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Are you satisfied?

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I’m working about 14 hours this weekend, which obviously sucks.

But I’m very well compensated,  I learn a lot, I have partners who support me and a couple juniors I trust. My internal relationships are strong enough that I can tell someone no when I need to. I have lots of pro bono opportunity when I see something I want. I’m satisfied, but also fairly confident I won’t want to work these hours forever. It’s a trade I’m happy with for the time being.

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I've been a lawyer for 20 years. I'm a commercial/general civil litigator and I manage a small firm. I bill around 1450-1500 hours per year and recover about 1300-1350 of that at $550 to $600 an hour - all of which I get to put into my pocket (less, you know, taxes and "expenses").

I have two associates whose work pays all of my overhead (obvs. including their salaries). I also have 4 non-equity partners. Most importantly, every single person I work with is someone I like and respect.

I have been very lucky. Before law school, I tried several other careers, none of which I could stand. If litigation had not worked out, I expect I'd be unemployable.

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I've read through the responses and I'm glad to see so many experienced members sharing their perspective. It's given me a lot to think about.

I know money isn't everything. I know many people have left money on the table to find a better fit. I know compensation isn't determinative of satisfaction, but I suppose I'm left wondering how big that gap is. Like, if people on here were making 30-40k less than they are now, would they still be as satisfied with their work, or would they be looking for more lucrative options.

I've been thinking about this question obsessively for a while now. I'm returning to a firm I really like, with co-workers I admire and work hours that I think fits well with my personality and goals. The work itself can be very interesting if a little rote sometimes, and there's opportunity to do interesting things. I'm not always thrilled about the side I'm on though, and my work doesn't net me any bonus points with family and friends. I'm not a pariah or anything, but I think some might struggle to understand why I work for the side I do. It's made me question (though not seriously tbh) how long I could or should remain in this specific field.

I can also predict fairly accurately my income 5 years out, and I'd be just north of six figures. This bothers me, given the financial pressures of OSAP debt repayment, a mortgage and other family responsibilities. Under different circumstances, I'd be happy to be patient and let the money come in time. It does ... eventually ... sort of. But given what others in the same year of call will be making, I can't help looking over the fence and wondering if chasing a 30-40k increase would help settle this slightly unsettled feeling I've been having. 

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24 minutes ago, TheAEGIS said:

I've read through the responses and I'm glad to see so many experienced members sharing their perspective. It's given me a lot to think about.

I know money isn't everything. I know many people have left money on the table to find a better fit. I know compensation isn't determinative of satisfaction, but I suppose I'm left wondering how big that gap is. Like, if people on here were making 30-40k less than they are now, would they still be as satisfied with their work, or would they be looking for more lucrative options.

I've been thinking about this question obsessively for a while now. I'm returning to a firm I really like, with co-workers I admire and work hours that I think fits well with my personality and goals. The work itself can be very interesting if a little rote sometimes, and there's opportunity to do interesting things. I'm not always thrilled about the side I'm on though, and my work doesn't net me any bonus points with family and friends. I'm not a pariah or anything, but I think some might struggle to understand why I work for the side I do. It's made me question (though not seriously tbh) how long I could or should remain in this specific field.

I can also predict fairly accurately my income 5 years out, and I'd be just north of six figures. This bothers me, given the financial pressures of OSAP debt repayment, a mortgage and other family responsibilities. Under different circumstances, I'd be happy to be patient and let the money come in time. It does ... eventually ... sort of. But given what others in the same year of call will be making, I can't help looking over the fence and wondering if chasing a 30-40k increase would help settle this slightly unsettled feeling I've been having. 

Amen brother (sister?). Agreed on all points.

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Posted (edited)
2 hours ago, TheAEGIS said:

I've read through the responses and I'm glad to see so many experienced members sharing their perspective. It's given me a lot to think about.

I know money isn't everything. I know many people have left money on the table to find a better fit. I know compensation isn't determinative of satisfaction, but I suppose I'm left wondering how big that gap is. Like, if people on here were making 30-40k less than they are now, would they still be as satisfied with their work, or would they be looking for more lucrative options.

