In the last post, I mentioned mental barriers to leaving the law. Today, I will address one of the biggest barriers: golden handcuffs. If you’re a big firm associate, then you are quite familiar with golden handcuffs. For those of you not aware, the term “golden handcuffs” refers to the inability to leave a bad situation because of an attachment to material wealth. The irony is that what you possess is the very thing that traps you, when it should actually do the opposite — liberate you.
Money can have quite an effect on one’s self-perception. When I first realized I was going to be making $160K/yr., I got really excited. This was more money than I’d ever dreamed of making. Soon this fed into my ego, pumping it up. I was as important as someone who makes $160K/yr., who is pretty damned important because $160k/yr. is a lot of money. But, the corruption of my identity is a topic for another post.
Even a year into practicing law, I had adjusted to the salary. I could eat at nice restaurants on a weekly basis. I could afford rent in a nice part of town. I could buy expensive gadgets without checking the price tag. All while accumulating a nice chunk of change in my bank account.
The mere thought of not having that salary was paralyzing. That meant I wouldn’t be able to live as comfortably. I’d have to worry about money like everyone else. What if my salary went down to $60K/yr.? Well, then all of my savings would be eliminated for starters. Could I buy a house? Would I be able to send my kids to college? Why even get on that path, when I could just keep working hard and earn my lavish salary.
My dad always told me when I was growing up that there is no free lunch. This is another example. Big law firms only boast high salaries because they want something in exchange: your soul. I’m not being melodramatic. You can give your best and brightest years to a law firm just so you can enjoy a few of the finer things in life. This is the devil’s deal. Is it worth it?