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Should I take a lower paying job?
Old 12-08-2018, 11:32 AM   #1
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Should I take a lower paying job?

Hi all,

I am struggling to make a decision and would love to hear different perspectives and opinions from this community. I'm trying to decide (in the next few days!) whether to chuck my law firm career and take a government job. Why am I in a retirement forum? This might be a form of "coast" retirement or career downshifting, if I've got the language right. Anyway, I don't want to get hung up on labels. Let me just dive into the facts:

Since I'm in an ER forum, I'll start with the financial picture. I am mid-40's, married (spouse is also mid-40's), no kids. We have no debt, other than a mortgage, which has about 11 years left. This is in a condo, so there are also monthly common charges and real estate taxes. My current savings provide just enough to cover my share of our joint expenses (mortgage, health and home insurance, cell phone plan, utilities, dinners out, etc.), plus the additional expenses I personally incur (e.g. clothes, gym, etc.). (This is using the 4% safe withdrawal rate.) Should my spouse unexpectedly exit the picture (I hope not!), I could easily cover the necessities and then some solo. Spouse has much less saved than I do, and is in a stable job.

Last year I made equity partner at a major law firm. I've been in the law firm environment for 18+ years. As an equity partner, my income made a jump versus my prior position as an income partner. I'll say up front that part of the difficulty I'm having making this decision is the knowledge of giving up pay. There's also a lot I like about the job. I like the people I work with, it's a great firm, I like the challenge of the legal questions I deal with, I like the flexibility (e.g. unlimited vacation, although the max I've taken was 12 days, last year). However I am really fed up with the all-encompassing nature of the job--working long hours during the week, working at least one day of every weekend over the past year, the constant pressure to immediately respond to client queries, the pressure of meeting our billable hours requirement. I also don't care much for the business development part of the job (the expectation to find and bring in new, lucrative clients). As a new equity partner, I perceive that I'm at the point of additional growth opportunities--or stated more plainly, I need to grow into the role--which frankly seems to require doubling down on seeking out leadership opportunities and marketing myself and the firm to generate new clients.

It was not my original dream to become a law firm partner, but inertia--coupled with little free time to define other goals--carried me here. While I like my work, I'm not passionate about it. I've always keep my eye on other opportunities over the years, even looking into things like opening a franchise, as a way to step out of law firm life. I'm not interested in moving to an in-house counsel position, as corporations bring their own politics and challenges.

Earlier this year I saw an interesting government opening, and threw my hat in the ring. The job focuses on a subset of the core legal questions I now work on. In fact I currently petition this same government agency on behalf of my clients, and in the role I'd be deciding those same kinds of petitions. I received an offer for the job, and am now struggling with whether to take it. I would be taking an eye-popping pay cut. The attraction, however, is the promise of a 40-hour per week job (at least according to the multiple people I've spoken to who are in the same role). Also I can mostly work from home, which gives me and my spouse flexibility to eventually move to a lower cost area of living with greater opportunity for outdoor activities--something we've talked about doing in the future (5+ or more years). Because the new job will inherently demand less than my current job, I envision more time to develop hobbies, volunteer, and to just experience life. I am starting to feel my own mortality, and thinking of that adage about how nobody on their deathbed ever wished they worked more. I feel like working is all I do.

Several people have suggested that I stick with my current job for a few more years, and find ways to carve out more time for myself. In 18 years I have not been able to do that. (I am not eligible for a sabbatical for several more years.) I feel like it's incompatible with the job expectations. I'm also not enamored of the idea of working "just a few more years" then totally retiring with no work lined up. I like the idea of continuing to do interesting work, which I think the federal job would provide.

In terms of the financial picture, as I mentioned, huge pay cut. I think I'd be in a situation where I could live off the new salary with maybe a little boost taken from my savings if needed (i.e. taking out much less than 4%), but in doing so I would not have enough to keep contributing to savings (I may try to at least fund to the 401K maximum). With the federal job, I could also have access to health care coverage after retirement, but I think I'd need to make it to 57 years old (so a little more than 12 more years of work) before becoming eligible for that.

