The Key to the Golden Handcuffs

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?

4 thoughts on “The Key to the Golden Handcuffs

  1. Pingback: Dollars and Cents « Thoughts of an Anonymous Lawyer

  2. Great post. I’m a fresh college graduate with a degree in Design, and will be going back to college in January to enter law…for the golden handcuffs.

    I believe you and I are walking into each other’s shoes.

  3. Pingback: Crossing the Economic Divide « Thoughts of an Anonymous Lawyer

  4. Right on. Another big part of the ‘golden handcuffs’ idea is the “Well, I’m smart enough to become an X (doctor/lawyer/banker), so I have to do that while saving the world.”

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