Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Long and Winding Road

Our dog, on a post payoff walk
I haven’t updated on my job situation in a while, so I thought I’d put together a little timeline of events, from when I first got out of law to our recent debt freedom.  It’s kind of fun to look back at how far we've come.

Mid 2009:  Gee, this law thing really sucks.  I should find another job.  Shouldn’t take too long since I have a JD, which is truly a versatile degree (it must be true – they told me that at law school orientation)!  (Good grief, I was so na├»ve. I wish I could go back in time and punch myself in the head.)

January 2010:  As a backup plan, I applied to a healthcare program at my local community college a few months prior and was accepted.  I had to complete some prerequisites, though, so I began taking a chemistry course at night.  

March 2010:  Shit, no one wants me because of my JD.  I’m too ‘overqualified’ apparently.  Or maybe they think I’m nuts for leaving such a ‘lucrative’ and ‘prestigious’ field?  If they only knew how not lucrative it is.  I don’t make much more than someone with a BBA, but I have twice the student loan debt.  And there isn’t anything prestigious about answering discovery in a slip and fall case, or arguing a sentence for a DUI when the statutory guidelines dictate the outcome.  Maybe it’s time to take up drinking to get through it.  A lot of attorneys do that, don’t they?

April/May 2010:  Thank God the recruiter at the temp agency took pity on me and got me a job.  It only pays $15 per hour, but maybe I can get a second job at night or something.

July 2010:  Ok, now that my chemistry course is over, I got a second job at night, at a call center.  It’s not that bad, is it?  It’s only $10.50 an hour, but at least I don’t have to talk to anyone and I can read in between calls.  And maybe my supervisor just forgot to wear deodorant today.  I’m sure he normally smells a lot better.  At least I’m catching up on all the books I had piling up on my nightstand.

August 2010:  This officially sucks.  Not only did my first temping gig end abruptly since the company decided to relocate, but now I’ve been placed at a call center during the day – which means I work at a call center literally day and night.  Ugh.

Late August 2010:  I guess it’s pretty obvious how miserable I am.  My husband took it upon himself to look for jobs in another market so we could make a fresh start.  I swear, if we get out of this state, I am never telling anyone about my JD ever again.  I’d rather tell people I was serving prison time for those three years I wasted in law school.  I’d probably have better luck in the job market.

September 2010:  Progress!  We have three weeks to move for my husband’s new job, over 2,000 miles away.  We can do this.  I’m going to start emailing my resume to temp agencies there – this time without advertising my JD on my resume.  Selling my husband’s car before the move was a good idea.  One less expense to worry about once we get to our new city.  And this way, we can drive across the country together.

Late September/early October 2010:  Ah, I can breathe again.  Here, I am not an attorney.  I am someone who used to work in the legal field, but who now has three non-legal positions on her resume, however low level they were.  I need to find something soon, since we have a lot of things to pay for right now.  A mortgage back home, rent on our new place, four student loan payments (two federal, two private – yikes!), a car payment, and living expenses.  Our monthly debt payments alone are $1,200.  Shit.

Early November, 2010:  Ok, so a seasonal retail position is not exactly what I am looking for long-term, but for now, it will cover our debt payments.  It’s only $12 per hour, but at least it gives me until January to find a real job.  (That job was actually kind of fun.  I got a good discount, and my fellow employees were all in the same boat – overqualified and struggling in a stagnant job market)

Late November 2010:  Holy shit, networking paid off!  My aunt’s friend [a therapist] was looking for an assistant, and it actually pays better than my lawyer gig did.  It’s only part-time, but it’s still a good income until I can figure out what I want to do with my life.

January 2011:  Wow, the temp agency out here found me a part-time position in the afternoon, so now I am working full-time between my two jobs, and earning more than I did as an attorney.  Now if only our house back home would sell, that would take some of the financial pressure off.

February 2011:  Our house finally sold!  And we made a small profit off of it, which is lucky in this market.  What in the world are we supposed to do with this money?  Try to pay down a student loan?  Save it?  Spend it?

March 2011:  I sent my husband a link to an article about a couple who paid off a bunch of debt in a short amount of time.  We talk about our finances that night and decide to really take a good look at how much debt we have.         

