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  • Gerard Petersen

How doe$ money impact your legal career ?

Our attitude to money directly influences many career and life decisions. And there is a strong link between our personal wellness and our financial wellbeing.


Too often in the legal world lives have been built with a veneer of wealth - high incomes, expensive lifestyles with few real assets, a financial and personal house of cards. Ask any financial planner who has them as clients and they will tell you that many high income earning Partners of law firms manage their money poorly.


I see evidence of this on an almost daily basis:


- the personal, familial & career crises that comes when high earning Partners have incomes cut, sometimes halved, and do not have the personal financial foundations and flexibility to weather this scenario well.


- Partners deluded about their real value in the market, acting & spending like they’re earning (or thinking they’re going to be earning) $1m+ yet the reality of their skills/practice is they will never earn over $350,000, who tend to bounce around the market hoping it will be the next firm with whom they will hit pay dirt.


- Partners, hocked with bad debt, unhappy with the direction of their career but wearing "golden handcuffs", unable to go backwards in remuneration in order to pivot their career toward work that actually fulfils, energises and stimulates them


- Partners being sucked into the spending vortex & financial abyss of constant social comparison and the consequent unhealthy status anxiety, rife within law firms, about cars, houses, holidays, schools, wine, etc. It's a hamster wheel terribly hard to get off.


- the personal turmoil and familial carnage that occurs when a high earning Partner reaches that inevitable stage of life (which arrives sooner than they think) when their work holds little or no “purpose & meaning” any more but they are forced to continue what has become the “mindless, soulless slog” of daily work because they can’t afford to retire, having managed their income and wealth accumulation poorly.


So don’t blindly look to the Partners who surround you as a role model because their appearance of wealth may well be illusory.


Knowing what money means to us, what we realistically can earn, for what period of time and being savvy with what we do earn will not only create a greater sense of financial wellbeing but it provides the ultimate freedom and flexibility to pursue opportunities, perhaps even tangential to the law, that continue to challenge and enrich us mentally and emotionally as our career and life unfolds, for instance a portfolio career, including Directorships, In-house, NFP’s etc.


Know your value in the market, be financially literate and have a solid financial plan so you are in total control of your own wealth/financial wellbeing and career choices. Don't let your relationship with money negatively impact your career decisions.


Those Partners to envy are the ones doing what they do because they choose to, not because they need the money for status or to pay down personal debt.


And it’s trite to say, but the evidence is clear, earning more money doesn’t make you exponentially happier at work or in life. Or, for that matter, necessarily wealthier. But it can, perversely, have a negative impact upon legal careers and lives.