This week on the blog, I’m excited to share my interview with Rho Thomas. Rho and I originally connected when she was still working as a lawyer in a Biglaw firm, and she had developed an interest in personal finance.
More recently, I saw that Rho had left her job in Biglaw and she was now doing this work as a financial coach for lawyers. So, naturally, I asked her to come on the podcast, and here we are.
Keep reading to learn how Rho Thomas went from a struggling Biglaw associate to a financial coach for lawyers.
Rho’s Journey As A Lawyer
Rho Thomas is a former lawyer, who now works as a financial coach for lawyers. She also hosts a podcast called Wealthyesque. Rho’s all about helping you get your finances in order so that you can have the flexibility and freedom and choice that you want in your life.
Rho had wanted to be a lawyer since she was seven. Like many, it started with watching legal shows with family and getting those typical comments of, “Oh, you like to argue and prove your point so you should be a lawyer.”
She says her journey as a lawyer has been interesting because she learned so much that she didn’t know about practicing law. She went to law school with the perception that practicing law was like it is on TV. Needless to say, this isn’t true. However, she reflects on it as a fun experience, nonetheless.
When Rho got to law school, she was exposed to so many areas of law that she wasn’t familiar with. She joined different groups for practice areas. One was intellectual property, which she was very much interested in.
How It All Changed:
Rho had always envisioned herself being a lawyer, climbing the ladder, making partner, and doing all the things. Eventually, she landed a gig as a Biglaw associate. Then, she had her first child.
That’s when Rho started to think that her career path might look different from what she initially thought. At that point, she was still very much committed to that partner path. She was able to manage with her first child, but when her second child came along, it all became too much.
She sought out a therapist, who asked Rho a question that she had not considered. What did she really want to be? Rho said that working with that therapist was how she realized that while working on that essential work-life balance, Rho had completely forgotten herself.
The Pull Towards Financial Coaching
While Rho got back to a place where she could enjoy her job as a lawyer, at the same time, she felt a tug toward financial coaching. She had felt it for years, having started a blog about it back in 2018.
When the pandemic hit, she started to think, “Life is short, and so this is something that I have to do.” She had already been doing it with colleagues and law school friends. So, in lockdown, she joined social media in the financial coaching niche.
As she was thinking about her career as a lawyer and in financial coaching, she became conflicted about which to choose. It was then she saw this post on Instagram that said, “You’re not confused. You know exactly what you want to do.”
There was a further question in the post that read, “If you knew that you couldn’t fail and everything would work out exactly the way that you want it to, what would you choose?” In answering that question, Rho ultimately decided to leave her practice as a lawyer and become a financial coach for lawyers.
Starting Her Financial Coaching Business
Rho had experience in financial coaching for lawyers when she was presenting financial management to first-years in her job as a lawyer. But, when she met with the therapist and did some self-discovery, she started thinking specifically about being a financial coach for lawyers.
She started the Wealthyesque podcast and worked with a coach to get things going. And, in late 2021, she gave her notice and left her job as a lawyer, and started her business as a financial coach.
How Rho Helps Her Financial Coaching Clients
Rho helps her clients in an ongoing way through one-on-one private coaching. She meets her clients to talk about whatever it is that you struggle with when it comes to money.
She helps lawyers transform their relationship with money so that they can achieve their goals. She works with clients that want to be more confident with money, pay off debt, want to have a certain savings goal, all types of things.
Struggling With Your Career As A Lawyer? Here’s Rho’s Advice:
The main thing that Rho wants to encourage everyone to do is to think about what it is that you truly want. No matter what anyone else will think, think about what you want.
If that’s to stay and practice as a lawyer and figure out the best way to do that for you, then that’s great. If it’s to leave your job as a lawyer, then that’s great as well. Don’t live a life based on other people’s expectations because that’s not a way to live.
To connect with Rho, head on over to her website or listen to her podcast. And if you’re interested in leaving your job as a lawyer, I have created a free guide for anyone out there who is just like, “Ugh! This job is the worst. I need out. Where do I start?”
If you are ready to figure out what’s next for you, download the free guide, First Steps to Leaving the Law, and get started today.
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For information about 1:1 coaching with Sarah for Biglaw lawyers, click here.