I've been thinking about this question obsessively for a while now. I'm returning to a firm I really like, with co-workers I admire and work hours that I think fits well with my personality and goals. The work itself can be very interesting if a little rote sometimes, and there's opportunity to do interesting things. I'm not always thrilled about the side I'm on though, and my work doesn't net me any bonus points with family and friends. I'm not a pariah or anything, but I think some might struggle to understand why I work for the side I do. It's made me question (though not seriously tbh) how long I could or should remain in this specific field.

I can also predict fairly accurately my income 5 years out, and I'd be just north of six figures. This bothers me, given the financial pressures of OSAP debt repayment, a mortgage and other family responsibilities. Under different circumstances, I'd be happy to be patient and let the money come in time. It does ... eventually ... sort of. But given what others in the same year of call will be making, I can't help looking over the fence and wondering if chasing a 30-40k increase would help settle this slightly unsettled feeling I've been having. 

Well, just north of 6 figures is a great salary. Though I'm guessing from your post (and please correct me if I'm wrong) that you're in crim defence? If so, I feel like just north of 6 figures after 5 years is lower than some of the salaries I've heard of. Unless you're in a smaller jurisdiction, in which case the 6 figures is amazing money.

You also need to consider the burn-out in big law. A lot of people think they won't be one of the associates who finds themselves overwhelmed, depressed, and burnt-out from big law but it's a decision many lawyers make after 3 years. Some decide to quit private practice all together because they've had enough. Is that extra 30-40k worth it?

I agree with you and sometimes want more. But maybe it's a grass is always greener type thing.

Edited by setto

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Posted (edited)
2 hours ago, TheAEGIS said:

I've read through the responses and I'm glad to see so many experienced members sharing their perspective. It's given me a lot to think about.

I know money isn't everything. I know many people have left money on the table to find a better fit. I know compensation isn't determinative of satisfaction, but I suppose I'm left wondering how big that gap is. Like, if people on here were making 30-40k less than they are now, would they still be as satisfied with their work, or would they be looking for more lucrative options.

I've been thinking about this question obsessively for a while now. I'm returning to a firm I really like, with co-workers I admire and work hours that I think fits well with my personality and goals. The work itself can be very interesting if a little rote sometimes, and there's opportunity to do interesting things. I'm not always thrilled about the side I'm on though, and my work doesn't net me any bonus points with family and friends. I'm not a pariah or anything, but I think some might struggle to understand why I work for the side I do. It's made me question (though not seriously tbh) how long I could or should remain in this specific field.

I can also predict fairly accurately my income 5 years out, and I'd be just north of six figures. This bothers me, given the financial pressures of OSAP debt repayment, a mortgage and other family responsibilities. Under different circumstances, I'd be happy to be patient and let the money come in time. It does ... eventually ... sort of. But given what others in the same year of call will be making, I can't help looking over the fence and wondering if chasing a 30-40k increase would help settle this slightly unsettled feeling I've been having. 

I'm junior lawyer, and left from big law to go in-house. My paycut was about 30K. Given that my annual raises are significantly less than what they would have been in big law, that gap is only going to grow bigger. For me, the chance to do work that I find personally rewarding and interesting has been worth it. I guess possibly I'll change my tune if/when I have kids/carry a mortgage and my contemporaries start making 2 or 3 times as much money as I do. But as of now, I'm satisfied with the work I do, and though I feel like I could/should be making more, I don't regret my choices.

Edited by besmackin
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4 hours ago, TheAEGIS said:

I've read through the responses and I'm glad to see so many experienced members sharing their perspective. It's given me a lot to think about.

I know money isn't everything. I know many people have left money on the table to find a better fit. I know compensation isn't determinative of satisfaction, but I suppose I'm left wondering how big that gap is. Like, if people on here were making 30-40k less than they are now, would they still be as satisfied with their work, or would they be looking for more lucrative options.

