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  • Would you take a $100,000 pay cut to work for a nonprofit?

    According to this Law.com article, Simpson Thacher and Bartlett is sending fifteen associates to work for nonprofit organizations for one year as part of their pro bono initiative. The firm expects the attorneys to return to the firm when the year is up.

    Simpson salaries start at $160,000 – par for the course for a large firm in a large city. But it sounds like associates who spend the year with a nonprofit will only make $60,000. (I don’t know anyone who works for a firm that has this kind of pro bono program so I don’t know if the difference is made up for at some point.) The associates won’t be considered employees of the firm while they’re away, although they get to keep their insurance benefits – so the year away may impact seniority as well.

    As much as I believe in serving the public, I just can’t see taking a $100,000 pay cut for a year. That’s a lot of money to give up, especially since most lawyers I know have student loans that need to be repaid – and the associates going out are only first to third-years, so it’s unlikely that they’ve paid off their loans already. Even though $60,000 is a decent salary, it’s not that easy to pay off $1,000 in student loans each month when it’s 20% of your gross pay, and close to half of your take-home pay.

    What would you do?


    1. i worked in a very high pressure place for a few years, and i left willingly for a non profit with a much larger pay cut. if my company had offered me a “Sabbatical” with my job guarnteed when i returned, i probably would have done it just for the breathing room.

    2. My husband works for a nonprofit- even though he could work in the corporate world. He makes $32,000 a year. We sure are not in the poorhouse- and we have no consumer debt. To me, the idea that one couldn’t live on $60,000 a year is laughable. Sure they could do it, but I’m sure many would be unwilling to when it came to the day-to-day choices of living. The fact of the matter is, they would have opted into the nonprofit world form the start if that’s what they cared about- and a $100,000 pay cut is not an enticement to delve into the nonprofit world for a year. Who’s going to choose that?

    3. Law firms did this in the early 90’s during another economic downturn. I know someone who was placed at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in Annapolis, MD for a year her first year out of law school. Unfortunately you can’t really look at this as a $100K paycut – it is actually $60K versus the possibility of being laid off, or $0 income. The law.com article isn’t really that investigative and seems to absorb the firm’s press release that this is about lawyers “looking to do more.” I beg to differ when about 2 weeks ago law firms nation wide laid off record numers of partners and associates. This is actually a good deal for the nonprofit to get an employee whose salary is paid by the law firm, and it is a gentler move by the law firm rather than a straight out lay off. Maybe the firm won’t be able to take everyone back once the “fellowship” is over, but at least these lawyers now have a year of experience on their resume. And sure it isn’t nearly as high a salary, but I spent 7 years in a big city law firm and the quality of life between that a nonprofit are vastly different (maybe not 100K different, but still vastly different).

    4. Seeking Lemonade says:

      I think that question is very different for lawyers vs. the rest of humanity.

      Admit it, being a lawyer makes you see things, particularly questions like this, very differently.

      And not the legal question, but the financial question… when it comes to personal income from working.

    5. As a lawyer turned stay at home mommy….I gave up $100,000 and took a pay cut? Yep, and worth every minute staying home with my little one.

      But…..I also started out as a government lawyer making a only a fraction of what my friends made and I had law school loans too. Starting out you didn’t even come close to six figures….not even close. But, because my heart was in helping people who were victims, I chose to forgo the big bucks. There are plenty of lawyers out there that did the same.