It’s not that often that I blog about blogging. There are plenty of sites with income reports, courses about making money online and other general nonsense that probably doesn’t have an impact on your life. However, once a year, I put together an annual reflection (see the report from 2016) where we look back at what happened at The Biglaw Investor over the past year. It’s a departure from the topics I want to write about, but I think it’s important to highlight the conflict of interest that exists for anyone writing about money. I’m routinely amazed when I have this conversation in real life or over email. People think that since I’m genuinely motivated to see all of us reach financial success that I must have no conflicts. I wish it were that easy! There are conflicts everywhere, which I’ll dig into below. But this post isn’t just about exposing the conflicts. It’s all about remembering why I started this crazy project in the first place.
First and foremost, thank you to all of the readers of the site, many of whom come here regularly. I’ve enjoyed the emails, comments and relationships that have started to form over the past 20 months of blogging. I thoroughly enjoy all the new readers that “stumble” upon the site after so much work on my part for you to find the site! A lot of you reading this post didn’t know this site existed at the end of 2016. Welcome aboard!
I have a busy legal career and at times it’s been difficult to keep up with the posts, especially in the early days when there were almost no readers. But every time I received an email or a comment, many of which detail someone taking steps to secure their financial future, it reinforced my desire to keep going. So thank you for the motivation! Without it, I imagine I would have quit a long time ago.
I especially want to thank all the people who have linked to the site, who shared the site on social media and who recommended the site to their colleagues. I know from the analytics that lawyers are reading the site all over the country and I hope that everyone has found some value in these pages.
Why Am I Doing This?
The Biglaw Investor has a three-fold mission:
1. Education. Help lawyers, law students and other professionals learn about personal finance, investing and financial independence. This means we cover Biglaw, MidLaw, SmallLaw, SoloLaw and GovernmentLaw (and any others I forgot). Lawyers may have diverse starting incomes but the ideas in these pages are applicable to everyone. Simple and consistent investing wins the day for everyone.
2. Community. Form a community to connect readers with similar readers, so we can learn together. I don’t pretend for an instant to know everything. In fact, the deeper I dive into subjects it’s more likely that I expand my understanding of what I don’t know. But over time we’re putting together a comprehensive set of information on this site with the collective knowledge of thousands of people, including experts in their particular field or experience. Even better, as the site grows – and after tons of filtering – we’re starting to connect with the “good guys” in the financial services industry. Believe me, they do exist! Working in law can be an isolating experience, regardless of whether you have a high salary or a low salary. We’ve each worked hard to earn a JD (or other professional degree) and get admitted to the bar (or otherwise licensed) and I’d like to see everyone achieve financial security as a result.
3. Entrepreneurship and Creativity. I am motivated to express my entrepreneurial spirit. That is to say, to make money for me, my family, and allow me to create as many jobs as possible. The site is a “for-profit” venture as much as typing into the internet counts as “for-profit”. As I’ve said before, I make plenty of money at the day job so you don’t have to worry about me selling you out for a $100 paycheck, but I still think it’s important for you to know how the site makes money so you can evaluate the recommendation appropriately. I know that’s why a lot of you are reading down this far anyway – does this guy actually make any money with this site?
Readership. This year the site had over 288,000 pageviews (compared to measly 36,000 pageviews last year) generated by over 145,000 visitors (can you believe that number is over 100,000?!). As you can see, the promotional effort is starting to pay off after spending a lot of time focused on building quality content. Google estimates that 114 people are subscribed to the RSS feed, plus 157 that keep up with the site using Feedly. Another 1,480 of you have found your way to the email list. Not interacting with my email list has been my greatest failure in 2017 and one that I’m going to fix in 2018 (I’m sure many will not even remember subscribing). I’ve committed to sending an email each month with the first one arriving soon. If you haven’t subscribed, please take a second to subscribe now.
Productivity. I managed to hammer out 122 posts in 2017, which is about one post every 3 days. As many of you know, posts appear on a Monday/Wednesday/Friday schedule. I often have many posts written well in advance of their publication date. It helps smooth out the publication schedule while balancing corporate M&A work. In addition to my productivity, you were also very productive this year, leaving 839 comments and sending me more emails than I can count. At this point I’m still able to keep up with the volume, although my response time is a little slow. It’s been great getting to know everyone and hearing your stories. I can promise you that there are so many more lawyers interested in personal finance and investing than you think.
The most popular posts in 2017 were Sample Budget: 1st Year Associate and Where Are All The Rich Lawyers? Not surprisingly, the Classics page is the most popular page since it contains an overview of helpful content for beginners to experts.
From the beginning, I’ve disclosed that this will be a “for-profit” website. I generated a whole $5.18 in revenue in 2016. This will probably be the last time I mention that. I was much more interested in writing quality content than figuring out ways to make money.
In 2017, I took a different path and started to look for relationships where I thought it would be win-win-win for the readers/advertisers/myself. I still hold on to that metric, which is why I’ve turned away 90%+ of people who want to advertise on the site. I’m in no hurry to exploit those relationships as I want to find partners that will provide value to readers for years to come.