Sarah Cottrell: Hi, and welcome to The Former Lawyer Podcast. I'm your host, Sarah Cottrell. I practiced law for 10 years and now I help unhappy lawyers ditch their soul-sucking jobs. On this show, I share advice and strategies for aspiring former lawyers, and interviews with former lawyers who have left the law behind to find careers and lives that they love.
Hello everyone. This week on the podcast, I'm excited to share my interview with Rho Thomas. Rho and I originally connected when she was still working as an associate at a Biglaw firm and she had developed an interest in personal finance. She and her husband had done a lot of work with their own finances and paid down a bunch of debt. She was sharing what she knew about budgeting and finances with other lawyers. She actually came and did a workshop inside the Collaborative for the lawyers who are in that program to help them get a sense of how to manage their money and how to put together a basic budget if that was something that they were wanting and needing to do. More recently, I saw that Rho had left her job in Biglaw and she was now doing this work helping lawyers with their finances full time. I asked her to come on the podcast and here we are. I'm really excited for you to hear this conversation. Let's get to it.
Hi, Rho, welcome to The Former Lawyer Podcast.
Rho Thomas: Hi, Sarah. Thank you so much for having me. It's such a pleasure.
Sarah Cottrell: I am so excited because you have done some training for the people in the Collab. When you did them, you were still a practicing lawyer, but now you are a former lawyer, so here you are. Why don't you introduce yourself to the listeners?
Rho Thomas: Yes. Hello, listeners. My name is Rho Thomas. I am now a former Biglaw associate and a financial coach for lawyers. I also host a podcast called Wealthyesque. I am all about helping you get your finances in order so that you can have the flexibility and freedom and choice that you want in your life.
Sarah Cottrell: Okay. I want to talk all about how you got interested in that specific work, but first, we're going to start where we always start in the podcast which is pretty much all the way back at the beginning. I'd love it if you could tell us what made you decide to go to law school.
Rho Thomas: Yes. When you say all the way back to the beginning, it literally is all the way back to the beginning for me.
Sarah Cottrell: It often is.
Rho Thomas: I have wanted to be a lawyer since I was seven. It started with watching legal shows with my family and you get those typical comments of, “Oh, you like to argue and prove your point so you should be a lawyer.” That was my thing from the time I was seven. I went straight through kindergarten to law school and here we are now. It's been an interesting journey for sure because there are lots of things that I didn't know about the practice of law. In my mind when I was going to law school, it was going to be like what you see on TV, and then I got into the practice of law and it's nothing like what you see on TV.
Sarah Cottrell: It was definitely not as glamorous as Suits.
Rho Thomas: Exactly.
Sarah Cottrell: Or at least. I don't know I've never watched it because I can't bring myself to watch lawyer shows, but anyway carry on.
Rho Thomas: It was a fun experience nonetheless. Even though it wasn't what I had seen on TV, I liked what I was doing anyway.
Sarah Cottrell: Okay, so let's talk a little bit about your experience when you got to law school because I, like you, went straight through from undergrad to law school. I did not decide at a super early age that I was definitely going to be a lawyer but it was one of those things that was always hanging around as a possibility because I liked writing and I liked research. I did not like arguing but there's probably a good 30% of people who become lawyers who did so because there was some statement made to them like you described, which is you're so stubborn, you'd be a great lawyer or you're good at persuading people, you'd be a great lawyer, you're good at arguing, these kinds of things. When you got to law school, at that point, were you still like, “I am on the path that I chose when I was seven and it is clearly the right path. This feels completely right. Here we go”? Or was it a different kind of experience?
Rho Thomas: It was definitely the former. I was like, “Yes, I am doing it. This is my thing.” When I got to law school, I was exposed to so many areas of law that I was not familiar with, that I had not heard of before including the one that I ultimately chose. I think law school is very much, especially in that first year, focused on the litigation path. While I did do some litigation, I did not know about all of the different fields that you could go into, and so I joined the American Bar Association as a student member. I joined these different groups for practice areas; one of which was intellectual property and I was like, “Oh, this is cool. This is very interesting.” When I did summer clerkships and things, I told the people at the firms like, “I'm very interested in this trademark and copyright law.” I was not interested in the patent law piece but I was like, “I'm very interested in this trademark and copyright law. I would love to have the opportunity to do some of that work,” so I had the opportunity to do that and really loved it in practice. I was like, “Yes, this is what I'm going to do.”
