apparently is that in many professional fields smaller less urban areas with lower COL actually produce *higher* salaries....sometimes by a large margin.

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vohod (Jan 24, 2014 - 10:53 pm)

Proof? Dude working in Pierre, SD clearing the same as the boss of a successful and profitable bigmetro pi mill? Not gonna lie your posts have that Alec Baldwin in the film version of Glenngarry vibe. . .Lots of talking down But not much substantiating it.

http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes231011.htm

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rollinitin (Jan 24, 2014 - 11:23 pm)

I wasn't talking about law- that's the point. People in rural areas(other than law) make a lot more in many cases than people in 'desirable'(for whatever that is worth) areas.

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rustbeltlawyer (Jan 25, 2014 - 7:01 am)

"I think my life is pretty good."

Game, set, match. If you're happy with it all, the rest doesn't much matter.

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pherc (Jan 25, 2014 - 7:31 am)

This.

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stephen (Jan 24, 2014 - 7:59 pm)

Do you fund a retirement account, do you pay for medical insurance? Until your business is generating $250,000 gross you can't get debt in a corporate name. Until you can not show up and the business still pays you, you are not a business owner, you are self-employed. It takes 16 hours to build a car and 46.7 hours to negotiate a divorce. Youíre getting suckered! An under graduate degree in anything will let you earn 50K to 70K with retirement and medical in compliance departments all over the country.

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hankstamper (Jan 24, 2014 - 8:42 pm)

Thanks for your comment, Stephen. I do not fund a retirement account now, and I do not have medical insurance, although I will need to do that in the next few months now, LOL. My business does not have any debt at all now. I guess according to your definition, I am self-employed rather than a business owner. I don't think that anyone with any undergraduate degree can earn 50K to 70K with benefits in a compliance department - that's a little simplistic and naÔve, in my humble opinion. Are you a baby boomer by any chance?

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jd1997 (Jan 24, 2014 - 10:03 pm)

Based on your replies, you seem very even tempered and patient. Congratulations for sticking it out for four years. Hope the next four are more financially rewarding for you.

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gribble (Jan 25, 2014 - 12:40 am)

It is actually cheaper for you just to pay the penalty. It's only 1% of I believe MAGI, so chances are you'd be paying maybe on $40k at most, which is about $400. Heh. That would maybe cover one month's insurance. 4 months if you buy a cheap plan in a major area.

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hankstamper (Jan 28, 2014 - 9:45 pm)

Thanks, Gribble. I like your posts, and you seem like a smart dude/dudette. I was thinking the same thing. I will probably just pay the penalty the first year. But I think the penalties ramp up after the first year, and I expect to make more in the future, so I suppose I will end up buying insurance 1 - 2 years from now. That is, if the whole thing doesn't fall apart by then . . . .

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pherc (Jan 25, 2014 - 7:37 am)

As someone who works in one of those compliance jobs, I'm pretty sure those compliance jobs are not as plentiful as you think.

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hankstamper (Jan 25, 2014 - 12:20 am)

Thanks, JD. I wish you and DSE the best. I hope her practice is going well. I know how hard it is in the beginning....

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adamb (Jan 25, 2014 - 9:10 am)

You mean those weeks and weeks without any phone calls? Where you're typing mailing fliers on your computer that look so ghetto that you can't bare to actually send them out to people to beg for work?

Yeah...solo practice is a never-ending heart attack.

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mississippilawyer (Jan 25, 2014 - 10:47 am)

For 2013, I will gross between 300k and 400k. I would trade my income for a 8-5 no stress job that paid 75k. Many solos who are making mid six figures would tell you the same. After paying taxes, payroll, other overhead and dealing with clients ... Working at a job where someone else has to deal with that is appealing.

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stephen (Jan 25, 2014 - 1:53 pm)

Mississippi, wow - been a long time. Sounds like things broke open for you! What area ( PI, Family, Estates) are you working in? 300 to 400 is good! Contingent fee, flat fee, hourly? Got a paralegal, staff? I'm really interested in hearing how you cracked the nut! Thanks - we conversed by e-mail in the past. Still have my address? Hope to hear from you soon. Steve

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hankstamper (Jan 28, 2014 - 9:34 pm)

Hi Mississippi, I really appreciated your encouragement back in my Year 1 and Year 2 Update threads.