Husband:  “We owe $146,000?!”
Me:  “Well, now wait a minute, it might be only $145,700.  Let me run the numbers again…”

April 2011:  New job!  I quit my afternoon temp job and took a permanent part-time assistant position, so now I work full-time between my two jobs, and the average of my two wages is $35 per hour.  Much more than I was making as a lawyer.  And I checked out a Dave Ramsey book from the library.  Is it bad to take financial advice from a guy who put his picture on the front of his book?  I guess we'll soon find out.

May 2011:  After the first month on the envelope system, we have saved $2,000 to put toward our car loan.  Not as much as we had hoped, but we had some car emergencies come up.  This was bound to happen, according to other people who’ve been on this plan.  The first month always involves some kind of emergency spending.
Our envelope system, in all its glory
October 2011:  Ok, we have made some good progress.  We now own our car outright.  And one of my small private loans is going to be paid off soon.  But it seems like we always seem to miss our monthly debt snowball goal.  Maybe I should get a night job.  I wonder if you really can make $1200 a month delivering pizzas, like Dave Ramsey is always talking about?  I don’t want to work at another restaurant job, but I don’t have the mental energy to get a job that requires thinking at all.

November 2011:  This new pizza delivery gig is fine, I guess.  The tips are ok, but I doubt this is going to add up to much at the end of the month.  Oh, and I believe I am officially a loser.  That's what my marinara-stained polo says about me anyway.
Some tips were ok...

And some tips were nothing to write home about.  I know it's ok percentage-wise, but $2 in and of itself just isn't a lot of money.

December 2011:  I was wrong about the tips – I made almost $1500 last month in pizza money alone!

January 2012:  Private student loan number one – gone.

It's great getting payoff notices, but not so great knowing that I've enabled my alma mater to give out more loans.  Grrr....
April 2012:  My husband’s company went public.  He’s got some stock coming to him, but the shares haven’t all vested.  Let’s cross our fingers and hope they’re worth something someday.

May 2012:  Private student loan number two – gone.  But I’m burned out from delivering pizzas.  Time to take a break and recoup.

October 2012:  We buckled down and have been sending every extra penny to my husband’s federal student loan.  He had $35,000 total, and for the past six months, we’ve been averaging about $5,000 per month in debt snowball payments.  I want to shoot myself when I think about how much money is going toward our debt.  The amount we’ve paid off in debt could have bought us a small house for cash back home.  What in the world was I thinking when I took out student loans?  I was spending money like a cocaine addict, but didn’t get any of the highs.  FML.

Early November 2012:  Well, we are allowed to sell some company stock, but since all the other employees are doing that, the price is low.  Best not sell right now.  Let’s wait for the next trading window.

November 2012:  Husband’s federal loan is now gone.  We are down to no money again, except our baby emergency fund of $2500.  I know Dave Ramsey advocates $1000 for a starter emergency fund, but dude hasn’t changed that figure since the early 90’s.  A thousand bucks just doesn’t go as far as it used to, so we made up our own rule for that.  We only have $70,000 left to go – my federal student loan.  Oh my lord, we still owe $70,000!  How can that be??  This is never going to end, is it?
Checking my husband's balance online.  Yes, we created the security phrase, "Fuck off" for his account.  I know it's paid off, but the sentiment remains: fuck off, Mohela.
February 2013:  Finally, the stock is at a decent price.  Husband cashed out his vested shares and we have just enough to pay off my federal student loan.  Why do I feel so guilty?  Maybe because we could have done something productive with that money, rather than sending it all to the bank to pay for a degree that I don’t even use?