I've been thinking about this question obsessively for a while now. I'm returning to a firm I really like, with co-workers I admire and work hours that I think fits well with my personality and goals. The work itself can be very interesting if a little rote sometimes, and there's opportunity to do interesting things. I'm not always thrilled about the side I'm on though, and my work doesn't net me any bonus points with family and friends. I'm not a pariah or anything, but I think some might struggle to understand why I work for the side I do. It's made me question (though not seriously tbh) how long I could or should remain in this specific field.

I can also predict fairly accurately my income 5 years out, and I'd be just north of six figures. This bothers me, given the financial pressures of OSAP debt repayment, a mortgage and other family responsibilities. Under different circumstances, I'd be happy to be patient and let the money come in time. It does ... eventually ... sort of. But given what others in the same year of call will be making, I can't help looking over the fence and wondering if chasing a 30-40k increase would help settle this slightly unsettled feeling I've been having. 

This is just my perspective, but there are dissatisfactions that more money can solve and dissatisfactions that money just can't solve. If you find your work boring but get paid so much that you're willing to be a bit bored, I can see that. But money can't solve a vague sense that you are somehow selling yourself short and aren't doing the really big work that successful lawyers get paid more than you to do. If the only thing that's bothering you is that someone else is making more money, and you're left feeling either like a sucker or else that you're small-time, then you either need to get comfortable with that reaction and get over it, or else you need to just adapt your life to chasing the brass ring all the time - no matter what the brass ring happens to be - and accept that's the life you'll live.

I can tell you, between those two options, I made peace with living my values rather than try to live everyone else's values. And I would warn anyone who gets too hung up on what everyone else is doing and what everyone else has and what everyone else views as "success" that it never, ever, ever stops. You think making 30-40k more as an associate in "big law" is going to make you happier. Then you surround yourself in that environment and you're either on partner track or you're not. Everyone who's really doing it "right" is aiming to make partner, and what are you doing? Just wasting your time billing 1,600 hours a year and hanging on as an associate. Sure you're making more than those losers who aren't in "big law." But that doesn't make you feel better about your life. You still want what the other people around you are gunning for. And if you manage to get that, you want the next thing, and the next time. When you surrender your values to the common idea of what you should want out of life, you never manage to get them back, because there's always something else.

If money would make a difference in your lifestyle such that you believe it would change your enjoyment in life, then that's a real thing. That's based in a individual decision about what you want and what you need. But if it's only what someone else has, vs. what you have, you've got to avoid going down that road. Trust me - it doesn't end well.

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Posted (edited)
9 hours ago, TheAEGIS said:

determinative of satisfaction, but I suppose I'm left wondering how big that gap is. Like, if people on here were making 30-40k less than they are now, would they still be as satisfied with their work, or would they be looking for more lucrative options.

I was making 30-40k less than my current salary about 18 months ago... can confirm my life is virtually identical. 

Edited by utmguy
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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, utmguy said:

I was making 30-40k less than my current salary about 18 months ago... can confirm my life is virtually identical. 

At some point while I was busy being a child, one of my grandparents died and my family inherited a bunch of money. Over the next few years, my parents were both treated for depression. They got divorced, and were generally miserable to be around. After they spent all the money (I think the separation was expensive), they both found more fulfilling work and started stable, supportive relationships. They both seem happy now.

Money is good. People need money. I like having it.  But unless all that ails you is poverty, money isn't much of a cure. 

Edited by realpseudonym
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On 6/29/2019 at 9:23 PM, levin said:

Thanks for sharing. This sounds really great. I would take a 70k job where I enjoy going to work and am treated with respect than start out making 2x that in a toxic environment with soul sucking hours that rob me of my life. Earning potential is good and $$ will come with time and experience.. I don't think anyone here has to worry about that. But the other things in my life (health, gf etc)  I might lose and never get em back!

I agree. I feel "behind" in terms of compensation since leaving Bay Street for a smaller firm, but keep reminding myself that the long term earning potential should still be there if you work hard an do a good job. It's hard to be patient sometimes! Everything else about my job I really enjoy.

