In our series My 6-Figure Paycheck, women making more than $100,000 open up about how they got there and what exactly they do. We take a closer look at what it feels like to be a woman making 6-figures—when only 5% of American women make that much, according to the US Census*—with the hope it will give women insight into how to better navigate their own career and salary trajectories.
Today, we chat with a 33-year-old attorney from Charleston, SC.
Job: Attorney (Senior Associate)
Location: Charleston, SC
Degree: Bachelor's and Juris Doctor (JD)
First Salary: $40,000
Current Salary: $115,000
As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? "I vacillated between wanting to be a bartender and a journalist. My favorite movies growing up were Cocktail and His Girl Friday, which left huge impressions on me. Ultimately, I decided on journalism because I loved investigating a topic and having an outlet to inform others about a certain subject."
What did you study in college? "I ended up pursuing journalism in college and obtained a communications degree with a concentration in print journalism and a minor in history. I also wrote for the newspaper. After graduating, I spent 2 years in the real world before I decided to go to law school."
Did you have to take out student loans?
"I was lucky that my parents paid for my undergraduate education. I was the first in my family to pursue post-graduate work. My parents supported my decision, but I was on my own and had to take out student loans and an additional loan for studying for the bar.
"I'm very close to paying off my bar loan, but I had to take out $150,000 in law school loans, which, despite making sizable payments every month, the balance has increased to $220,000.
"I'm in the middle of a transition—marriage, home renovation, etc.—and hope to get more aggressive to have these loans paid off in the next 10–15 years."
Have you been working at this job since you graduated college?
"When I graduated from college, I was lucky enough to work in marketing in Washington, DC for 2 years. While marketing was not my passion, I fell in love with commercial real estate and decided to go to law school with the intent of practicing real estate and historic preservation law, which is what led me to move to Charleston.
"I quickly learned that I had other interests in law school and decided that trying cases was a better fit. After law school, I worked for 2 small law firms that allowed me a lot of opportunities to be in the courtrooms and run cases with little micromanagement. Unfortunately, there wasn't a lot of growth, so I weighed my options before taking the leap and joining my current law firm."
How would you explain your day-to-day role at your job?
"Every day is different and exciting. As a civil trial attorney, I handle a variety of different cases that take me all over the state. I'm either meeting with clients, drafting court documents, writing legal briefs, advising clients on their cases, attending mediations, or going to court. It's fast-paced, but I am fortunate to work with a great team."
Did you negotiate your salary?
"I did! I switched jobs a year ago from a small family-owned law firm to work for a mid-sized regional firm with multiple offices and more than 200 lawyers.
"I wanted more than what I was currently making and decided to shoot for the moon by asking for what I thought someone in my shoes would make in a more metropolitan area. I reviewed legal market surveys and also weighed that with the company's benefits, which were amazing.
"Initially, I did not receive what I asked for at my interview, but after 6 months I received a raise that met my initial request."
Is your current job your "passion"? If not, what is?
"It depends on the day! I love the challenges associated with practicing law and how every case presents its own unique challenges. There are days where I doubt whether I'm really making a difference, as every fledgling lawyer dreams of doing, until I remember that each case is personal for my clients, and what I do does matter to them.
"I sometimes see my law school classmates who don't practice law and think how nice it must be to take a different career path, but I honestly cannot see myself doing anything else."
If you could, would you change anything in your career trajectory?
"Nope! I'm on a partnership track, which is exciting and daunting at the same time. Soon I'll need to start shifting my focus from making my billable hours toward business development and client engagement. I'm also considering whether I want to pursue a judgeship, which would require additional professional considerations."
What professional advice would you give your younger self?
"Don't max out your student loans! Law school was a blast, but it's no fun paying essentially a second mortgage every month for the foreseeable future."
* United States Census Bureau, Income Distribution to $250,000 or More for Males and Females, 2017.
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