Sarah Cottrell: Okay. Tell me when you graduated from law school, what was your thought about your legal career? Did you envision yourself like, “I'm going to go into this job that I've secured and I'm going to be a lawyer forever and it's going to be wonderful”? What was your perspective on what you were walking into at that point?
Rho Thomas: Yes, absolutely was “I'm going into this job. This is what I'm going to do. I'm going to be a lawyer forever.” I've actually told the story before that I went to my practice leader as a first year like, “Hey, let's talk. I want to be a partner. Tell me how I do that.” He still remembers that story to this day which I think is hilarious, but I very much envisioned myself being a lawyer and just climbing that ladder and making partner and doing all the things.
Sarah Cottrell: Tell me a little bit about how that changed.
Rho Thomas: As I started my family, especially I had my first son back in 2016—and that also was the start of my whole financial journey and this path to becoming a financial coach—but I had my son in 2016, and I'm thinking about the previous two years what I had been doing, I was that type A associate like, “Oh, you tell me that the minimum is here and I'm going above and beyond that.” I'm on all the committees and I'm doing all the things. Then having a child, it's like, “Huh, I'm not going to be able to be the mom that I've always envisioned myself being doing what I've been doing these past two years.” That's where I started to rethink how I wanted my career to go. At that point, I still thought that I would be a partner and all of that. I still was very much committed to that path but that's where I started to think that it might look differently from what I thought initially.
Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. I think there are a lot of people who have that experience either a big shift in life because they have children or sometimes even later in life if they have children going off to college or a family member passes away, these sorts of life transitions often bring up either new issues, create new tensions that didn't exist before. Then also sometimes, they expose some tensions that were there that just weren't as obvious because maybe there was a little bit more flex. I think that's a really common experience for people, especially when they have kids, to be like, “Okay, maybe the way I was doing things isn't really going to work but I basically want to more or less stay on the same path and see if I can just tweak things a little bit.” Tell me about how that went for you and then we'll circle back around eventually and talk about financial piece.
Rho Thomas: I think I was able to settle into my groove and figure out how to make it work with my first kid. Then two and a half years later, I had my second kid and felt I was failing in all the areas. I was like, “I'm not being the wife I want to be, the mom I want to be, the lawyer I want to be.” That was my first time seeking therapy. I was talking to the therapist and explaining just like I explained to you how I'm not fulfilling all these roles. She asked me a question that I had not considered. She said, “What about the ‘you’ you want to be?” I was like, “Wait a minute, what do you mean? I don't know what that is.” That wife, mom, lawyer, pretty sure I checked them all. Working with her, that's where I realized that as I was figuring out how to balance work and home, I had completely forgotten me.
Working through that and finding ways to re-get to know myself, I don't know if that's the right way to say it, but basically making myself more of a priority in my life as opposed to “I'm taking care of my kids, I'm hanging out with my husband, now I'm going and doing this work and billing these hours,” that was the start of the shift and that was the end of 2019. I had my second son at the beginning of 2019 and I returned from maternity leave in the summer of 2019. The end of 2019 is when I first saw my therapist. That was the beginning of the shift. Then came the beginning of 2020 and it was exactly as you described, where it’s this major shift that exposed some tensions that were already there where as I'm here with my kids and we are navigating this new life of being home and not going all the time, I started thinking about what I wanted my life to look like.
I remember at some points, especially maybe a few months into the pandemic where I was just miserable. I was feeling just very overwhelmed with all of the things trying to balance. I realized that some of that is things that I already was experiencing but all of the hustle and bustle masked it, if that makes sense. Now being here with no hustle and bustle, we're not going all the places because of the pandemic, and a lot of the areas that I did not like about the law were amplified and then many of the areas that I do like were diminished or completely taken away, especially the Collaborative piece, the just stopping in someone's office, that kind of thing. I wasn't doing those types of things anymore but then all of the “Oh, we've got this meeting at this specific time,” and all of the meetings, to talk about the meetings and all of that, I was just like, “Oh my gosh.” It was amplified because now I'm home with toddlers. My kids were young, two and four, when the pandemic started. My two-year-old had just turned one the month before. It was very difficult trying to juggle their schedules and them being very much dependent on me with showing up the way that I was accustomed to showing up in the firm when we weren't in a pandemic.