March 2013:  We sent the payoff to the bank, and since it was my husband’s birthday, I went out to get a cake to celebrate.  On the way back from the grocery store, I sat at a red light and sobbed uncontrollably.  Guilt?  Relief?  Grief about the time I wasted on a legal career?  Maybe all of the above.
We'd named my federal student loan "Big Bertha," so one half of the cake reads, "R.I.P. Bertha" and the other half reads, "Happy Birthday" to my husband.  Bertha will not be missed. 
Today:  My student loan payoff posted yesterday, and the check cleared today.  We now have $100 in our checking account.  But for some reason, I feel like a million bucks.
My new student loan balance - $0.  I'm not sure why all the people on the website are smiling about non-bankruptable debt. 
Oh, and I have decided not to go back to school.  I don't think higher education is where it's at, and to be honest, I still have no idea what I want to be when I grow up.  I need to think about that for a little while before jumping into something again, hoping it will lead me to an identity and a respectable job.  It's funny, I applied to a healthcare program as a backup plan because everyone kept saying that healthcare is the only field where there is real job security and endless demand.  Then I came across this article a few weeks ago:  

I don't think it'll be long before we see a whole new group of scam bloggers crop up - this time, it will be disgruntled nurses instead of JD's  

It might be a welcome change.


  1. Amazing story, and love the security phrase!

  2. A great story. I wonder if the stock that was sold will continue to go up or not.

    I listen to Dave Ramsey on the radio in the afternoons. He seems pretty popular.

    Things might have been very different for me had my ex wanted to help me with my SL debt. But it would have been a great sacrifice on her part and I didn't want to burden her either.

    I brought my SL debt into the marriage and she wanted nothing to do with it and was very afraid of it. She would wake up at 3AM and want to talk about it. She had a pretty good amount in assets too and made sure to keep everything in her name.

    But there is a way - only one way - out, as you have demonstrated. To pay it all off, somehow and some way, and with all interest.

    The fairness or unfairness of compounded interest is moot I guess when personal financial freedom is at stake.

    May you both prosper in the years to come.

    1. I'm sure the stock will fluctuate over the years. The good news is that he still has some options that are vesting. He has a 4 year vesting schedule, so he gets a small chunk every quarter. His biggest chunk was the initial grant, half of which we were allowed to cash in. He made me promise not to look back on the stock decision. It's done, and now we're going to think about the future. I hope I'm able to keep that promise.

      I've been listening to Dave Ramsey for two years now and it has been so motivating! Honestly, I don't think it matters which personal finance guru one chooses to listen to, as long as the guru is motivating. Dave Ramsey happens to be a hard ass when it comes to debt, which is exactly what we needed. He's sort of like the trainer who tells you you're fat. I respond productively to that kind of abuse, what can I say? :)

      That sucks that your ex didn't want to work with you on the debt. I can understand being hesitant if you haven't been with someone that long, but once you're married and in it for the long haul, I can't imagine keeping finances completely separate.

      I think it's dreadful how penalties and late fees can double and triple the principal on student loans. There are people out there who are hundreds of thousands in student loan debt and they're never going to get out unless some sort of reasonable arrangement can be reached. What I would like to see is bankruptcy protections restored for present borrowers, and then federal student loan funding should stop. No one should go into debt for higher education. If schools didn't get to feed at the public trough anymore (in the form of guaranteed student loan money), then maybe tuition rates would go back down to a reasonable level.

      Thank you so much for the well wishes!! :)

  3. I just found your blog and I love it! I'm starting the same journey and I'm terrified -- I walked away from my attorney job a few months ago and am now facing $130k in debt... and have no idea what I want to do with my life. What type of position are you working now?

    Thanks for chronicling your experiences. Makes for great 3am reading when I wake up in sweating terror over my situation!


    1. Thanks for reading, Mary! I can relate to the fear you're experiencing right now, but don't worry - you will get through it. It is scary to walk away from a lawyer gig, but plenty of people have done it and lived to tell the tale. What are you doing for work right now? Have you been able to keep up with your SL payments? Are you married? It can be really helpful to have a supportive spouse in your corner. I recall so many nights waking up and reading articles about debt and law jobs, and the dismal job market, etc. The anxiety is tough, but once you get back into a groove and a routine, and your finances are under control, you'll feel just fine.

      Currently, I still have my part-time assistant position in the morning (I love my co-workers there, so I'm probably not leaving anytime soon), and in the afternoon I work at a biotech company in purchasing. It's a start-up, so that's why it's currently part-time. I've discovered that I really like splitting up my days, and I like getting to leave work at work, so I can come home and be creative. Amazingly, the money has been better than lawyer money, I think because the legal market is comprised of so many small and medium firms that pay peanuts. Do you know what kind of career you want now? Email me if you want to chat!

