A Cautionary Tale Of A Lawyer's Personal Bankruptcy

The NYTimes ran an article recently profiling a lawyer's journey to personal bankruptcy.

The article starts out with a prescient, "[a]nyone who wonders why law school applications are plunging and there’s widespread malaise in many big law firms might consider the case of Gregory M. Owens."

To offer some background, "[t]he silver-haired, distinguished-looking Mr. Owens would seem the embodiment of a successful Wall Street lawyer. A graduate of Denison University and Vanderbilt Law School, Mr. Owens moved to New York City and was named a partner at the then old-line law firm of Dewey, Ballantine, Bushby, Palmer & Wood, and after a merger, at Dewey & LeBoeuf. Today, Mr. Owens, 55, is a partner at an even more eminent global law firm, White & Case. A partnership there or any of the major firms collectively known as 'Big Law' was long regarded as the brass ring of the profession, a virtual guarantee of lifelong prosperity and job security."

So basically, Mr. Owens is the epitome of a successful lawyer. "But on New Year’s Eve, Mr. Owens filed for personal bankruptcy." The article goes on to discuss the events that resulted in bankruptcy.

I am not judging Mr. Owens for his bankruptcy, but I do take aim at the NYTimes stating that this is part of the reason that law school applications are plunging.

"In 2012, he made $351,000, and last year, while at White & Case, he made $356,500. He listed his current monthly income as $31,500, or $375,000 a year." That is a lot of money, and just to put it into perspective, the top 1 percent of American households had income above $394,000 last year. The top 10 percent had income exceeding $114,000.

Any perspective law student that thinks that Mr. Owens's situation is the reason to avoid law school is just plain greedy. Barring the situation that caused Mr. Owens's bankruptcy, if $375,000 is not enough to live on, then maybe Wall Street is the better choice (well, pre-regulation years ala The Wolf of Wall Street).

The only part of this cautionary tale that struck me was to not live beyond my means. And you'll be happier for it.


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