Sarah Cottrell: Yes. I am vigorously nodding my head because our kids are not that far apart in age, so my kids were 4 and 18 months when the pandemic started and so yes, all of what you're saying, pandemic parenting in general was just intense, but like you said, I think for many people, it also revealed where things maybe weren't entirely working before but you could maybe ignore it by focusing on other things or just avoid it or make it work enough that it wasn't so glaring that it really felt, “Oh, there needs to be a change,” which I think yes, so many people had that experience. From just my conversations with lots of different lawyers, not just parents, I think many, many people had that experience of realizing, “Oh, the way that I was living and balancing work and life just was not working. It wasn't working.” They had a moment to realize it.
I wanted to circle back quickly, you mentioned they started going to therapy, which of course, on this podcast, I am always advocating for people to go to therapy. I think that your story is such a good example of why because so often, people will come to me and they're like, “I'm not happy with my work. I want to do something different career-wise.” The perception is like, “That's all about career.” It's just a matter of “What else do I want to be doing? What skills do I have? How do I put together a resume?” That's part of it but I think a huge, huge part of it for most of us is what you're talking about, where your therapist asks you basically who do you want to be outside of your various roles and your job, and you're like, “I'm sorry, what do you mean?”
Rho Thomas: Exactly. I don't think that we think about that. We get so caught up in the roles and we don't think about ourselves as individuals.
Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. I think that's so true. I just want to emphasize again for people who are listening, what you described about your experience is one of the many reasons why I am such a vocal advocate for therapy for lawyers. Because so often, there are some deeper questions that we need to address and work through with a licensed and qualified mental health professional in order to be able to really make the kinds of changes and decisions that we want to make. Okay, so you tell me where you want to go from here, do you want to continue to talk about what happened next with that piece of things or do you want to detour and talk about how you got interested in the financial piece of things?
Rho Thomas: We can continue on this part and then we can circle back to the financial piece. As you mentioned at the outset, I am now a former lawyer, although I guess technically I'm always a lawyer. I'm still a lawyer. I'm a non-practicing lawyer. But I mentioned being miserable earlier on in the pandemic and that was really disconcerting for me because as we've already talked about, I wanted to be a lawyer since I was seven, like, “What is this? I don't know what to do with this because this is what I've always wanted to do. This was the goal. This was the dream job.” I knew that I did not want to leave the place that I was at. I didn't like this feeling of escaping, of getting out because as I said, this was a dream job for me. I did a lot of work around why I wanted it to be there, why this was a dream job, and all of that.
I got back to the place where I could appreciate and enjoy my job, but at the same time, I had been feeling this tug to do the financial coaching for years now. I started a blog back in 2018 detailing my family's financial journey and been doing that, and it was last year in the pandemic where our mortality is just thrown in our faces so often. It's like, “Okay, life is not getting any longer.” I didn't articulate that well at all, Sarah. I'm not getting any more time basically. Life is short, and so this is something that I have had this pull to do. I have been doing it with some of my colleagues and friends from law school and things like that, just helping them with their finances. Last year, when we were all home and all of that, I'm like, “Okay, well I could help more people.” That's when I got on Instagram for the first time last year, in LinkedIn, and all of that. I wasn't really big on social media, but I was like, “Okay, let me tell people about this,” and so I started doing that, and it lights me up so much.
As I'm thinking about my legal career and financial coaching, it's like, “Oh, I don't know. I'm confused about what I should do,” and then I saw this post on Instagram and it was like, “You're not confused.” Sarah, she literally could have been talking to me, she's like, “You're not confused. You know exactly what you want to do.” There was some other substance to the post but there was a question in there that was like, “If you knew that you couldn't fail and everything would work out exactly the way that you want it to, what would you choose?” In answering that question, that's how I decided that I wanted to leave the practice and continue on with my financial coaching.
