- welcome to “Salary Journeys”, a series about what people have earned in their careers.
- In this trip, a lawyer tells how he tripled his salary in seven years.
- As he became a safety lawyer, he says he changed the way he thinks about money and work.
I am a 36 year old white man who decided to become a lawyer for one reason: I wanted to make money.
Every time I said that in law school, my classmates seemed surprised. Are you supposed to admit it out loud? But I wanted to be transparent: I’m not here for fun or altruistic reasons. I want to have a stable job that allows me to support my family.
Today, I live out west and work as a corporate lawyer for an environmental law firm, earning $154,000 all-in. I am proud to say that I have doubled my income every three years since the start of my career.
On a daily basis, I make transactions related to carbon credits and forest management projects. I am well placed. My work is interesting, I earn a good living and I finally feel that my efforts are appreciated.
I graduated from law school in 2015 with $160,000 in student loan debt. According to the American Bar Association, that’s about $50,000 more than the average law school graduate.
The thing about law school is that it taught me to analyze and think and make arguments – great and all, but I didn’t learn business acumen. I learned nothing about company compensation structures, how company equity works, or how to negotiate my salary. I wish I had known more about this stuff before I started my career.
Yet, if I’m being honest, I’ve come to realize that while my salary is important to me, my value is greater than the money I earn. I want to feel valued.
Here is my salary journey over the past seven years.
Editor’s note: Insider has verified the source’s salary and identity with documents for his current or most recent work.
Partner, small town law firm, $45,000
I graduated from law school with the grand vision of earning six figures and paying off my student loan debt as fast as a bullet train. But outside of big cities, these types of high-paying jobs are rare for new graduates.
I took the best job I could find at a boutique law firm, where I was offered a starting salary of $45,000 a year. It was less than what I had paid in tuition for a year in law school. The associate who hired me told me, “If you work hard, you can double your salary with a bonus.
I’m a scammer, so I was determined to do just that. But I realized that the firm was not favorable to partners. I was handed over to low cost customers or non-paying customers, so my bonuses were minimal.
My wife had just had a baby and we were hoping to have more children, but we weren’t going to be able to afford it with the money I was earning. I started looking for moonlighting jobs on LinkedIn to make ends meet – and that’s when I learned I was making less than the janitor at the hospital across the street.
When I said that to a partner at the firm, he didn’t even flinch. “There are plenty of other lawyers who would love to take your place,” he said.
I knew then that I had to make a move. I started a new job search and set myself the ambitious goal of doubling my salary every two or three years.
Partner, insurance defense firm, $77,000
In 2017 we moved to a bigger city and had another child, and I got a job at a bigger company doing similar work. My salary has increased significantly, so I felt like I had some momentum.
But it didn’t take me long to realize there was a salary cap at that second company. I decided that I wasn’t going to waste my time hoping that the firm’s partners would change their approach to compensation. After a year there, I started looking for another job.
Lawyer, small business litigation firm, $100,000
In my new business, I got a big bump up to $100,000 a year. I had managed to more than double my salary from 2015 to 2018, and I was proud of myself. My wife and I went to a nice dinner to celebrate. We were thinking of riding in it.
I was also doing more sophisticated work: high-value commercial litigation with cases worth at least $5 million.
But I was unhappy. I was working 15 hours a day, and that still wasn’t enough to please the associates. I remember my boss once telling me, “It’s pretty lonely here at the office on Sundays.” I don’t work on Sundays because of my religion, which I specified in my interview. I still felt guilty.
I felt like I had to hold on. But fate intervened: the company collapsed in 2019. I was again looking for a new job.
In-house counsel, environmental contracting firm, $140,000, plus a bonus of $14,000
I started at my current company a few years ago with a salary of $105,000. It discouraged me from doubling my salary, but I thought it was worth the risk to create more family time.
In-house legal counsel jobs are highly sought after in the legal profession. They pay pretty well, allow for more flexibility, and provide the opportunity to do some really cool work.
The culture and atmosphere here is life changing. Most people finish their working days at 5 a.m. My boss treats me well. And my co-workers are interested in me, getting to know my wife’s name, and asking about my kids’ T-ball team.
Last year another company tried to poach me, but my organization offered me a big raise to stay. I now make $140,000 a year with guaranteed 10% bonuses, so $154,000 all in.
Recently, I received another big windfall: a $250,000 bonus due to my work helping my company merge with a competitor. When my boss told me the news, I almost cried. He said, “We appreciate your hard work.