Celebrating 10 years! 2007-2017

Thinking about private practice.

I currently work for the government and its an easy job. I h cocolawyer02/28/18
Go for it! Even if you only bring in 1/3 of that...its prob cheapbrass02/28/18
That is the way to do it. You would never be happy working m khazaddum02/28/18
EMOTIONAL ANSWER Huh? You spent years on this board passportfan302/28/18
Well for the year prior but noted. I hate Family Law with a cocolawyer03/01/18
Is there a way to get binding letters of commitment for a la sillydood02/28/18
I surely wouldn't go about projecting $500,000 a year in rev jeffm02/28/18
No my overhead to start with would probably be minimal. I wo cocolawyer03/01/18
Sounds like a plan. Hope you can keep your overhead low to jeffm03/01/18
you need to accept the general crappiness of your life, go t defensivelawyer02/28/18
His Cal pension is community property... no reason for him t khazaddum02/28/18
Trust me the Pension is one of the things I am considering t cocolawyer03/02/18
If there is a way to search your old posts you should. You h thirdtierlaw02/28/18
Oh no I HATE FAMILY LAW!! It was stressful, shi**y, and the cocolawyer03/01/18
As someone who worked as an associate and now solo, I can fi greenhorn02/28/18
I get paid well for what it is. The work is easy. It just do cocolawyer03/01/18
Coco, how do you plan to get so many wealthy clients in the guyingorillasuit02/28/18
There are plenty of wealthy clients in the Sacramento area. cocolawyer03/01/18
Desperate times do not call for desperate measures defensivelawyer02/28/18
Hey I get it. I would give the same advice. Cushy 6 figure g cocolawyer03/01/18
"So basically I have to know I will accumulate at least 20k jeffm03/01/18
I don’t recommend going solo for many people, but I think greenhorn03/01/18
Everything greenhorn said. Also, it seems like op would not uknownvalue03/01/18
Good plan. And if it doesn’t meet your expectations you c justdoingok03/01/18
I may have seen you at the CFLS exam. Did you take the one i guyingorillasuit03/01/18
Yep in oakland. A lot of the questions are scenarios I had d cocolawyer03/02/18
Over the years many have taken the solo route, with varying nighthawk03/02/18
What percentage of family law attorneys allow clients to owe dakotalaw03/02/18
It depends. Young or desperate attorneys take what they can. cocolawyer03/02/18
I do not really have an exit strategy. That's an important p cocolawyer03/02/18
Keep the government job. Partner had one years ago, fed and boomeresq03/04/18
Yeah I see that as a possiblity. Courts are discouraging tri cocolawyer03/04/18
Keep overhead low, make sure your wife understands the first isthisit03/04/18
OP you have a history of being undersatisfied, it is fair to themapmaster03/04/18
That's fair. I generally hate the law. Its full of miserable cocolawyer03/05/18
Have you ever worked in anything not family law oriented? It downwardslope03/05/18
I have not, but honestly I am now at the 5 year mark. It's l cocolawyer03/05/18
You can change in government. I worked with people who did i downwardslope03/05/18
Disagree. It's hard but it's not impossible. At six years pauperesq03/05/18
Well taking a paycut of 10 percent...sure. Taking a 25 perce cocolawyer03/05/18
If you stay in government, you should be able to stay at a s downwardslope03/05/18
After factoring retirement benefits and any other benefits y jeffm03/05/18
Well with factoring the pension withholding it is actually a cocolawyer03/05/18
"Its full of miserable people that add very little value to jeffm03/05/18
The old grass is always greener approach. Well again you cocolawyer03/05/18
You've mentioned before that you have some issues in your ma anothernjlawyer03/05/18

cocolawyer (Feb 28, 2018 - 4:08 pm)

I currently work for the government and its an easy job. I hated contested family law cases when I was in practice but I was fairly good. I still get a lot of referrals that I simply turn away, from million dollar clients.

The only reason I am considering this is that I think if I started off I could start right away with 15 new clients the first month, each paying 10k retainers. I used to bring in close to a million dollars of billing at my firm prior. I believe as a solo I could have the ability to bring in 500k, and keep expenses under 100k.

Would any of you make that change?

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cheapbrass (Feb 28, 2018 - 4:47 pm)

Go for it! Even if you only bring in 1/3 of that...its probably comparable to your govt. salary. As long as there is a good possiblity that your net is approximately equal to your govt salary, you should do it. nothing ventured, nothing gained.