Sarah Cottrell: I think that's such an important question. Not to completely discount the fact that there may be real considerations for people where they do need to take those things into account, but I think that one of the most underrated questions is a similar one, which is what do you want to do? Because so often, my clients will come to me with, “Well, I'm trying to make this or that decision about this thing,” whether it's to take or not take a new offer or to pursue one path versus another. I don't think this is particularly unique to lawyers. I think we may have been trained to be extra pro-con-y in our decision making like, “What are the pros? What are the cons?” It has to all balance out in a particular way and there's one “right” answer. We've been conditioned to think that way but the reality is that so often, people are completely, not even considering the question of what do I just really want to do, because that actually matters. Like you said, related to that is this question of what would you do if you knew that it wouldn't fail?
Rho Thomas: Yeah, I think that's exactly right. We don't consider what we actually want to do because we're conditioned, especially those of us who go into the practice of law, we're conditioned to do the right thing and we're conditioned to do the, I don't know if prestigious is the thing that we're necessarily conditioned for, but when you tell someone that you want to be a lawyer or a doctor, or some of these fields where you have to get advanced degrees, like, “Oh, you're going to be a lawyer.” I think we are conditioned to want to continue on that path because of the way that society views it.
Sarah Cottrell: Yes. Our definition of what the “optimal” choice is in any given career scenario is so, so driven by whatever framework we have for what makes a decision optimal or not. I think often lawyers, more so than people in some other fields, think that there's only one framework for prioritizing what decision to make or deciding what the best thing for you is. We don't often interrogate those assumptions and say, “Okay, I'm thinking that X, Y, and Z are the things that I'm supposed to be aiming for in terms of my career and my career goals. That's what's informing my assumptions about what is best. But not everyone has the same goals in their career or in their life, and yet I think so often as lawyers, especially because the profession is the way it is because like you mentioned, there is a lot of focus on prestige especially when you're talking about in the law school in that phase, people often find themselves allowing something external to them define what should be the best choice for them as opposed to actually, like you were talking about earlier, figuring out “Who am I? What are my values? How do I want to show up in my life?”
Rho Thomas: Yeah. I think that's exactly right, that we do look to a lot of external factors to people in our lives, to society at large to determine what we should be doing as opposed to looking internally. I think that when you do that inner work and really consider what it is that you want and who you are, you can live a much more fulfilling life even if everyone outside of you doesn't always understand. I remember I told my mom that I was planning to leave and she's like, “But you worked so hard to get there.” Then when I told her that I actually put in my notice, she was like, “Oh, no.” I was like, “Mom, this is what I'm doing. This is really what I want to do and I'm good at it and I enjoy it more. That's what I'm going to do.” She, of course, supports me but her initial reaction was just like, “Oh, but you were going to be a lawyer, oh no.” I had to just not pay attention to those types of reactions like what other people want for me, and to put what I want for myself above that.
Sarah Cottrell: Hey, it's Sarah. I'm popping in here to remind you that I have created a free guide, First Steps to Leaving the Law for anyone out there who is just like, “Ugh! This job is the worst. I need out. Where do I start?” Which is exactly where I was when I realized that I didn't want to be a lawyer. You can go to formerlawyer.com/guide, sign up, and get the guide in your inbox today. When you grab that guide, you get on my email list, which is the way I keep everyone the most up to date about everything that's happening with Former Lawyer. It's also the best way to get in contact with me because I read and respond to every email. If you are ready to figure out what's next for you, go to formerlawyer.com/guide, download the free guide, First Steps to Leaving the Law, and get started today.
Sarah Cottrell: Let's talk a little bit more about your whole journey into learning about managing finances and all of the things around that for yourself first.
Rho Thomas: As I mentioned, it started with my first son being born, and we looked at our finances because I already started thinking about changing the way that I was practicing. My firm offered a reduced hours policy so I was like, “Oh, maybe I want to take advantage of that,” where you can do a percentage of the billable hour requirement for a percentage of your salary. We were looking at our finances and realized that we had over $670,000 of debt and a negative $342,000 net worth.
