I Make $105,000 A Year And Have $160,000 In Student Loan Debt

In our series My 6-Figure Paycheck, women making more than $100,000 open up about how they got there and what exactly they do. We take a closer look at what it feels like to be a woman making six-figures — when only 5% of American women make that much, according to the U.S. Census with the hope it will give women insight into how to better navigate their own career and salary trajectories.
Today, we chat with a 28-year old associate attorney from Orange County, CA. Previously, we spoke with a 21-year old software engineer from Berkeley, CA and a 31-year old design strategist from Denver, CO.
Job: Associate Attorney, Real Estate
Age: 28
Location: Orange County, California
Degree: Bachelor's Degree, Juris Doctor Degree
First Salary: $41,000
Salary: $105,000
As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
"I wanted to be a baker — specifically, a donut maker for some reason. That dream was somewhat short-lived though, primarily due to the fact that I really liked school and wanted to do something a bit more analytic. Although now I bake for my coworkers all the time! I've gotten fairly popular around the office."
What did you study in college?
"I have a B.A. from UC Santa Barbara in Political Science and a J.D. from Chapman University School of Law."
Did you have to take out student loans? If so, how much were they for and how long did it take you to pay them off?
"I had about $225,000 when I graduated law school in 2014. My interest rates went all the way up to 8%. Thankfully, I refinanced at a 2.9% fixed, and I'm down to about $160,000 now. My husband and I pay at least $2,050 every month and most months we put another $500 and the occasional larger payment whenever can. The goal is to finish these off within 6 more years."
Have you been working at this job since you graduated college?
"I went straight into law school after undergrad, and then started at my current job about 6 months after graduating law school, so technically yes. Although I clerked and interned at a couple of places while I was in my second and third year of law school."
How would you explain your day-to-day role at your job?
"The large objective is managing a case load. So, what that means is making sure all of your cases are progressing the way they are supposed to be, and that no deadlines are missed. More specifically, what that means is preparing a general litigation strategy on a case-by-case basis, drafting motions and discovery, communicating regularly with clients (huge), negotiation and appearing at Court Hearings."
Did you negotiate your salary?
"I did negotiate on my 2016 annual review. They offered me $90,000; I asked for $100,000 and we compromised in the middle at $95,000. Ultimately, I chose not to negotiate for my 2017 review because I was a bit short of my billable hours (kind of important for an attorney) and I felt that their offer was fair, and I did not feel I was in the best place to negotiate.
"I’m on track to hit my hours this year so I definitely will negotiate. As long as you’re not being unreasonable, it doesn’t hurt to ask for more. If you have the justification for it, odds are you will end up with something more than you started with."
Is your current job your “passion?” If not, what is?
"Yes and no, I really do love being a lawyer, and I love litigating, I know that is my passion. However the specific industry that I work in is probably not my "passion" although I'm not sure what is! I've stayed at my current job for so long because I love the people, the flexible hours, and my boss. So I'm definitely not looking to leave anytime soon."
If you could, would you change anything in your career trajectory?
"Besides making partner, there really isn't a lot of opportunity for 'promotion' in this industry. Yes, I get annual raises, but my day-to-day responsibilities don't change much. I think having more short-term goals would really be beneficial."
What professional advice would you give your younger self?
"Try harder in undergrad. That is my one major regret. I attended UCSB, a huge party school, and really half-assed my studies there because it was so easy for me to get Bs and not go to class. I didn't see the point in trying harder.
"My undergrad GPA was good enough to get me in to law school, but not good enough for any sort of scholarship. I had a good LSAT score, so if I had a better GPA I could have definitely gotten a scholarship. Had I tried harder, I would have definitely had less student loans to deal with now."
Are you a woman under 35 with a six-figure salary and want to tell your story? Submit it here.

More from Work & Money