It sounds like 2013 was a leaner year for you. But, there are ups and downs in business, I guess. If I remember your posts, it seems like you had some big hits in 2011 and 2012, so hopefully those off-set your leaner 2013. Hopefully, your personal/romantic life is better now, so you don't have to pour yourself entirely into your practice, like before. I wish you the best.

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mississippilawyer (Jan 29, 2014 - 2:54 pm)

if anyone here saw my tax bill, they wouldnt complaint about making 75k per year. on average, i only net about 1/3 what i gross, and that can vary from year to year. i am not getting any enjoyment, whatsoever, out of law practice right now. i hope that changes.

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hankstamper (Jan 28, 2014 - 9:47 pm)

My bad JD1997, I think I mistook you for DSE's husband. Similar names and all.

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stephen (Jan 25, 2014 - 1:45 pm)

Well I know three people with undergrad degrees only working compliance. An additional compliance person works in a pharmaceutical, 110,000. One in an education association, also does grant writing, 59,000 One in national non profit 501 c 3 74,000 Benefit packages include 401 k matching, health, disability, values between 24k and 37k per year. I know a soda delivery truck driver, 62,000 and benefits. I know 5 managers (mid level) all in one company average 70,000. The pharmaceutical compliance person has a masters the truck driver has a high school degree. Another manager in a large utility with an undergrad, 54,000 and the best benefit package of the bunch. Yes I am a boomer. In law you get to keep 1/3 of your gross if your gross is healthy enough to sustain a practice. I don't know what portion of those in private practice meet that standard but suspect its less that 50% and wouldn't be surprised if its less than 25%.

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pherc (Jan 25, 2014 - 1:56 pm)

Yes, you are a boomer. Those jobs at those pay rates are not very plentiful these days, hence a great many college grads working in the service industry at or not much above minimum wage. Also, how do you know with such detail everyone's salaries and benefits?

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pherc (Jan 25, 2014 - 2:05 pm)

Also 300k is not common among any cohort. Two percent of all families make 250k annually, and no matter how you do the math the vast majority of college grads never approach such wealth. Some of you have a really skewed view of the state of things.

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jd1997 (Jan 25, 2014 - 2:36 pm)

Or enjoy pretending with a lot of anonymous people on a forum they will probably never meet in real life.

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mississippilawyer (Jan 25, 2014 - 2:40 pm)

My expenses are huge, but if people here think I'm making it up, that's fine. I posted it to point out that making mid six figures is not all it's cracked up to be. Golden handcuffs, or so it becomes.

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jd1997 (Jan 25, 2014 - 3:13 pm)

I don't doubt your numbers. 300-400K gross with probably a 1/2 to 1/3 net is totally believable. Especially if you have been in practice for a significant period of time.

Claim to be earning 300k+ as a salary, with obvious difficultly thinking logically, conjugating verbs, or selecting the correct verb tense.... I might be doubtful.

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gribble (Jan 28, 2014 - 11:51 pm)

I think he meant the other guy, there are two people in this thread that mentioned that salary range.

For my part, I don't disbelieve it, I just think it's very rare and those numbers put someone in the top 1% or so.

I do believe a lot of people exaggerate their incomes though. The hard numbers show most people just do not make that much money. It's a struggle for people to even get to $50k, that's why law schools exist and get so many lemmings.

I know the salaries for most of my friends, even working at top companies most seem to top out around $90kish. But a lot of them took a long time to get there, starting at $35k or so out of college. And this is in a high COL area.

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mississippilawyer (Jan 29, 2014 - 3:00 pm)

remember, i didnt disclose my taxable income, which is WAY less than the gross. i would be in the top 1% if my gross was my taxable income (which means my gross would be close to $1MM). in the end, being a solo who turns a profit and covers his overhead isnt that great. A lot of posters here would love to have their own business, but it is such a colossal pain in the ass. By analogy, it is like a never ending homework assignment, with no summer or winter break. I think I will be fine this upcoming year, but I am looking to lose a big client/account when this year ends due to a change in their business structure. I am actually looking forward to it, as I will downsize and take more time for myself. I am 34 years old. Provided that I do not die young, have a disabling injury, and family life stays stable, I will be doing this until I am 64 (at a minimum). As such, I am not worried about continuing to make mid six figures every year. I want to golf, fish, and spend time with my kid and be around people I like to be around. At the the end of the day, it is your relationship with people that makes you happy. Not money. Not big houses or big balances in your bank accounts.