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khazaddum (Feb 28, 2018 - 4:19 pm)

That is the way to do it. You would never be happy working millionaire clients as an associate or “partner” in a small firm dominated by legacy partners. Working for the government will never make you happy if career and income progression is important to you.

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passportfan3 (Feb 28, 2018 - 4:41 pm)

EMOTIONAL ANSWER


Huh?

You spent years on this board posting about how much you hated private family law.

Then, after several rounds of applications, you landed a sweet government gig.

Now, you want to throw it away and become a solo -- the most stressful existence known to JD-kind -- because you "might" be able to land a bevy of rich clients and the math works out on the back of an envelope.

Have you lost your mind?


CALMER ANSWER

I have seen lots of people transition to solo based on promises of future business.

Maybe 20% of those promises result in paying clients. More like 10%.

As soon as you hang out a shingle and start demanding retainers, the number of people interested in your services plummets.

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cocolawyer (Mar 1, 2018 - 12:52 pm)

Well for the year prior but noted. I hate Family Law with a passion. Unfortunatly I am good at it, and only in a year of practice in the area am one of the more favorably reveiwed in the area.

It all comes down to income. I want to retire at 60. I want to retire with no SLD, and no mortgage etc.

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sillydood (Feb 28, 2018 - 5:19 pm)

Is there a way to get binding letters of commitment for a law practice?

Like “Cocolawyer will make reasonable best efforts to obtain letters of commitment totaling $150k or more for a future law practice, Cocolawyer P.C. If cocolawyer forms Cocolawyer, P.C. by June 30, 2018, the undersigned hereby commits to providing $10,000 as a retainer for future services.” Of course it’s still a retainer and you have to pay it back like any other retainer if you don’t perform legal work, but it’d be cool to have some assurance before you take the leap.

OR you could get retainers, but stipulate they’re only effective if you get othe retainers totaling $150k by June 30, 2018, and no services will be rendered before that date. If you fail to collect that amount, just give the retainers back.

This has gotta violate ethics rules but just wondering...

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jeffm (Feb 28, 2018 - 5:51 pm)

I surely wouldn't go about projecting $500,000 a year in revenues before you've even gone solo. That's "possible" but mighty ambitious. So, here's your "real" dilemma: Are you going to go into $100,000 overhead to start out?

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cocolawyer (Mar 1, 2018 - 12:56 pm)

No my overhead to start with would probably be minimal. I would likely rent a small space with a shared receptionist and no employees. After a year move to a larger space with a receptionist, etc.

I would expect to gross about 180k the first year and move to around 250 the second. After that I would probably top at like 400k and then maybe...maybe...hire a newbe attorney for dirt cheap to do all the grunt crap I didn't want to do; i.e disclosures, status conferences, non-complex custody hearings in recommending counties.

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jeffm (Mar 1, 2018 - 6:33 pm)

Sounds like a plan. Hope you can keep your overhead low to give yourself a fair chance. Good luck!

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defensivelawyer (Feb 28, 2018 - 6:46 pm)

you need to accept the general crappiness of your life, go to your govt work, cut your expenses, and live your simple crappy life. ther eis no way out.

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khazaddum (Feb 28, 2018 - 6:57 pm)

His Cal pension is community property... no reason for him to stay for that. Better to try running his own show and say he tried. He is having a “Once in a Lifetime” Talking Heads moment.

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cocolawyer (Mar 2, 2018 - 5:39 pm)

Trust me the Pension is one of the things I am considering to "NOT" go. That will be a guaranteed 60k per year at retirement...meaning I will only need an additional 20-30k a year through social security and TSP/IRA retirement plans. That is considerable.

But in the meantime, I will be forced to downsize my house, downsize my life, and will be paying IBR SLD forever. Not sure that is something I really want to do.

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thirdtierlaw (Feb 28, 2018 - 6:58 pm)

If there is a way to search your old posts you should. You hated private practice, now you want all those negatives plus the stress of running your own shop?

You are being absurd. All your complaints of private practice had zero to do with you being an associate, it was 100% the practice itself. Stick to your job where you'll never get fired and retire with a nice pension. If you've got a kid at home, enjoy the perks of the government hours with him.

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cocolawyer (Mar 1, 2018 - 12:59 pm)

Oh no I HATE FAMILY LAW!! It was stressful, shi**y, and the hours sucked. I didn't make enough to compensate for my misery. That being said I brought in around 70k per month and got paid around 14k...so a small piece of the pie I worked. The pay for the government pay to that ...no question government is way better.

