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Legally Thrifty: Too Many Lawyers Named the Joneses

Have you heard of the Joneses?  If not, you live in a blissfully ignorant place.  If you know the Joneses but ignore them, congratulations! You’re on your way to a conscious, self-induced happiness in all your life pursuits.


[ Image Credit: http://www.stufftotweet.com/tweetthis/wikihow/how-to-stop-keeping-up-with-the-joneses ]

“Keeping up with the Joneses” is a well-known expression that refers to the need to compare ourselves to our peers in terms of visible wealth and material possessions and then strive to own whatever they own in order to be just as good or better.  Presumably, the Joneses are supposed to be your neighbors with the McMansion and luxury cars in the driveway.  We all have our Joneses, however, in varying shapes and sizes.  And what women covet may differ from what men covet to appear successful to our peers.  Maybe at some point, we wanted to be the girl who was pretty and popular, the girl who could fit into size 4 pants, or the girl who was happily married with a handsome husband. 

For women (and men) in the legal profession, there are even more possibilities in what we can envy in others.  The sudden influx of 6 figure disposable income from a Big Law job typically results in a proportionate influx of materialism.  Your law school classmate with the spanking new Porsche.  Your close girlfriend who shows up with a designer purse that costs almost twice what you make in a month.  Who are these people? They are the Joneses. They are your friends.  And you must pretend they don’t exist.

When I graduated law school, I struggled with keeping the Joneses at bay.  I envied my friends with their Big Law salaries and what they could do with their money.  Pay off their loans, go shopping, save for a down payment on an apartment.  Worse, money was the least of it.  I felt jealous of fellow attorneys who seemed to have illustrious career paths laid out for them.  They had Big Law pedigrees with the world as their oyster, while I grappled with recruiters who did not want to work with me.  I wanted to be that sophisticated female attorney who had it all.  Instead, I found myself overspending to keep up with the Joneses and ignoring my loans to pursue a lifestyle that wasn’t realistic for my income bracket. 

Well I am here to tell you that the Joneses can suck it!  You can spend your whole life trying to keep up with the Joneses or realize that you can be happy on your own non-materialistic, non-monetary terms.  I made a few mistakes along the way but I no longer care as much about what the Joneses are doing.  I know that in the light of this depressing legal job market, it can be easy to wallow in self-pity and envy others who were able to get plum jobs.  When you constantly compare yourself to others, you are not going anywhere except downhill.  As obvious as that sounds, thinking and not believing is the best way to better your situation and learn to make the best of it.  I can sit here and lecture but only you can put your attitude into practice. 

We also have to remember that perceptions can be misleading and what you see is not necessarily what you get.  In reality, the Joneses might not be able to afford the mortgage on that McMansion and your classmate with the seemingly perfect career may be unhappy about other aspects of his or her life.  Conversely, the friend with the beat-up car and secondhand clothes may be sitting on a million dollar nest egg.  You never know the full story and you don’t have to know.

Over dinner with one of my friends, I moaned about my lack of income and desire to be in a better place financially.  She said, yeah but you’re the only one out of all of us who has any “real” experience being an attorney.  In lieu of long hours, a plum salary, and doc review, I get eight hour days, a low salary, and my day in court.   I guess in the end, the only person I have to keep up with is myself.

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