I've seen others leave the federal job I'm looking at and go into a law firm partnership, although likely as an income (not equity) partner. In other words, I think if I took the job but found out it was a big mistake, I could get back into law firm life, but I would start lower than where I am now, and have to work my way back up. I don't foresee me wanting to do this, but I mention it because I do consider that possibility a sort of safety net if I take the government job and feel like it was a mistake.

So what do you think? Take the leap, or hang onto my current job for a few more years? Happy to hear all thoughts and experiences. Thanks for reading.
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Old 12-08-2018, 12:32 PM   #2
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I would take the leap in your situation. There is more to life than working and it seems like the new job would be a good balance.
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Old 12-08-2018, 01:42 PM   #3
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That is a tough one. I think that I would lean toward taking the offer but only because I value life-style over money.

At one time I was offered partnership in one of the Big 4 accounting firms... at the time I only knew a couple partners who I worked for really well and they ran 150 mph 24/7... that wasn't what I wanted in life so I passed... also, it took a couple years to go through the partnership process and from what I understood you needed to stay on at least 5 years as partner to make it worthwhile and I didn't think that I had 7 years of runway left at the time... as it turns out I had another 11 years of runway but only because I downshifted to a part-time SME role.

One thing to think through though... if you need 12 years in the government job to retire, how many years do you think that you would need in your current job to be in the same financial position that you would be in the government job 12 years from now?
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Old 12-08-2018, 02:00 PM   #4
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Interesting in your comments that you say the if the govt job didn’t work out, you could go back to a law firm but that you’d have to work your way back up. It sounds like to are a high achiever (a good thing, I’m just pointing this out). That concerns me as I wonder if you can downshift into a govt job. Similarly, can’t you carve out a less stressful niche in your current firm or go to another one and strike some middle ground?

Personally, it’s hard for me to advise you to take the govt job. I think you could hang in on your current role and retire earlier and be better off financially. As I was stressing out at work, I confided in a friend/co-worker that I wanted to retire and I’d go do something low wage and low stress. His basic reply was why? Why would you leave a job where you make good money to another where you make significantly less. Working in the current job for one or two more years is better than working in the lower paying job for five or more years. I say for you, I think you’re in the same boat. If you can’t retire now, my personal opinion is that it’s better to struggle a shorter amount of time in a high paying job than a longer amount of time in a lesser paying job.
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Old 12-08-2018, 02:32 PM   #5
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Law Partner vs. Govt job.. what kind of difference really in money is that? I'm guessing this would be from low-to-Mid-6 figures to barely 6?

If it's even 3x the difference, putting up with being partner for 3 years vs. 9-10 in another job sounds like a good idea to me. If this were the difference of a 25-30% cut, I'd say leave, but I have a feeling this much more than that.

What does your spouse say?
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Old 12-08-2018, 02:34 PM   #6
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This sounds like a classic "do I want the money or do I want to be happy" situation.

You sound pretty unhappy though. We all have stories here on how 'life is too short'.

Would your gov't job provide a pension? In 20 years that might mitigate the lower pay.

Can you (and spouse) handle the ego/image part? Going from law partner to a cube drone in some obscure office building can be a blow.

I do know a few people who left the 'dreaded private sector' and went to a gov't job only to end up tearing their hair out at the built-in inefficiencies and bureaucracies. Have you considered that as a possibility? You could end up trading one set of stresses for another, albeit at a lower pay.

Personally, (especially with no kids) I'd make sure spouse is on board and go for it, keeping in mind the 'why' when a bad day comes along and remembering the 'why' when you're home with spouse enjoying a slower pace. It's just the two of you; you should be happy.

Good luck and keep us all posted!!
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Old 12-08-2018, 03:31 PM   #7
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In your position I would probably put in enough time at the firm to payoff the mortgage and get my overhead expenses down to a level where I didn't have to dip into savings to cover my expenses. Your retirement savings should explode over the next few years.