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employmentlawyer (Jan 25, 2014 - 5:16 pm)

Good for you OP. I think that $54k a year is a good salary in this economy, especially when you get to work for yourself and you enjoy what you do. You already sound luckier and happier than many Americans.

I live in a city in the Southwest that I really like. (I'm originally from the East Coast but I think that things out there are way too overpriced). There are many law school grads who can't make any money at all in the law. Luckily I don't have that problem but my issue was, like you, I didn't want to work for douchebag partners. I graduated LS in 2006 and at one point I was making $97k plus bonus for a large regional firm and I was miserable. Now I have my own practice (today is its two year anniversary :)) and I am much happier than when I had to work there. I hope to never have to work as an associate again, no matter what they would pay me. (My issue is also that I just hate the practice/field of law in general, but when I posted here, most people told me I'm lucky to be able to "make it" as a solo, and I should keep on keeping on keeping on.)

I'm sure some people would say I'm not doing well financially/ in my career because I'm making less than I was as a third year associate at a law firm. But for me, the freedom and independence are priceless. Life is all about priorities. I used to eat at the fanciest restaurants and have CLE/travel trips paid for by my firms but I was miserable. There are more important things than money.

My husband and I live on $3500 a month (including setting aside a small amount from that amount for retirement/long term savings goals). We often make more but we choose to re-invest/save that money for the law practice or for future opportunities. Sometimes we do use extra income to take a trip to see my family or travel elsewhere. But our day to day life is fine with $3500 a month. We have a mortgage and my student loan (fixed at 2% interest for life), but otherwise we have no debt and make it a priority to not have debt. We have a paid-off BMW sedan, a paid-off Honda hatchback that we use to go skiing and camping, and we occasionally go to our favorite local restaurants and bars. But I prefer homemade meals and I love to just relax at home and watch Netflix with our pets. I'm a different person than I was when I worked at big law firms, but, IMO, a better, more content person. It sounds to me like you are content too, and that's what matters.

I do wonder how you survived on only $19,000 a year that first year. (I assume you had savings). My first year as a solo (I don't have a partner, just me), I made $40,000 but that included doing some contract research and writing work for other lawyers. (I still do that if things get tight and would recommend it as supplemental income-- I like it because I can do it from home or when traveling, it's pretty stress-free because I don't have to deal with clients or make big decisions, just write the brief the lawyer asks me to write, and it's guaranteed, reliable pay, unlike having to chase down clients who haven't paid or wonder when the next one is going to come in).

Maybe now that you're more established you can expand your practice area or charge more per hour. I've done some family law but I really dislike it because in my area the most that most clients can pay is $2,000-$5,0000 (and that includes borrowing money from family or cashing out assets) to fight over almost nothing-- these clients do not have a lot of assets but they want to fight over pots and pans and of course custody and they don't understand that that small amount of money won't get them very far. So I feel like I'm always fighting with my clients as much as the other side, trying to get them to be reasonable and keep costs down, or else I have to ditch them before I'm able to get them very far. But anyway if you like it, that's good, maybe just start charging more.

And I agree that your overhead sounds pretty high. I like to keep as much money in my practice as a I can, rather than bleeding it out. I do as much as possible electronically and I'm a really fast typist/computer person etc. I also don't have to share profits with a partner and I'm glad for that, as I'm an extremely independent person and would probably not like working with a partner. I do probably overpay ($800/month plus utilities) for office space but I rent my own house-office that has two rooms/offices, a lobby/reception area, a bathroom with a shower and a kitchen with a full refrigerator and sink. So it's a nice home away from home and I'm quite private and don't like to share office space. Again, priorities. :)

Best wishes to you in year 5. :)

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hankstamper (Jan 28, 2014 - 9:30 pm)

Thanks a lot. I made it through Year 1 by deferring my student loan payments, and racking up almost 7K of personal credit card debt. Fortunately, I was able to start making payments on my student loans in Year 2, and I was able to pay off the credit card debt by the end of Year 3. Those first few years were pretty tough, there's no getting around that.

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