Photo: Marc Royce
Q: When I was young, I decided to become an attorney so that I could be a self-supporting woman. I graduated from law school with $120,000 in educational debt. In my first position, I earned $45,000 doing personal-injury work. I could hardly survive living in a major city while owing so much and earning so little. On the advice of a career counselor, I took a job with a nonprofit firm, which gave me more personal satisfaction. However, I earned slightly less than $45,000, with no benefits. During this time, I relied on my parents and husband for assistance. My next two positions both paid $45,000, with benefits. Thanks to my family's support, I've nearly halved my educational debts. But, at 35, I feel like a failure. Getting by would be a real struggle if I weren't married. Can you help me develop a better plan for the future?
A: You weren't happy with a low salary, so you listened to a counselor who suggested that making less was the solution? I'm all for personal satisfaction, but if your core issue was financial independence, how was a lower-paying job going to help matters?
Anyone with the talent and the drive to go to law school and pass the bar has the intellectual capacity to get a higher-paying job, if that's the goal. Your problem seems to be a lack of confidence. And relying on your family isn't helping; you need to be able to make it alone.
That starts by no longer putting yourself on sale. You've convinced yourself that your work isn't worth more than $45,000. If you don't value yourself more than that, how can you expect anyone else to? You're an attorney—make a case for yourself. Write down your professional and personal strengths, and then take your argument into the job market.