That being said I have some ambition to retire at 60, with at least 3 million dollars, no debt, so I can travel the world. I will not have that with my government job. I will have a pension, a mortgage, and very little in savings.

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greenhorn (Feb 28, 2018 - 7:34 pm)

As someone who worked as an associate and now solo, I can firmly say that dealing all the crap associated with law practice is FAR more palatable when you’re your own boss. The only rationale to this is my theory that at least I feel like I’m in control.

Government employment is great, but only in certain cases. I’ve worked as a consultant and I’ve seen how government employees are treated and it’s not all that great. I believe it depends on the agency, of course but I’ve seen government attorneys work private practice hours, deal with burocracy and a rigid crap flows downhill command structure for mediocre pay.

If Coco bills at $300/hr and manages to bill and collect 20hrs/week the figures make sense.

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cocolawyer (Mar 1, 2018 - 12:50 pm)

I get paid well for what it is. The work is easy. It just doesn't pay enough to do what I want to do in life.

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guyingorillasuit (Feb 28, 2018 - 8:19 pm)

Coco, how do you plan to get so many wealthy clients in the Sacramento area?

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cocolawyer (Mar 1, 2018 - 12:49 pm)

There are plenty of wealthy clients in the Sacramento area. Granite Bay, Rocklin, Folsom, El Dorado Hills are filled with millionaires and individuals making over 300k per year. In private practice in Sacramento my majority of clients were from these areas.

Yes its easier to get them in the bay area, because outside the Antioch, Pittsburg, Concord areas, if you own a home you probably have a good income. That doesn't mean that it is not plentiful out here. There is also less attorneys in the Sacramento area...which makes competition depressed.

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defensivelawyer (Feb 28, 2018 - 8:21 pm)

Desperate times do not call for desperate measures

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cocolawyer (Mar 1, 2018 - 7:37 pm)

Hey I get it. I would give the same advice. Cushy 6 figure govt. position with pension. Why would you want to risk it for private practice.

I get it. The malpractice insurance (because I generally handled higher end cases) would be a lot. My healthcare plan would be about 1200 per month. Overhead in a decent place in the Roseville, or Granite Bay area (go where the money is yo)is about 1500 for a small small place with a shared receptionist. Basic advertising such as Avvo, Yelp (you know the cheap crap) would be like 400 per month. Lexis or Westlaw subscription...

So yeah the monthly overhead to start is going to be like $3500.00 per month. To make this a better situation then I have now I need to make substantively more because the work is simple. I would need to bring in 20k per month of billed work to make it worth while for me. My hourly rate is around $350.00 (well I could go probably higher I can almost guarantee I passed the specialist exam). That equates to 57 positive hours per month or 13.6 hours per week or 2.72 hours per day.

The question is clients. You need like 5-10 big dawg clients and everyone else will be in and out crap. The idea of billing 5k a month on each one is not realistic. The idea of averaging between them like 2k per month for each is. I do not believe GIGS is realistic in each month his 4 conflicted cases give him 5k a month. There may be months where it is as high as 15k and months that client has jack crap. From my experience that is not how this works. Well unless its a Hague case ...those cases tend to rack up good billables.

So basically I have to know I will accumulate at least 20k per month of incoming business to make the change...that is my big question mark. I will not do it if I am not doing at least that or its not worth it.

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jeffm (Mar 1, 2018 - 7:59 pm)

"So basically I have to know I will accumulate at least 20k per month of incoming business to make the change...that is my big question mark."

That's a hell of a great starting income for a guy starting out as a fresh solo. I never saw anyone do it. That's not to say it can't be done.

I've seen many solos start out eking out $40-50k, moving steadily up over time to some lofty amounts. I've just never seen anyone hang a shingle and gross $250k their first year (** except for some real lucky ones who got their hands on an amazing contingent fee case).

Good luck! If you do it and succeed, you'll have to write a book and tell us how you did it!

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greenhorn (Mar 1, 2018 - 5:15 pm)

I don’t recommend going solo for many people, but I think Coco can do it.

That being said, you need to figure out the numbers. What will your health insurance run for a family plan ? How will you save for retirement (right now you have a pension) ?

I’m sure Coco can find paying clients. It’s just a question of how many.

Believe me, dealing with nonsense while working for someone else, is a far and distant cry from dealing with the nonsense but working for yourself.