Needless to say, I was not taking advantage of the reduced hours policy at that time and that's what started our journey to really learning more about finances. I will say before that, maybe college headed into law school, I had started looking at some things already, and we were doing the things that we were supposed to do—at least we thought we were, we paid off our credit cards in full and we were saving a little each month and paying our bills on time, and all of that—but we had not heard about or seen anyone paying off their student loans early or paying off debt early. One of the things that really got me, I came across a story of a couple who paid off their house in five years. It was like, “Wait a minute, this is different. I had not heard of people doing those types of things.” We started just learning more about all of that and applying it to our finances and that's where we are now.
Sarah Cottrell: I think $600,000 something in debt, I think to many people, would sound like, “Oh, my goodness, how does that even happen?” But I think for people who went to law school, especially if you had undergrad debt in addition to law school, and if you have a partner and that partner had undergrad debt and also has some professional degree, you can easily end up with, what I think for many people is, a shocking amount of debt.
Rho Thomas: Yes. I was definitely shocked when we added all those numbers up. To give everyone a breakdown, about $200,000 of that was our mortgage and we had a $10,000 car loan, but the rest of it was student loans. Just as you said, Sarah, it's undergrad and law school for me and then undergrad and med school for my husband. We had almost half a million dollars just in student loans. I've said before, we had an idea of how much we had in a compartmentalized sense, like, “Oh, yeah, the mortgage is about this much.” “Oh, yeah, I have about that much in student loans. He has about that much,” but adding it all up and seeing that grand total, it was like, “Oh, wait a minute.” That shock I think is a perfect way to describe it.
Sarah Cottrell: You started to see stories of people who did things like pay off their house in five years and these sorts of things. Tell me a little bit about what happened because I think a lot of people can relate to this, looking at what they actually owe and just feeling sick like, “Oh, my goodness, this is so much.” What did you do next and can you talk me through that a little bit?
Rho Thomas: Yeah. The first part was getting my husband on board because he was like, “Wait a minute, we've been in school all this time and now we're finally out.” You're talking about putting all this money toward the loans, what are you talking about? I had mentioned it to him even before our son was born but it was having our son, that is what helped me to be able to articulate why as opposed to just like, “Oh, yes, this is what I want to do.” I was telling him, “Oh, well, I envision this for our lives. I envision us being able to have this flexibility and to be able to go to our kids’ events,” without, in the back of our minds, thinking like, “Oh, I've gotta build these hours or I've gotta do whatever to catch up on work.” Talking to him about that piece of it really helped him to get on board. Then as far as the strategy of what we did, we had a spreadsheet and we listed out all of our loans, everything that we had, exactly how much we owed, and what the interest rate was on it, what the minimum payment was, and all of that.
We did the debt-snowball method. We started with the smallest loans and worked our way up to the biggest, which was my husband's loan because it was consolidated, it was like $350,000 and then ballooned up to $370,000 as we were paying on mine. But the initial extra money that we were able to put in was very small because we were trying to navigate this new way of managing our finances by actually being intentional with attacking this debt. Our initial extra payments were like $150, $200, which, as you can imagine, did not really move the needle on that size but it got us started and that's what's important. Then as we kept going, it's like, “Okay, well we could cut this here or we could do this.”
My husband, when we started, was a resident and he actually took on a second job for a time, partially to help him with his skills and building his skills before he finished residency, but also it brought in an additional income that we were able to put towards the debt. That was our strategy, just taking it little by little. Initially, the smallest loan was $1,500, then maybe $2,000 and so on, and so early on, we had a lot of momentum because we were able to pay off a loan a month, two loans very, very early on. Then when we got to some of those five and six figure loans, it was easier to keep going because we had so much momentum behind us already.
Sarah Cottrell: Yes. We did the same thing in paying off our loans. We paid them off by size of the loan and not based on their interest rates, which is very, for us at least, it was more motivating. Like you said because it's like you've felt like you were really making progress. I think one of the things when it comes to money for people—and I'm sure this is something that you talk with people about—but it's not just about the math, there is an emotional component. In fact, I would love to hear how you talk with your clients about this because a lot of people have shame around money and around debt, in particular, that can really impede their ability to make the best choices for them, whatever it is with respect to their money. How do you handle that with your clients?