On 7/7/2019 at 7:13 PM, Cynic said:

I've been a lawyer for 20 years. I'm a commercial/general civil litigator and I manage a small firm. I bill around 1450-1500 hours per year and recover about 1300-1350 of that at $550 to $600 an hour - all of which I get to put into my pocket (less, you know, taxes and "expenses").

I have two associates whose work pays all of my overhead (obvs. including their salaries). I also have 4 non-equity partners. Most importantly, every single person I work with is someone I like and respect.

I have been very lucky. Before law school, I tried several other careers, none of which I could stand. If litigation had not worked out, I expect I'd be unemployable.

 Sounds like you are living the dream congratulations! It's always great to hear the success stories, as it feels like often as a young lawyer you only hear about how depressed and over worked this profession leaves you long term. 

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On 7/8/2019 at 4:28 PM, Diplock said:

and what are you doing? Just wasting your time billing 1,600 hours a year and hanging on as an associate. Sure you're making more than those losers who aren't in "big law." But that doesn't make you feel better about your life.

Can confirm my office is currently covered in blood from how deep this cut.  

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51 minutes ago, utmguy said:

Can confirm my office is currently covered in blood from how deep this cut.  

Wasn't my intention - certainly in your case. But generally, I do recommend that people base decisions in their own values and goals, and learn to resist adopting default values and goals based only on the people around you. You can't be satisfied in those terms. It never, ever ends.

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50 minutes ago, Diplock said:

Wasn't my intention - certainly in your case. But generally, I do recommend that people base decisions in their own values and goals, and learn to resist adopting default values and goals based only on the people around you. You can't be satisfied in those terms. It never, ever ends.

It hurts because it's true.  That is the path that I'm on.  And it's both unfulfilling in the short term, and aimless in the long term.  

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1 hour ago, utmguy said:

It hurts because it's true.  That is the path that I'm on.  And it's both unfulfilling in the short term, and aimless in the long term.  

Chin up. Save your money and work on a plan to get out.

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46 minutes ago, Law Girl26 said:

Chin up. Save your money and work on a plan to get out.

Money isn't an issue, I'm just a coward :).  

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I'm 5 years out. I was very unhappy as an articling student and in my first couple of years of practice. I felt totally out of my depth and had no control over the files I worked on (standard, I know), and had very little support or mentorship at my firm. I also had a pretty thin skin with difficult clients. 

Time has cured a lot of that. My stress level has reduced exponentially as I've become more confident in my abilities in the last couple of years. I also now have some control over the kind of work I take on. 

It also helped that I did some work with a job coach last year, when I was starting to think about looking for a new position (because I don't like where I live, not because I don't like my work). This kind of goes with what Hegdis said above about the myth that everyone has a "dream job" in which they'll always be happy. I had definitely bought into that, and when I wasn't always happy in my work, I thought it was because I'd gotten it wrong. My job coach helped me see that actually, I could be satisfied by many different kinds of work, and no job is perfect. There is a lot about my work that I find engaging and fulfilling, and I'm good at it. I also have lots of non-work interests that I pursue in my spare time (which, as a small-town solicitor, I do have).

I'm still paying off student loans, so I would like to make more money, but that will come with time, too.

 

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Satisfaction is a temporary state. First we are challenged. Then we rise to that challenge. If we succeed, then we are satisfied. Our new found success eventually becomes our baseline. We then want more, we become unsatisfied, and the cycle repeats. Billionaires are not satisfied. Celebrities destroy their lives with drugs. Many top partners suffer from depression/health complications due to overworking themselves.

Imagine if you were, in this moment and for the rest of your life, completely satisfied. Would you ever change, grow, advance? I'd guess this cycle of satisfaction is just human nature, and it keeps us productive and doing things. Buddhism attempts to remove a person from attachments, and presumably enlightenment results in a satisfied state. The things you do don't satisfy you, its the way you think about them.

If you really reflected on yourself, most people would realize they probably don't really care about making $300k+, being the best in their field, or having a prestigious job. Most people could probably live a lifestyle they were happy with making $30k if they had all the things they actually want out of life.

