Let’s Talk About Money

Hi MOE Readers,

I wrote the following before Christmas but have been too chicken to post it. This article in the NYT gave me the courage I needed.

Here’s why I know my salary over the course of my career has not been commeserate with what I “should” be making as an attorney: my husband’s salary. My salary has never measured up to his, and he only has a bachelor’s degree.

Do all my laments below have to do with the gender gap? No. A lot have to do with personal choices and the decision to be a solo practitioner. Do I begrudge my husband his large salary and the fact that he probably works 75% of the hours I do? No, because I am a beneficiary, and I am grateful. But is it frustrating to watch? You betcha!

Anyway, without further ado, here is what I wrote about three weeks ago:

Law-Mom: I recently posted this post about a comic on our Facebook page. Reading the article and comic actually made me a little emotional. For the past almost 8 months, I have been working two jobs, working 70 to 80 hours per week. I am exhausted and know I work as hard as I possibly can. If I don’t meet my salary goals in the next year, I don’t even know how I will feel then. But it won’t be good.

The article got me thinking about my own salary and my own feelings surrounding this wage gap topic. My own “motherload wage penalty” may or may not be related to the gender wage gap. I admittedly started out my career in a small, underpaying firm. Partly because, I very wrongly assumed, I wanted to be a SAHM. That did not help me. I also took about 5 years “off” to be mostly home with my children. During that time, I kept my foot in the door while I worked on a part-time basis. Hence, there may or may not be a mother-penalty aspect to my wage history.

Regardless, I’ve been wanting to blog a long time about the misperceptions about lawyers and their salaries. Yes, there are many well-to-do lawyers. But, not all lawyers are making six-figure salaries. In fact, some might be struggling to get by.

Lawyers can only ever be as wealthy as their clients. We put in a lot of free, or underpaid, labor — especially plaintiff’s lawyers. Defense lawyers (for insurance companies) don’t fair a lot better.

If I were to add up the number of free labor hours I’ve put in over the course of my career (some intentionally pro bono, but more not) I am fairly certain it would add up to at least a year’s worth of salary. If not more. Think about that. Imagine working for an entire year — while paying for childcare — and not receiving a dime in return.

Now, if I was bringing in a proper salary for a lawyer, you and I would both say those are my pro bono hours that I am giving back. But in my case, I have never brought in a proper salary. I got close(ish) in 2015 and 2016. But back then, I was also paying $2,000/month for childcare, so it was unrealized income.**

My salary has always hovered closer to what a teacher makes. I know this, partly because I have a friend who is a teacher, and one time we confided to each other about our salaries. And I think she really felt badly for me, because at least she gets her summers off. For a long while, I couldn’t even afford cleaning help, a luxury (necessity) for most working parents.

I really don’t like talking about this, because it is embarrassing and feels shameful. Also, it’s generally considered socially unacceptable to talk about money.

I take some solace in the fact that I don’t think it is just me–as an attorney, that is. (I have data points.) Regardless, I think there is a huge public misperception about what the average lawyer makes because of all the extremely wealthy lawyers for large corporate firms out there. And because nobody wants to admit to being a schlub. But being a solo practitioner, or working for a smaller firm, is kind of like being a small town doctor and having to do a lot of work for free (or steeply discounted), because again, you can only ever be as wealthy as your clients/patients. I am glad to help people. I really am. But I should, at some point, be fairly compensated for my long hours and time away from my children. I should also get some time off. And maybe get to do something fun once in a while, rather than just housework.

I am grateful for everything I have. I am grateful for my degree. I am grateful for my education. And I am grateful for gainful employment. But I am truly tired of putting in free (or underpaid) hours of labor that are not with my family. Nonetheless, I remain hopeful that this coming year, I finally get paid like a man!

Thanks for listening. Happy Holidays! Go Mamas, Go!


(Law-Mom emailed me a draft of this post, and this was my response below. Yes, it was just me launching into my own complaints, LOL, but I would also like to add that it must be really annoying to have everyone assume that you’re raking in tons of cash. And, I have a newfound sympathy with how hard it is to get in 40 hours of billable work per week. I actually have to bill hours at my current job, although it’s probably still much easier than being an attorney because I do have a certain percentage of time that I can bill to overhead.)

I’m exhausted also!! There has been an “emergency” situation at work the past week (I’m saying that in quotes since obviously it’s not a life/death emergency, but you know how it is at work.) So, I’ve had work travel that was already scheduled PLUS trying to deal with this work emergency – I literally didn’t even have time to eat lunch until 3pm yesterday because I was in non-stop meetings, etc. And then I’m supposed to somehow have gifts for the kids’ teachers and yadda yadda!  AND on top of all that, the kids’ afterschool care program has been flaking out, so NOW I have to try and see if I can get them into another program in the middle of the year (HA), or I will be spending God knows how much on a nanny for the rest of the year!! 

I feel badly that I complain so much… HOWEVER, that comic just absolutes sums it up. Men have never (with the exception of a few single dads, etc.) had to deal with this crap!! ARGH.

Law-Mom: You know you can complain to me. Haha.

Regarding not eating til 3pm: The only good that has come from the most workaholic year of my life is that I have lost 16 pounds. Almost without trying. It’s the first time I’ve ever been able to say, “I just didn’t have time to eat.”

**Don’t get me started on this topic. I’m fairly certain I’ve blogged about why childcare should be considered a business expense for sole proprietors.

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