Rho Thomas: You are absolutely right that so many people have shame and guilt and all of these negative emotions associated with money. Part of it is just talking to them about how money itself is just a number. Different people would see the same amount of debt differently. Someone might have $100,000 or $200,000 of debt and feel very shameful or ashamed about that amount and feel overwhelmed, but someone else who's got $500,000 or $1 million would be like, “Oh, I wish I had $200,000.” Helping them to see that the money itself does not mean anything and that they are ascribing the meaning to that number is really helpful. Going through that and showing them too, how they can attack their debt, how they can put a strategy in place so that they can make progress and do the things that they want to do, helps a lot with that. When they see that they're not the only ones like “I had debt. I've got all kinds of clients who have debt,” and the debt itself is not shameful, it's not something to be ashamed about, it's just this number on a screen, I think, is helpful for them.
Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. I think to return again to the whole therapy recommendation, if you're a person who has this experience around money of whatever feelings, including potentially shame around debt—which I'm just mentioning because that's something that does come up a lot—there is a decent 100% chance that part of that is based on something related to your past history, the lessons you learned about money and what money meant, and what debt means, and if you're finding that it's very hard to move out of those feelings, then I think therapy can be very helpful because sometimes you really need that professional support in order to be able to do it.
Rho, let's talk about details because you talked about how much you had when you first sat down and looked at all of your money altogether, you and your husband with the loans, the law school loans, med school loans, etc., talk to me about today.
Rho Thomas: As of about a month ago, we have paid off everything but the mortgage, which we are super excited about, and still considering if we want to pay extra on the mortgage and pay that off quickly or if we'll just let it ride for a little bit. But the bulk of it was the student loans and all of that, so we are very happy to be finished with that.
Sarah Cottrell: Yes. That is super exciting. Congratulations.
Rho Thomas: Thank you.
Sarah Cottrell: This is one of the things that I think is an interesting conversation to have because some people might say, “Oh, well, you're a lawyer and your husband's a doctor, so blah-blah-blah,” whatever in terms of being able to pay things off, but I think one of the things people need to also think about is, like you said, being in those positions also comes with lots of debt. My sister is a doctor and I know typically, people who go to med school, the typical med student is going to have even more debt than the typical law student. Even if you have a significant earning potential with whatever degree you have, you also often have a very significant amount of debt to go along with that. Talk to me about getting to the point where you decided you wanted to work with other people in terms of financial coaching and who you work with and the kind of work you do with them.
Rho Thomas: It started more informally with friends and colleagues at work and all of that. I had been thinking around that same time when I met with the therapist and started thinking about who I am and all of that, I started thinking that I could help other lawyers. That started with an impromptu reaching out to all the first years like, “Hey, let's talk about managing your finances right now.” I bought them lunch and we had a little meeting in one of the conference rooms and I walked them through all of that. From there, I went to HR like, “Hey, I think we should be talking to the summer associates about this,” because I realized in talking with the first years, they had already made some decisions that impacted their finances like where they lived and things like that. Then that led to me working with the first years, presenting to the first years. I already had those wheels turning about helping other people.
Like I said, all of the events of 2020 and just realizing how short life is, it's like, “Okay, if I'm going to do it, let's do it,” and so I went ahead and I did my podcast and I worked with a coach and all of that to get things going. To answer your other question about who I work with, I work with lawyers. I've got a client who just wants to feel more confident with money. Her spouse or partner is very confident, grew up learning about money and that type of thing, and she just wants to match his confidence so that they can have money conversations without her feeling shame. I've got clients who want to pay off debt, who want to have a certain savings goal, all types of things. I say I help lawyers transform their relationship with money so that they can achieve their goals. A lot of times, that goal is something like paying off debt but then other times, people have more intangible goals like building their confidence.
Sarah Cottrell: Do you work with people, say, in a one-off meeting way or are you typically working with people in an ongoing way?
Rho Thomas: Yeah. I work with people in an ongoing way. It's one-on-one private coaching. We meet to talk about whatever it is that's coming up for you regarding money. I have topics that, of course, I'm going to hit that help you with getting to whatever your financial goals are, but it's not a set like week one, we discuss this and then week two, we discuss that. It's really client-driven and personalized to what's coming up for the client.