  4. I think you should go back for an LLM. You'd make all that money and stuff, 'specially if you got one in International Law or Comparative Legal Systems... it's only 24 credit hours. That's what I'm thinking.

    1. Ha! I see you have a sense of humor. :) Yes, "international law" or maybe even "entertainment law." The LLM is definitely a great investment. Right up there with the Iraqi Dinar and time shares.

    2. I'm here to help. That's what I do. Help. So let's just get to it -- and romanticize the era of... "law school debt sex". [cue Barry White] I’ve been really trying now baby... Trying to fill those envelopes for so long... And if you feel like I feel... Come on. Let’s get it on. Let’s get it on...

    3. Oohhh, can I play too?

      "I've heard people say that
      Too much of anything is not good for you, baby
      Oh no
      But I don't know about that
      There's many times that we've charged
      We've made debt and shared debt
      It doesn't seem to me like it's enough
      There's just not enough of it
      There's just not enough
      Oh oh, babe

      My darling, I can't get enough of your debt babe
      Girl, I don't know, I don't know why
      Can't get enough of your debt babe
      Oh, some things I can't get used to
      No matter how I try
      It’s like the more we pay, the more they want
      And baby, that's no lie
      Oh no, babe

      Tell me, what can I say?
      What am I gonna do?
      How should I feel when everything is due?
      What kind of debt is this that you're givin' me?
      Is it in your name or marital property?

      Girl, all I know is every time you're here
      I’m rollin’ change
      Money moves
      I scream Great Lakes
      Look what you got me doin’

      Darling, I can't get enough of your debt babe
      Girl, I don't know, I don't know, I don't know why
      I can't get enough of your debt babe
      Oh no, babe

      Girl, if I could only make you see
      And make you understand
      Girl, your original note is all I need
      And more than I can stand
      Oh well, babe

      How can I explain all the things I feel?
      We’ve given them so much
      The balance is so unreal
      Still we keep payin’ them
      More and more each time
      Girl, what am I gonna do
      We no longer have a dime

      I get the same old feelin' every time you're here
      I’m rollin’ change
      Money moves
      I scream Great Lakes
      Look what you got me doin’

      Darling, I can't get enough of your debt babe
      Oh no, babe

      Baby, it may take all my dough to free you
      But you can believe it's gonna take
      the rest of my life to keep you

      Oh no, babe
      My darling, I can't get enough of your debt babe
      Yeah, I don't know, I don't know, I don't know why
      Can't get enough of your debt babe
      Oh my darling, I can't get enough of your debt babe
      Oh babe
      I don't know, I don't know, I don't know why
      I can't get enough of your debt babe
      Oh babe"

    4. I'm thinking there's an HBO Series in your future. You need to screen-play your life. (Do you get cable now that you're off Law School Debt Watch?) "Game of Consolidations"...

    5. On serious note, thanks for writing. And Congratulations. It's huge. Here's the thing -- you paid off $146,000 of debt in three years. That is effing awesome. (Nando, keep truckin. Appreciate the writing too.) Nobody, not even the Fed Gov't, can retire debt like that. Dropping one fordy six large is like, well, look at you, you're king of the world, on a boat like Leo, YOU'RE ON A BOAT.

    6. Omg, I just saw this! I AM on a boat!! I got my flippy floppies... (in my mind anyway) Thanks for this. Made my night.

  5. Thanks Recovering Lawyer! This is the post that I have been looking for - a detailed, step-by-step account on how you extricated yourself from a miserable legal career.

    1. Thanks for reading! I hope it's helpful, but if you want any more details, feel free to email me.

    2. You already gave me great advice in private. You sent me an email about the temp agencies that placed you in your first non-legal jobs.

  6. Great story so far. I hope that you will continue to post on this blog. You have a great writing style. I am making large payments on my student loans too, but not to that extent. Recently, William Ford sold my federal loan to another company. Apparently, they figured out that I was on pace to pay them off in 1-2 years. (My next payment with them was not due until May 2015.)