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uknownvalue (Mar 1, 2018 - 7:13 pm)

Everything greenhorn said. Also, it seems like op would not have difficulty getting another job if the solo thing doesn't work out. If op has a spouse who can cover basic living expenses (mortgage, health insurance etc etc ) then I'd say go for it.

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justdoingok (Mar 1, 2018 - 8:34 pm)

Good plan. And if it doesn’t meet your expectations you can find another solo to partner with. Good luck!

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guyingorillasuit (Mar 1, 2018 - 11:13 pm)

I may have seen you at the CFLS exam. Did you take the one in Oakland on October 24th?

Unlike you, I am pretty sure I failed. I did not study nearly enough, and did not have the caselaw to put down in response to the questions.

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cocolawyer (Mar 2, 2018 - 8:56 am)

Yep in oakland. A lot of the questions are scenarios I had dealt with in the past which made it easier.

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nighthawk (Mar 2, 2018 - 10:36 am)

Over the years many have taken the solo route, with varying degrees of success. Here are the issues I would consider:

1. clients: what makes you think that you can bring in high-end clients regularly? Family law is notorious that it is difficult to collect from clients. You can start with 15 clients, how many are going to pay you?

2. exit strategy: what if it does not work out? You need a strategy.

If you think it could work then go for it.

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dakotalaw (Mar 2, 2018 - 4:02 pm)

What percentage of family law attorneys allow clients to owe them money?

Is it ok to go in the red for rich clients?

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cocolawyer (Mar 2, 2018 - 4:59 pm)

It depends. Young or desperate attorneys take what they can. I often time found poor saps on the hook for over 10k because their deadbeat client would not pay. Their only prayer is 2030 or 271 fees. I also see attorneys that miscalculate the time they can get out of a case. They think that their client will pay up and then bwamo, OC has filed a memo to set for trial and your stuck.

Most experienced attorneys know that after all disclosures and the first round of discovery is done whether their case is going to settle or its full on litigation. If it's full on litigation access your client's ability to come up with a ton. You then have a candid conversation with your client. If he can't put X amount in trust by X date he will have to file a sub. If he doesn't do either then motion to withdrawal BEFORE a evidentary hearing is set.

It's funny with rich clients I often take a lower retainer. I know I will get more money from them.

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cocolawyer (Mar 2, 2018 - 5:35 pm)

I do not really have an exit strategy. That's an important point. I also would be unable to get back said cushy govt. job...which is also a consideration. If wife worked this would not even be a discussion.

I just saw an attorney get shredded in Court today and I felt for them. I really not sure I want to reenter the arena of having to argue poor facts for a loser client, to get debased in open court.

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boomeresq (Mar 4, 2018 - 2:49 am)

Keep the government job. Partner had one years ago, fed and gave it up to go solo. He is ill now unable to work, no income just social security after years of work. He would have been able to retire at the point he got ill. His healthcare costs over 10 years ate up his savings. He had to pay for insurance all the years of being ill plus uninsured medical. He was a tort attorney and made good money until the market changed and you needed mega bucks to fund cases and advertise. Family law can change too. It can be big bucks now but the market and conditions can change.

Mediation has eaten up a lot of litigation here with forced hours of mediation required in one state I practice in. Divorce is filed client is forced to do 5 hours of mediation. Bulk of cases settle or multiple issues resolved. Clients just want out and settle. This is after they are forced to go to hours of lectures on the process and benefit of settling. The client's are fed up wasting time from work and settle to get it done. This is a nationwide trend and could be coming to a court near you.

You need a long term plan too. What about 10 or 20 years from now if the numbers change for the worse? I am a prime example.

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cocolawyer (Mar 4, 2018 - 1:31 pm)

Yeah I see that as a possiblity. Courts are discouraging trials now

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isthisit (Mar 4, 2018 - 8:37 am)

Keep overhead low, make sure your wife understands the first year financial/emotional struggle of solo, and go for it OP. Swing for the fences.

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themapmaster (Mar 4, 2018 - 2:09 pm)

OP you have a history of being undersatisfied, it is fair to say, at two different legal jobs. You now have a cushy state job with benefits galore that the majority of lawyers on JDU would love to have. Thread after thread on JDU details the struggles and failures of solos. I would not go solo if I were you.

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cocolawyer (Mar 5, 2018 - 12:48 am)

That's fair. I generally hate the law. Its full of miserable people that add very little value to society. Plus nobody loves a life of complete contention.

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downwardslope (Mar 5, 2018 - 9:39 am)

Have you ever worked in anything not family law oriented? It is really not that bad outside some awful fields, but family law is. The. Worst.