Are you trading working for five years for working for twelve?
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Old 12-08-2018, 04:10 PM   #8
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Unless you have some specific plans if you retired in 5 years from your current job,which you don't seem to have, I would take the government job. I assume in addition to the pension you would also get some retirement healthcare to tide you over till Medicare eligibility. Once you are settled there you can spend the next 12 years trying new hobbies and figuring out what you want in life and get everything ready to go the day you complete year 12. Maybe take a couple of days off and take a mini vacation to think about it. I know how it feels. Good luck!
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Old 12-08-2018, 04:22 PM   #9
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The working from home part is what makes this a tough choice. I assume you would be giving up over $100K/yr. That is a lot to leave on the table. OTOH, being able to work from home is a huge plus. You don't share finacial numbers so it's hard to say for sure in your situation but if you have saved well then I would take the lower stress, home-based job.
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Old 12-08-2018, 05:11 PM   #10
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Given the picture you have described, I would take the govt. job. The ability to limit your work week to 40 hrs., combined with at least a small pension, plus health care into retirement, is probably worth the trade off with the high salary you now earn. I might be a little bit biased in this, because I am putting myself in your shoes, and I know that I would take the govt. job. Your quality of life would definitely improve, so that is a big plus. With the lower salary at the govt. job, though, you probably need to take another hard look at your expenses, to make sure you can make this work. Basically, you have to decide whether you can give up some things in your current budget (if necessary) in order to gain some significant lifestyle benefits. With no kids and just a mortgage for debt, you should be fine, but only you can decide what is most important to you.
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Old 12-08-2018, 05:17 PM   #11
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I never made the big bucks you are making, but my nephew is in a very similar position (partner, working his ass off, unhappy). My observation is that he is wasting his youth, especially because he hardly sees his kids as they are growing up. Living a substantially higher standard of living than the average Joe, but not rolling in dough is not such a tough life, especially if every night you go to bed happy and rested. But, of course, it all depends on what you value most.
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Old 12-09-2018, 04:45 AM   #12
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The working from home part is what makes this a tough choice. I assume you would be giving up over $100K/yr. That is a lot to leave on the table.
OP doesn't say, but depending on the law firm's size, as a partner OP could be leaving $800K or more on the table.
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Old 12-09-2018, 05:16 AM   #13
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Only you can make this decision. You are mid-40's with no children at home to pull on your time, energy or $$$ or that you want to spend more of that time with. I honestly think it boils down to how much you are leaving on the table if you walk away from the partnership, when you and your wife want to actually "retire", etc.

Have you done some projections of what you would have financially if you stayed versus if you left?

You list a number of things you "like" about your current position but I gather the "pressure" of always being "on" may be a bit much at the moment. There will probably be things you like and don't like about the government position.

Is it possible to take a week or more off now and take time to reflect on what you really want? Mid 40's is young "in the scheme of things" over the course of a working career.
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Old 12-09-2018, 05:17 AM   #14
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Originally Posted by HIYA View Post
Hi all,

I am struggling to make a decision and would love to hear different perspectives and opinions from this community. I'm trying to decide (in the next few days!) whether to chuck my law firm career and take a government job.

...

So what do you think? Take the leap, or hang onto my current job for a few more years? Happy to hear all thoughts and experiences. Thanks for reading.
That is quite a choice.
- If you stay with high-pressure job, the rewards are huge, and allow you to build a retire-early future. You may die prematurely from stress.
- If you accept the government job, there is not enough to pay the bills, and you'd need to dip into savings. You may die prematurely from stress.

How will this affect others in your family?
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Old 12-09-2018, 05:59 AM   #15
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I am a big believer in researching all the options. It seems to me that your unhappiness with the partner-level expectations of your job has pushed you to apply for the government job. You've described the several benefits along with one of the major negatives of that job: a much lower salary.

I wonder if you aren't limiting yourself at this major crossroads. You seem to be looking for an immediate way out of your situation; but have you looked at other types of jobs within the law field? For example, large universities have built up over the years relatively large in-house legal offices. In the places I've worked (private, large research uni's) these folks didn't look particularly stressed when I had to deal with them and I would guess that the salaries would be *relatively* competitive (not with partner level jobs, of course). And, healthcare, pensions, etc. can be quite good. Plus, you can take courses in things you like, get involved with students, etc. Also, what about small, private companies? They might pay more than the feds for in house legal expertise.