This year those relationships added up to $12,162.35 in annual revenue. Annual revenue can be broken up into the following categories:
- Affiliates (Student Loan Refinancing, Amazon, etc.) – $9,364.28
- Direct Advertising (Student Loan Planner, PKA Insurance, Flagstar Bank, BBVA Compass, Google Ads, etc.) – $2,798.07
Total Income: $12,162.35
Total Expenses: $6,971.14
I’m still surprised you can make any money blogging but apparently you can! Does this amount move the needle for me? No, but it essentially means I get paid for a hobby I’ve had for years. This year that hobby led to about 3.5 weeks of work as a summer associate in a Biglaw firm. Not bad.
Added to the revenue is the fact that it costs significant money to run a business, particularly when you’re motivated by the mission and happy to pour the money back into the site to make it better. For the curious, expenses are mainly made up of startup costs, including software to help make things run smoothly, courses to help me learn how to do things myself efficiently, contractors to help where my skills (or time) are lacking, conferences and travel expenses, credit card processing fees, etc. Quite frankly there is a lot of fat to trim in the expenses but there’s a lot of trial and error involved in finding the right services (not to mention that I prepaid for a year’s worth of some programs at the end of 2017, so a lot of 2018 expenses have already been paid). All keep the site and its various systems running smoothly.
Conflicts of Interest
As I mentioned earlier, the conflicts of interest are everywhere. I think about them and try to avoid them. However, the only way to completely avoid them is not write about money, something I’m not willing to do. What are examples of some of these conflicts?
- I have referred a few of you to Amazon to buy books that you possibly could have checked out for free at the library.
- This site makes money thanks to its student loan advertisers. Is refinancing your student loans best for you? For some of you it is but for others it might not be. I may have a vested financial interest in you refinancing your student loans even if it’s not the best course for you. I can generally live with though, as I know we’ve saved hundreds of thousands of dollars of interest for many of you.
- What order do I put the student loan companies when it comes to refinancing your law school loans? Do I organize them by the best cashback offer for you? By the lowest interest rate? By the ones that pay the site the most? See what I mean. There has to be some order!
- Should you get a 0% down PMI-free mortgage just because you’re a lawyer? It’s definitely going to cost more than putting down 20% for a conventional mortgage but if you’re going to do it anyway, is this product better than a frankenstein creation by an aggressive mortgage broker?
- I may have suggested that you need life insurance when you don’t really need it.
- I may have made it sound like figuring out a student loan repayment plan is harder than it really is.
As you can see there are conflicts everywhere. One thing I try really hard to achieve is that while we may not be completely aligned, we’ll be mostly aligned every step of the way. Regardless, you should know about these conflicts when making your decisions about financial products. So many sites do absolutely nothing to tell you about these conflicts besides throwing up a tiny disclaimer link.
The Roadmap Ahead
- Posting Schedule. We will continue to post on a M/W/F frequency. I think the volume is right and it ensures there’s a constant stream of interesting ideas. I’m not the slightest worried about running out of topics.
- Running A Business. I’m starting to treat this site more like a business, which means bringing on help for some of the tasks that could be better handled by someone else. I want to focus as much time as possible on writing content, which means other people should help in other areas.
- Improving Pages. Some of the site’s standalone pages were written many months ago and could use a little polishing. I’ll be making an effort to improve them and to add a few more to the mix.
- Guest Posts. Guest posts are starting to get easier to find as the site’s readership grows. We need voices from across the financial services spectrum, so if you’re interested in contributing please see the guest post policy.
How You Can Help
The main growth of the site has been word of mouth. If you’re finding value in the site, I greatly appreciate you forwarding it along to your colleagues and friends. There are over 1.3 million lawyers in the United States, so we’ve only begun to scratch the surface. This doesn’t even take into consideration the nearly 111,000 law students enrolled in a JD program. It’s those students that could use the financial education the most, as most law schools do not teach a sufficient amount of personal finance material to lawyers. Please take a moment to forward (or post on an appropriate forum) the URL to someone you think could benefit from the site. Sharing the site is the single biggest thing you can do to spread the word.
Again, I’d like to thank everyone reading this far for being a dedicated reader of The Biglaw Investor. I hope the disclosure and discussion increases your trust in the information provided on the site. Given that there’s no rules for personal finance websites, as a reader myself I often find it difficult to navigate whether the information is biased by the fact that the author is receiving some form of compensation. I hope that by discussing it with you – and by knowing I’ll be writing these posts each year – it will build the necessary trust in any kind of financial discussion. As far as I’m concerned, you should always know if taking an action from any information on this site results in any payment to the site. Then it’ll be up to you to decide if it’s still a good deal for you.
Let’s talk about it. Did you find this post entertaining? Thanks again for reading and for those that shared the site!
Joshua Holt A practicing private equity M&A lawyer and the creator of Biglaw Investor, Josh couldn’t find a place where lawyers were talking about money, so he created it himself. He spends 10 minutes a month on Personal Capital keeping track of his money and is currently refreshing PeerStreet to find new real estate crowdfunding deals.