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cocolawyer (Mar 5, 2018 - 11:17 am)

I have not, but honestly I am now at the 5 year mark. It's literally impossible to do a change at 5 years. I looked into it at 3 year mark and the only firm that interviewed me told me that they wanted to start me off at 60k, which would be a horrific drop in pay like 60-70% reduction.

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downwardslope (Mar 5, 2018 - 11:20 am)

You can change in government. I worked with people who did it. Tons of people in government start in family law and then move to to something else. Probably half my place was in the family law field for a while. Use this job as a way to try to switch.

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pauperesq (Mar 5, 2018 - 11:25 am)

Disagree. It's hard but it's not impossible. At six years out, I went from PI/crim defense to business litigation/corporate. I had some help and got lucky, but it's doable.

Taking a pay cut may be inevitable though. It's hard for a firm to justify a billable rate similar to your peers if you're behind on experience.

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cocolawyer (Mar 5, 2018 - 2:00 pm)

Well taking a paycut of 10 percent...sure. Taking a 25 percent I couldn't do. I already took a 25 percent pay cut to go to government.

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downwardslope (Mar 5, 2018 - 2:48 pm)

If you stay in government, you should be able to stay at a similar level to where you are now.

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jeffm (Mar 5, 2018 - 4:06 pm)

After factoring retirement benefits and any other benefits you didn't receive from prior employment, is it still a 25% cut? I only ask that because the older you get, the more valuable those kinds of benefits seem to appear. At the state (at least in Texas), you can vest pretty quickly.

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cocolawyer (Mar 5, 2018 - 6:50 pm)

Well with factoring the pension withholding it is actually a 35% cut, but I tell myself I will get that 10% back with interest on the back end (the pension payments themselves).

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jeffm (Mar 5, 2018 - 3:04 pm)

"Its full of miserable people that add very little value to society."

Coco, I know and understand that feeling. That sounds a lot like mid-life crisis stuff. It's true people become miserable. However, our legal system (even with all the litigation) adds tremendous value to society. That's why people are willing to pay for it. The market bears what you are worth. In terms of "value" on a philosophical level, I can't point to any other nation on earth and say I'd rather live under their legal system. We lawyers take a lot for granted.

Just keep in mind that while you might be burned-out, there is nothing at all wrong with law practice (except that it leaves so many of us thinking there must be something better). If you were flipping burgers or selling insurance or mutual funds for a living, your tune would change.

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cocolawyer (Mar 5, 2018 - 6:57 pm)

The old grass is always greener approach.

Well again you have to understand my only practice in law has been related to Family Law. As a private practitioner and as part of a government entity now. I find very little value for the most part in what we do to society as a whole. I think we have value because law is convoluted. And things that are complex, and not easily navigated always comes at a premium. That does not mean we add value per say to society. A pilot operates planes that gets you from one place to another quickly...that adds value. An engineer builds bridges to cross and dams to protect the populous from being flooded...value. A doctor ensures you keep living...value. A teacher educated and molds young minds...value. A garbage man makes sure our streets are not littered with crap...value. A family law lawyer argues that one parent is a bigger douche then the other parent thus said first parents time should be restricted. That has a personal value to person one who gets the joy of F*&$ing over person 2, but for the most part destroys the kid. It's a net loss. What is the value to society to ensure that Jessica get's a 5% higher long term support number because she is used to sushi rather then spaghetti? There is no value from a societal portion.

The only thing of value could be the Domestic Violence Protection Act, but even then its hazy since so many individuals fake abuse as they know it will give them a de facto win on their custody case, and maximize support. Buisness attorneys don't really have a lot of value but at least they are not in the mud slinging crap and seeing what sticks against the wall.

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anothernjlawyer (Mar 5, 2018 - 2:13 pm)

You've mentioned before that you have some issues in your marriage:

1) If you start bringing home 350K+ per year, how much of the income increase will be offset by your wife buying expensive stuff that has little positive effect on your quality of life (i.e., a new luxury SUV every year, Jimmy Choos, jade eggs from GOOP, etc..?)

2) If you open a firm and your wife leaves you, does she get half the value of the practice on top of alimony payments? You could end up killing yourself for a relatively small income increase.

Finally, I'd calculate the value of your anticipated pension benefits vs. the value of practicing for the same period of time. If you can retire after 25 years and then get 40-50% (or whatever) of your salary for the next 30+years, is that more or less than what you would see yourself earning in private practice for the next 25 years?

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