The other thing about this is that the true answers are scary. What if in your reflections, you learn that law isn't for you, you are wasting your life doing it, and you need to be in a far less lucrative career? Or far more risky career? Would you radically alter your life to be where you think you should be? Probably not. After all, most people don't like their job.

On your death bed, will you look back and smile on the year you worked 2,500 hours? Will you be enriched by the vacation your kids are taking to Cabo using your money instead of Cuba? Will you remember how many years it took to pay off that student loan? Will anyone remember your name after the publisher renames your textbook after the new editors? Does your spouse want to hear that one war story from the firm you have told a thousand times that isn't really that interesting to anyone outside your specialty? 

It isn't about your career. Its about what your career allows you to do.

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Posted (edited)
12 minutes ago, Kemair said:

Satisfaction is a temporary state. First we are challenged. Then we rise to that challenge. If we succeed, then we are satisfied. Our new found success eventually becomes our baseline. We then want more, we become unsatisfied, and the cycle repeats. Billionaires are not satisfied. Celebrities destroy their lives with drugs. Many top partners suffer from depression/health complications due to overworking themselves.

Imagine if you were, in this moment and for the rest of your life, completely satisfied. Would you ever change, grow, advance? I'd guess this cycle of satisfaction is just human nature, and it keeps us productive and doing things. Buddhism attempts to remove a person from attachments, and presumably enlightenment results in a satisfied state. The things you do don't satisfy you, its the way you think about them.

If you really reflected on yourself, most people would realize they probably don't really care about making $300k+, being the best in their field, or having a prestigious job. Most people could probably live a lifestyle they were happy with making $30k if they had all the things they actually want out of life.

The other thing about this is that the true answers are scary. What if in your reflections, you learn that law isn't for you, you are wasting your life doing it, and you need to be in a far less lucrative career? Or far more risky career? Would you radically alter your life to be where you think you should be? Probably not. After all, most people don't like their job.

On your death bed, will you look back and smile on the year you worked 2,500 hours? Will you be enriched by the vacation your kids are taking to Cabo using your money instead of Cuba? Will you remember how many years it took to pay off that student loan? Will anyone remember your name after the publisher renames your textbook after the new editors? Does your spouse want to hear that one war story from the firm you have told a thousand times that isn't really that interesting to anyone outside your specialty? 

It isn't about your career. Its about what your career allows you to do.

This hit too close to home. Like most individuals, some days I love my job. Other days I dislike it strongly. Most days are somewhere in between. But on my worse days, I often find myself wrestling with this nagging feeling in my heart that a career in law (and countless other professions that work long hours without advancing any sort of noble cause - some lawyers do perform very noble work, but I am speaking generally here) is, at the end of the day, literally a waste of a huge percentage of your life. You'll never get those hours back. Why not work a less demanding job for "only" 80k at your peak and have every evening and weekend off, never having to miss out on life's important moments? (whatever "important" means to you). But then I look at the cost of living in this country - which is only getting worse year after year - and thin otherwise. Life isn't easy, that is for sure!

Edited by happydude
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18 minutes ago, happydude said:

This hit too close to home. Like most individuals, some days I love my job. Other days I dislike it strongly. Most days are somewhere in between. But on my worse days, I often find myself wrestling with this nagging feeling in my heart that a career in law (and countless other professions that work long hours without advancing any sort of noble cause - some lawyers do perform very noble work, but I am speaking generally here) is, at the end of the day, literally a waste of a huge percentage of your life. You'll never get those hours back. Why not work a less demanding job for "only" 80k at your peak and have every evening and weekend off, never having to miss out on life's important moments? (whatever "important" means to you). But then I look at the cost of living in this country - which is only getting worse year after year - and thin otherwise. Life isn't easy, that is for sure!

You can still waste your life away working an 80k job as well. Seeing your spouse a few hours more per week, watching more netflix, and playing with your kids a bit more might bring you satisfaction. It might only bring you a little bit more. You may still feel like you are wasting your potential. Somewhere deep down you know what you should be doing, and you aren't doing it.

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