I Want to Be a Mega-Rich Lawyer, Fast

Ex-Bitter Columns, Lawyer 16 Comments

Q)  I’m a third-year law student (at a T1 school) looking for a job.  But the truth is, I don’t really love the law. To be perfectly honest, all I care about is making money. That’s it. It’s not P.C. to say that in public, I know, but my sole professional objective is to make as much as money as possible in the shortest amount of time possible. I don’t so much care about justice, the constitution or the pursuit of happiness. I’m a capitalist. So my question is: What’s the best way for a lawyer to get really rich, really fast? Thanks for your advice.

A)  So let me get this straight, Mr. Capitalist. You went to law school to get really rich, really fast? That’s like going to Provincetown to find a hot chick.

The law is hardly a get-rich-quick profession. It’s more of a get-moderately-wealthy-over-time profession. When it comes to amassing cash, lawyers are tortoises. There are, of course, exceptions, but they’re few and far between. Just take a look at the Forbes 400.  Not many practicing lawyers on the list.

While there may not be a ton of billionaire lawyers jet-setting around St. Tropez, there are still plenty of incredibly rich lawyers out there. “Plenty,” not “tons.” With that in mind, I offer up the following (potentially) lucrative legal career paths:

Class-Action/Plaintiffs’ Lawyer

These guys aren’t well respected (okay, most consider them to be scum), but if they land a big case, they can make major jack. MAJOR. Like $30-, $50-, $70-million-in-a-year jack. All it takes is one severely flawed pharmaceutical product or a major automotive defect, and boom, you’re rich as hell. It’s a cutthroat business, and not very classy, but if you want to get fuck-you rich in a hurry, this is your best chance.

Entertainment Law

It’s a tiny, secretive club, but if you crack the code, you can get rich.  The key to their financial success is simple: They don’t bill hours, they charge a 5% commission. That means if Will Smith makes 40 million a year, his lawyer makes 2 million.  On just Will Smith.  If said lawyer has 20 other A-list clients, the numbers can get pretty big, pretty fast.  But like I said, it’s a small crowd, and these people don’t like outsiders. You don’t just send a resume and get a job. Trust me. You need to work the Hollywood scene for years and quietly earn “the town’s trust.” (Yes, they really do use phrases like “the town’s trust.”) It’s a crazy, annoying, elitist club, but if you get into the VIP room, you’re looking at making $3-10 million a year.

Equity Partner at Top-Tier White-Shoe Firm

It ain’t easy to make it there, but if you do, you’re looking at $2-7 million dollars a year for about 30 straight years. But there aren’t many firms that pay out that kind of money. I’m talking Cravath, Sullivan, Skadden, Wachtel. And it’s an eight to ten year process to make partner—if you’re a superstar. But if you have elite credentials, like working 80 hours a week and don’t mind throwing away the best years of your life—it’s worth a shot.

But my best advice: Go to Wall Street. That’s where the real money is. Even now.

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  • Ace in the Hole

    I worked on the plaintiff side briefly before going BigLaw and then in-house.  The plaintiff side is definitely where the money is – the average BigLaw partner makes high six or low seven figures, but very few push above that.  If you make it as a plaintiff side securities or other class action litigator, 8 figure years are possible.  Of course, most of the people working in class action firms do not see that, even the so-called partners – it’s only the ones running the show that see the big payouts – but the prospect is there if you’ve got the balls and the brains.

  • canadouche

    going into law is the worst way to make money.  sure, you can, but it is a terrible way to get a paycheque.  you’ll hate it and ultimately yourself.  you want to make easy money?  be a dentist.  you don’t like law?  dont be a lawyer.

  • BL1Y

    The 8-10 year partnership track is misleading.  That’s how long it takes to be a non-equity partner.  I’m not sure how long it takes to move into the equity ranks, but I imagine it’s probably another 8-10.

  • lawskool

    I would love 2 do entertainment law.

  • Anon

    Bl1y: youre wrong.  8-12 is the range.  You really think some superstar lawyer is going to stick around 20 years to make partner?  Please.

  • BL1Y

    You do know that there are two tiers of partners, right?  Equity and non-equity.  Unless you have a huge book of portable business (unlikely after just 8 years), you’re only being promoted to non-equity partner.

  • Anon

    Yes, Bl1y, i know.

  • Craig

    What is the best way for a lawyer to get rich really fast?  …  Marry a girl with filthy rich parents.

  • Anonymous

    ME 2! and fast!!

  • Anon

    Be careful Craig… “when you marry for money, you earn every penny.” Or so they say.

  • ME

    GRRRR…HATE THIS PERSON.

    DO NOT GO INTO LAW IF YOU ONLY WANT TO MAKE MONEY!

  • Frustrated

    This one touches a nerve.  I work my ass off for a very good defense firm and do ok financially.  But, like all lawyers in good defense firms, I wake up at night worrying that I’ve missed a deadline or slightly misinterpreted a case.  The Plaintiffs’ lawyers I deal with are borderline illiterate.  They miss deadlines all the time and are completely oblivious to even the most basis legal concepts.  They always get by with it, but I swear a judge would pop my ass for that crap.  Actually, he would never get a chance to because a partner would fire my ass first.  Then, I see these half-wit plaintiffs’ lawyers settle cases for hundreds of thousands (they’re not big time enough to be in the 7 figure range) of which they keep a third.  Am I missing something, or shouldn’t all lawyers just take out an add on the back cover of the phone book, do shitty work, and count our money as it rolls in?  On a serious note, how much do the low class ambulance chasers on billboards pull in each year?

  • Anonymous

    Dear Frustrated,
    I happen to think the same things about defense lawyers.
    As for Mr. Capitalist—what the hell is wrong with you??  You may be at a T1 school, but you are apparently not that smart.  If you were, you would have researched and found out that the legal job market absolutely sucks and “making big money” out of law school is a farse before you even applied to law school.  The legal profession is NOT sexy… it’s hard work and you will be miserable if you don’t like it.  If I were you, I’d start applying to dental school now so you can defer your loans until becoming a dentist (when you’ll actually be able to afford paying for them).

  • Dave

    Do something you enjoy and play the lottery on the side.

  • newlymintedmaniac

    WHAT exactly does this mean:

    “Go to Wall Street” ?

  • Marcell

    The book is called Black Window. It is still in progress,.and it is perfessionally done unlike comment I just poasted. I really have big dreams to be a movie writting.