By day, mild-mannered Joshua Holt is a Big Law associate representing private equity firms in multimillion-dollar deals. By night, he’s The Biglaw Investor, a mysterious blogger on a mission to prevent young lawyers from falling prey to their own lousy money management.
A sixth-year associate in Goodwin Procter’s New York office, Holt since May has run The Biglaw Investor website anonymously—at least until now. The site and its newsletters aim to provide financial tips for Big Law associates, many of whom start their careers at a $180,000 annual salary with little knowledge about how to manage it.
“It’s just a ton of money,” said Holt, a 36-year-old graduate of Boston College Law School. “How do you deal with that salary from Day One if you don’t know anything about handling it?”
The Biglaw Investor also provides information for lawyers at the lower end of the pay scale, including those who take public interest jobs. Earning even $60,000 annually can be big money for new law grads who lived on Taco Bell takeout with three roommates while in school.
“I just really like helping people,” Holt said about his blog. “I really would like to see all lawyers have good financial information.”
Holt, as The Biglaw Investor, is a prolific writer, publishing three newsletters a week covering taxes, bonds, 401(k) matching, pensions, public service loan forgiveness, refinancing and insurance, to name just a few topics.
The website, he said, has virtually no relevance to his practice at Goodwin Procter, where he works on deals ranging from $20 million to $500 million.
Although he runs the website anonymously—mainly to keep his blogging world separate from his work at Goodwin Procter, he said—it’s not difficult to figure out his identity. Holt’s photo appears with The Biglaw Investor’s Twitter account and his name appears when subscribers sign onto the blog’s mailing list.
And he does make money from The Biglaw Investor. In 2016, he raked in $5.18 from the website. He figures that his billing rate for the site is less than 10 cents an hour. Holt said he’s “quite happy” with his current practice at Goodwin Procter and harbors no illusions of making The Biglaw Investor a full-time career. He’d like it to generate “a little bit of money,” he said, more than $5.18, to help justify the time he devotes to it.
Traffic on The Biglaw Investor “is growing pretty steadily,” Holt said. Last month, the site had 6,075 unique visitors, 7,031 visits and 14,471 page views.
Part of what motivates The Biglaw Investor are the effects from the massive debt that law grads now shoulder, which by the American Bar Association’s latest estimates is more than $125,000. Debt of $200,000 “is not uncommon,” Holt said.
The Biglaw Investor on his website identifies himself only as an associate who started his career with $200,000 in student debt and with “zero understanding of how to manage a $160,000 salary and enough anxiety to immobilize a small horse.”
Mismanaging that debt can leave young lawyers imprisoned by high salaries in jobs they don’t like, and many of the tips Holt offers are designed to avoid that trap.
A critical step is refinancing, he said. Interest on government loans often runs more than 6 percent, and private marketing refinancing, which has become a much simpler process in recent years, can save associates as much as 3 percent. That can be $6,000 in savings for an associate who’s $200,000 in debt, Holt noted.
“It’s really easy to do, and it takes about an hour,” he said.
The kind of neutral advice like The Biglaw Investor provides “would be very helpful” to young lawyers, said Mark Doerr, a seventh-year associate in Schiff Hardin’s Chicago office who graduated from Columbia University Law School in 2010.
“When you’re a Big Law associate, you are constantly bombarded by financial advisers cold calling you,” Doerr said. “They’re not your fiduciary. You don’t really know this person or their motives.”
One of the common pitfalls for associates that Holt’s blog warns against is “lifestyle inflation.”
“You find yourself with bottle service at a club, and you think, ‘Wow, this is my lifestyle now,’” Holt said.
New associates, eager to enjoy rewards from their hard work, are quick to commit to high rents and big car payments. “You have to fight against that,” he said. “It’s very difficult to move backward from that.”
In order to save, invest and pay off debt, Holt recommends that associates mimic the austerity they practiced in law school, at least for a few years. Roommates, home-cooked meals and discount clothes may not be glamorous, but they can bring financial freedom.
Joseph Tillman said he was fortunate to have a close friend help him with financial planning when he graduated from New York University School of Law in 2012. Tillman, a former associate at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher who left the firm in November to become associate general counsel at investment banking firm The Raine Group, also had the benefit of advice from a sister who was an accountant.
“My friends and colleagues were nowhere near as informed on this stuff,” Tillman said. “I would talk to folks about [financial] things I was doing, and it was like I was speaking another language.”
Tillman would like to see law schools offer at least “an hour or two” presentation to students about how to manage their finances.
“It could at least give these kids some sort of primer,” he said.
As for those “kids,” they’ll be old one day, cautions The Biglaw Investor, and they need to prepare. Human nature, Holt said, is to avoid thinking about oneself in one’s twilight years, so he suggests small steps, such as creating a health savings account and contributing the maximum to a 401(k) account. Making those changes, as opposed to labeling it “retirement planning,” is an effective strategy.
“It’s pretty simple, and it’s just a few things, and you’re set,” Holt said.
Contact Leigh Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @LeighJones711