    You went through hell to pay these bastards off. The fact remains that the typical 18 year old has NO IDEA about how student debt WILL impact his or her life. Now, as a 33 year old man, I get pissed when I realize how my student debt affects my ability to provide better for my son. I love the security phrase.

    1. Thanks so much for reading, Nando. I will keep blogging. I've even thought of some things I can do to be more proactive in warning people about student loan debt and law school. Hopefully I'll be able to start within the next week or so.

      I hate that student loan companies can sell loans whenever they feel like it. My husband's got sold from Direct Loans to Mohela a few months before we paid them off, and it took weeks for them to post the last two payments of his that we made before the loan was sold. I finally had to email them threatening legal action before they fixed things. That's why we ended up paying them off in one lump sum. I know we paid more in interest that way, but we were afraid they would take our large payments and creatively apply them to principal and interest. I'm so happy you're almost done paying them! Hang in there - it will feel like a long time considering the sacrifices that will have to be made, but you'll feel so good once they're out of your life.

      It's true, young people have no idea what kind of impact these loans can have, especially on buying a house and having kids. Young women in particular don't realize that when they're in their late twenties and early thirties, many of them will start wanting kids, and if they've got outstanding student loan debt, it's hard to justify taking a break from the work force. Many of my friends wanted to stay home with their kids, but they went back solely because of outstanding debt. It just isn't worth it.

  7. I also got out of the legal profession recently, and am very glad to see that you are happy with your decision. I now work as a data analyst at a Fortune 100 company, and love every second of it. My current job was actually obtained through my law school's Career Services office, so in the end, they did help me get a great job.

    The days of reminding drunk and/or high clients to show up for court, urging slimeballs to not go through with their various scams and flimflams, and dealing with unethical opposing counsel are over for good.

    1. I am so happy for you and thanks for reading! I still have nightmares where I'm sitting at the defense table, helping a client fill out a plea form. It'll probably be a while before those dreams stop for good. Sounds like you made a great transition into the business side of things. Impressive career services office! I heard my school's wasn't quite as helpful, like so many others out there. Again, thanks for reading!

  8. I'm still in the legal profession but thinking about leaving soon. I've accumulated about 2 1/2 years experience since graduating in 2010. Tried big law (+100 lawyers), medium law (20 lawyers) and now small law (3 lawyers in total).

    Big law hours sucked really bad, though salary and perks were good. Helped me build emergency fund and debts. Medium law ok. Small law, more relaxed atmosphere, but under the control of one boss who micromanages everything.

    I've paid off all of the student loans as well. Have a nice 6-9 month emergency fund and investments that pay me dividends. I'm now in a financial position whereby I can transition into something else. I have no freaking idea what else I will do.

    Enjoyed your blog. Very refreshing to read.

    1. Thanks so much for reading! It sounds like you've done everything right. Not a lot of recent grads can say they've got no debts and a healthy emergency fund built up.

      The unfortunate part about law is that most practices, big or small, are all the same in that they all involve billing clients for unpleasant work. It eventually takes a toll on most. There are some who are born to practice, but I think they're a rare breed.

      If you're still wondering what you should be doing, there are a few good books out there to read: 48 Days to the Work You Love by Dan Miller, and Crush It by Gary Vaynerchuk have both been recommended to me by ex-lawyers. I read the 48 Days book and found one key piece of advice helpful - if you're wondering what your true passion is, it's probably something you've already done and loved, although you might not have done it for money. I still have to read Crush It.

      Good luck to you and again, thank you so much for reading!

  9. Thanks for this blog. I am taking the same plunge in two weeks. I have a non-law job lined up. 10 years of practice and I am done!!!!! I have been trying to "get out" since about mid-2L. I am nervous and excited. I don't know what to tell certain family...but hell, who cares!

  10. wow, awesome article post.Thanks Again. Really Great.
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  11. Wow! As someone with a JD from Canada... this is inspiring.
    I'm also thinking of switching out - for me, law = stress, pain and a salary that isn't high enough to repay law school loans.

    I wish I had seen this when I was in law school at the University of Toronto and thinking of getting out!