Do You Feel Trapped In The Law By Your Law School Debt?

If you’re reading this post, I’m guessing you feel trapped in the law by your law school debt.

For many of us, a big part of what makes us feel stuck in law is the fact that we have a mountain of student loans.

I get it—I had six figures of law school debt when I graduated law school. My law school debt combined with my husband’s law school debt (plus a smattering of consumer debt) totaled over $400k when all was said and done.

Would you rather watch than read? Watch Sarah talk about what to do if you feel trapped in the law by your law school debt.

I personally practiced law for 10 years in part so that I could pay off my student loans. (I now realize that wasn’t my only option.)

The burden of student loan debt is real.

And… it may not be the main thing keeping you trapped in the law.

Trapped In The Law—Even Without Student Loan Debt

Here’s the truth—even with ZERO law school debt, lawyers find themselves feeling trapped in legal practice.

Often, we think that it’s only our law school debt that makes it hard for us to leave the law.

But the reality is that there is so much more to it.

It turns out that even if you eliminate law school debt, there are other obstacles you need to overcome as well in order to leave the law behind.

Some other things that can keep lawyers stuck in the law that have nothing to do with law school debt:

  • There’s the ego boost of people knowing that we’re a lawyer.
  • There’s (for some of us) the lifestyle that we’re able to afford because of our law firm job.
  • There’s the fact that many lawyers don’t know what they would do if they left the law.
  • There’s the fact that law has a relatively clear career path, and stepping off of that (especially after years of schooling) is incredibly daunting.

Three things you can do if you feel trapped in law by your law school debt

Here are three things that you can do if you feel trapped in law by your student loan debt.

Get a handle on what’s actually going on with your money

I can’t tell you how many former lawyers have shared with me that they had concluded that they were financially trapped… even though they didn’t really know what was going on with their money.

There can be all kinds of reasons for this… shame around debt, a head-in-the-sand approach to budgeting, feeling like you don’t have the time… but I encourage everyone to figure out what’s going on with their money before resigning themselves to their financial fate.

This can be as straightforward as

iguring out exactly how much you owe, and how much money you have coming in and going out every month.

You may still come to the same conclusion… but for many people, this exercise helps them realize that they have more options than they thought they did.

Explore your options (with experts if necessary)

It’s rare that your ONLY option is waiting to leave the law until you’ve paid off all of your loans. There are tons of resources out there, but I’m going to link two in the description

The first is Student Loan Planner, which helps people navigate through all of the options that they have related to their student loans. One of their consultants, Lauryn Williams, has been on the Former Lawyer Podcast and shared a bunch of options for lawyers to consider. These are great places to start if you’re really wanting to figure out what options you may have for managing your loans.

The second is a Biglaw specific suggestion—my friend Jessica Medina, a former Biglaw associate and SEC lawyer, who is an Accredited Financial Counselor. Jessica helps Biglaw lawyers make the most of their salary. Many of my clients have worked with her to make a plan for how they can set themselves up for a move out of Biglaw and the law.

(Oh, and just to be clear, I’m not an affiliate for either Student Loan Planner or Jessica, I just have seen how they have helped other lawyers.)

Don’t wait until you’ve hit your financial goals to figure out what’s next

I see this a lot, and I fell prey to this some as well… lawyers get so focused on getting to that financial goal, that they forget that once they get there, they have to actually know what they want to do next!

That’s work that you can start doing way before you’re actually in a financial position to make a move—and in a lot of ways, it’s more advantageous, because you have more time and space to figure out what’s next, without the pressure of “I have to figure this out right now!”

For a lot of us who are lawyers, we need that time, because we’ve been on the path so long—often from even before law school—that it takes a lot of work and self-reflection to imagine a life outside the legal path. And there are a lot of options out there!

So, even if you feel like you’re stuck with the law for a while longer–you don’t have to feel like you aren’t making any forward progress. You can make tons of progress by spending the time you have now delving into the deeper questions that you need to answer about what’s next.

And bonus, that means when you do find yourself in a place financially that allows you to make a change, you aren’t going to be trying to decide in a panic what to do next because you want out ASAP.

A great place to start, regardless of where you are? My free guide, First Steps To Leaving The Law. You can download it here.