Christine Schleppegrell

Leverage Your Judicial Clerkship for a Successful Private Sector Career: Your Financial Year in Review

At the close of the calendar year bar association practice groups and industry networking organizations often host a “year in review” event. These presentations look back at significant events in the past year and sometimes offer predictions for the New Year.

It can’t hurt to do the same with your personal finances and professional goals. The most important part of this exercise: recognizing where the two intersect. It’s always a good idea to keep track of your personal finances on a monthly basis. Even if this means making rough estimates of your take-home pay and large, fixed expenses such as a mortgage or rent. If you haven’t kept records over the last 11 months, not to worry. You can look back at November and October to arrive at ballpark figures.

Take an inventory of your finances for 2013 and assess spending. Major categories to track include: take-home pay, deductions from pay for healthcare, rent/mortgage, utilities, debt service payments, and networking expenses (reimbursable and non-reimbursable). Are you spending too much money on networking/career development? Not enough? Sometimes attorneys get caught up billing hours and forget to manage their own finances. The start of a new year provides a good bench mark and a reminder to do so.

Along with assessing how much you’ve spent on networking, career development, and job searching to obtain your current position, look at the organizations you belong to and ask whether these professional groups will help you meet your career goals. In other words, are you putting your money in the right places? Spending money on professional organizations and getting involved early on in your career is invaluable. However, it’s still important to be smart and spend strategically, only attending events that are in your target industries, are designed for client development, or will help you make connections with other attorneys in your current or target practice areas.

Track expenses that your firm reimburses as well as those that are not reimbursed. Some firms only cover a limited number of professional organizations, while others are more flexible. Obviously it’s best to have your firm cover annual fees for the most expensive memberships and pick up the others on your own. Keep a separate spreadsheet with all your career development expenses and indicate which are reimbursed and which you had to pay out of pocket. This is also a good way to make sure you are actually reimbursed for your expenses. It’s easy to fill out a form and forget about it…only to discover later on that the funds never made it to your account.

Open Enrollment: Remember to consider other expenses that are deducted before your take-home pay is calculated. The largest of these will likely be healthcare, dental, vision, life insurance, and any short/long-term disability your firm offers. Open enrollment is likely coming up soon with new health care elections taking effect January 1st. Be sure to read the literature HR sends your way…you may have only a small window to change your coverage. Otherwise you may be locked in for another 12 months.

Finally, use the data you’ve compiled and analyzed to set professional and financial goals for 2014. While some New Year’s resolutions are easily made and forgotten…financial targets are easier to gauge and afford the opportunity to reap long-term rewards. 

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