What I am suggesting is this: you've opened the door. Why not make a more widespread search for options and then compare. Give yourself six months to explore via informational lunches with potential employers and network a bit more. You never know what might be available as better options unless you look.

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Old 12-09-2018, 07:00 AM   #16
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So...

If you were able to limit your current workdays in your current job to five days a week - no exceptions - you would double your time off each weekend - and feel more refreshed.

That, combined with a week's vacation each quarter (and a full two weeks at least once a year) - also without exception - could give you a new perspective and a new lease on life.

It would seem if they like you enough to promote you, a conversation outlining these plans to balance your life should be received, if not with joy, at least with acceptance and affirmation.

If not, then you may have your answer.

Also, if picturing yourself in your current job with the above schedule still leaves you angsty, and you long for a 40-hr-per-week job and it feels like freedom and relief to you now, you also have a clue.

Good luck with your decision. It also sounds like the decision to take the gov't job is not irreversible.
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Old 12-09-2018, 07:07 AM   #17
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I would be very concerned that the greener grass isn't always so green.

My situation over the years has been very similar in terms of stress and the opportunity to downshift (tho I never looked at a govt job).

A few things to consider:

1) To the point in another post, you can go-go-go for a few more years for likely the same income as needing to stay in for another 5-10 years in the other role

2) Boredom. Based on your description, and my own experience in the speedier end of the rat race, you probably are stressed out by the pace...but in some ways enjoy it. Many govt jobs are very much the opposite...to the point that you can't make it go faster even if you want to. That's not some kind of slap that govt employees are lazy. Its just the reality of government. Dropping from a racing bike onto a moped may not be as rewarding as you think.

3) You can't go back. While I'm sure that you could go back into private practice, its doubtful you could make the return trip to your high paying partner job.

Perhaps two alternate paths:

1) Corporate GC somewhere. Sounds like you're quite senior and aggressive. Perhaps become a general counsel of a company...big-ish bucks and some stress but no biz dev responsibilities.

2) Force some changes in how you interact with your job. Along the way, I've forced myself to take a later train in the morning and an earlier one at night. Go to the gym more. Take up a hobby that you treat like a business appointment.

Only you know your real stress levels tho. Good luck!
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Old 12-09-2018, 08:28 AM   #18
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Law Partner vs. Govt job.. what kind of difference really in money is that? I'm guessing this would be from low-to-Mid-6 figures to barely 6?

If it's even 3x the difference, putting up with being partner for 3 years vs. 9-10 in another job sounds like a good idea to me. If this were the difference of a 25-30% cut, I'd say leave, but I have a feeling this much more than that.

What does your spouse say?
And remember, like we say in beekeeping, every extra bee beyond the threshold required to run the hive are the real honey producers. In other words, even if you take 50% pay cut, your savings rate will be reduced way more than 50% because the money you need to run your "hive" will not change much. I was in a similar situation, not high stress from actually work but high stress from managerial pestering. Management wanted me to do "more" all the time which was not objective enough for me. So I switched to a competitor who I knew had little laid back work culture with minor pay cut.

In your case, can you stay in the role that you have been comfortable? No harm in asking. And if expectations skyrockets in future then I would find a similar position in a different firm.

I know your thinking however, every once in a while my emotional half of the brain wants to just "fast forward" to the utopian land. And then my logical half of brain jumps in and tells me that it is a lot better to stay in the high paying job for few more years than to keep on working for a lot longer in a low-paying job.
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Old 12-09-2018, 08:55 AM   #19
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Yes to what Closet Gamer posted above, especially point #2. The other thing I would say is if you’re a high achiever without a lot of outside interests, I would ask yourself whether you’re going to turn any job into what you have now. For me, that answer would have been yes for a long time.
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Old 12-09-2018, 09:07 AM   #20
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What does your spouse say?
^^ This ^^

Apart from mentioning the financial situation of your significant other, there was little else in your OP re: how your current work situation affects your marriage and whether your spouse is supportive of making a significant life change - or - maintaining the status quo. Are you both on the same page? Regardless, IMO, that is the more critical issue at hand.
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