Sarah Cottrell: Talk to me about the exact progression. So 2020 happens, you have this realization that life is short, all of us had some collective realization on that topic, and then you also had been working on your own finances, you had started working with other people. At what point did you shift from like, “Okay, I'm doing this thing because I'm interested in it,” to getting to the point where you are telling, for example, your mom like, “I'm going to be quitting my job at the law firm to do this”?
Rho Thomas: I would say it was earlier this year because even when I started my podcast, when I started working with people outside of my immediate circle, in my mind, I was still going to be practicing law just maybe at a more reduced rate so to speak, at a more reduced capacity I guess is a better way to say that, and doing the coaching on the side. It was earlier this year, like I said, after having seen that post that asked me that question, as I said, I think that person was talking to me. But that question, if you could do anything and you knew that it would turn out perfectly, what would you choose? I knew immediately that it would be financial coaching. That was earlier this year. I was thinking about it for a while because, let me know if you had the same struggle, but it was like, “Do I really want to leave the law? I don't know who I am if I leave the law, if I'm not a lawyer anymore. This is what I've worked toward my whole life,” all of those types of questions were coming up for me.
But at the end of the day, I knew that this was what I wanted to do. I was feeling that pull to do it and I knew that it was what would be best for me. That's where that shift came. But it took a while for me, I'd say a few months, where I was thinking on that, around the same time that I saw the post from the person on Instagram, some of the partners had asked me, “Oh, as we're coming out of this or the vaccine is rolling out, what are your thoughts about coming into the office? Are you going to come back?” At that time, I was at 50%, “Are you going to come back full-time?” It was like, “Oh, no. I don't see myself coming back full time,” but I don't really know what that looks like, because in my mind, I was going to be a lawyer and I was going to be a partner, and all of that. Those questions, coupled with that Instagram post, really got me to being more introspective and thinking about what I wanted to do. All of that was earlier this year like March, April. Then I gave my notice at the end of July, beginning of August.
Sarah Cottrell: I'm so glad you said that because I think that identity piece, that grappling with the “do I really want to give this up? This is something I've worked on for so long. This feels like it's part of who I am in certain ways,” that's something that comes up so often. It's something we talk about in the Collab all the time. It's a big part of what people work through as they're getting to that point of figuring out what else they want to do. I think it's important for people to hear that because I think often, people feel like, “Why can't I just make a decision one way or the other? There must be something wrong with me.” My response to that is like, “There's nothing wrong with you. You're a lawyer and this is literally what everyone experiences,” at least from what I've observed when they come into these sorts of questions.
Rho, as we're getting to the end of our conversation, is there anything else that you would like to share that we just haven't had a chance to touch on yet?
Rho Thomas: I think the main thing that I want to encourage everyone to do is think about what it is that you truly want outside of what your parents want for you, what your partner wants for you, what you think people at your firm, your company, or whatever will think. Think about what it is that you want. If it's to stay and practice law and figure out the best way to do that for you, then that's great. If it's to leave, then that's great as well. But don't live life based on other people's expectations because that's not a way to live.
Sarah Cottrell: Such good advice. Okay, Rho, for everyone who wants to hear more from you, learn from you, work with you, get all of the financial wisdom, where can they find you online?
Rho Thomas: The best place to go is my website, which is rhothomas.com. That's got links to my social media, my podcast, and all of that. I'm most active on Instagram and LinkedIn. Although I do have a presence on a few other platforms, I'm most active there. I'd love to connect with anyone who wants to connect with me.
Sarah Cottrell: Perfect. We will link all of that in the show notes. Well, Rho, thank you so much for sharing your story with us today. It was really great to talk with you.
Rho Thomas: Thank you again for having me. It was such a pleasure.
Sarah Cottrell: Have you watched my free masterclass, The Simple 5-Step Framework To Identify An Alternative Career (That You Actually Like!)? In this master class, you'll learn the proven framework that I use with all of my clients to help them identify an alternative career. You can watch the masterclass right now, just go to formerlawyer.com/masterclass, sign up, and get the link to watch. Once you've watched, message me or email me and let me know what your biggest takeaway was from the class. I would love to know.
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