BLI: Year in Review (2018)


Another recap of the what happened here at the Biglaw Investor last year.

With 2018 coming to close, it’s time to look back and see what happened on the site during the previous twelve months. For those of you that aren’t familiar, each year I put together an annual reflection (see here for the 2016 report and 2017 report) where I highlight the profit / expense / purpose of the site.

Why? Because I think it’s a good idea to catalog what happened over the previous year and because I think it’s important to highlight the conflict of interest that exists for anyone writing about money.

It’s impossible for me to write about student loan refinancing, real estate crowdfunding, my portfolio or general personal finance without facing a conflict of interest.

While most of you know that I’m a practicing M&A lawyer in NYC with a healthy income from my day job (i.e. no need to sell you out), I’d rather expose the conflicts of interest so that you can evaluate the information on this site and make your own informed decisions.

Plus, I like to remember why I started this crazy project in the first place.

Thank You

First and foremost, big love to all of the readers, many of whom come here regularly. I love your emails and the conversations we have. Who knew that there were so many lawyers interested in digging out of the financial grave that is your student loans and finding a piece of the good life. I may not respond immediately but I read each one and try not to let any slip through the cracks. If you haven’t heard back from me, feel free to email again. I don’t mind.

Without the emails, comments and in person interaction, I doubt I’d have the motivation to keep the site going for so long. But each time I hear from someone who gets super passionate about personal finance thanks to coming across this site, I feel like the whole project is worth it.

I specifically 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. It’s really the best way to get more lawyers excited about getting started with their own person finance journey.

Why Does This Site Exist?

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/Productivity

Readership. This year the site had over 288,000 pageviews (compared to measly 385,000 pageviews last year) generated by over 224,000 visitors (nearly a quarter-million – we will surpass that next year). There’s been a lot of readers even with the dip in productivity described below. I attribute that to the fact that each day a new lawyer finds the site and decides to join the journey, even if there hasn’t been as much content as I would like to produce in the second half of 2018.

Productivity. I managed to hammer out 43 posts in 2018, which is dreadfully lower than last year. While the corporate M&A work certainly played a role in the lack of posts (it was a busy year for M&A across the board), most of the damage came from my wife’s pregnancy. I haven’t written about it on the site but we are days away from welcoming our first child into the world and we will be one of the rare sets of parents that look forward to the sleepless nights with an infant as a respite from the pregnancy. I look forward to destroying the myth that children are expensive and to establishing a new rhythm that allows for more writing than I was able to produce in 2018.

The most popular posts in 2018 were Sample Budget: 1st Year Associate and What is Your Archimedes Lever (thanks  Tim Ferriss!). Not surprisingly, the Classics page remains the most popular page since it contains an overview of helpful content for beginners to experts.

Financial Report

From the beginning, I’ve disclosed that this is a “for-profit” venture. I generated a whole $5.18 in revenue in the first year of blogging, so I didn’t (and still don’t) expect to get rich from typing words into a keyboard for a website. Yet, the business side of blogging is fun and the money keeps me motivated, even if it’s not exactly a particularly financially valuable use of time.

I continue to turn away 90%+ of people who want to advertise on the site. In fact, the soon-to-be-released redesign of the site (shh!) gets rid of the side bar entirely. I didn’t like the way it looked. I imagine you didn’t like either. In a world where we are bombarded with ads, I didn’t want to contribute to that by having a sidebar screaming for your attention while you read the content that brought you to the site in the first place.

Additionally, the sidebar didn’t really make sense. One of the quirks of this site is that I get a lot of requests from readers for financial professionals that can help with things like financial planning, student loan strategies and insurance products. In hindsight these requests make sense. The financial services industry is full of people who will gladly “help” you by taking your a slice of your money. The problem is sorting through the sea to find the good people and that’s exactly what I’ve been doing over the past two and a half years. Those people show up on the site and are people that I would (or have) worked with to solve a particular financial need.

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 (in essence, a win-win-win situation).

This year those relationships added up to $27,889 in annual revenue. Nearly all of that money was reinvested back in the site. I haven’t tallied up my final expense numbers but I doubt there will be much profit. While I could cut the expenses to the bare minimum and take the cash for myself, I’m much more interested in building a sustainable site that can live here as a resource for future law students and lawyers.

This year that hobby led to revenue equal to about 7.6 weeks of work as a summer associate in a Biglaw firm. Not bad.

Conflicts of Interest

As I mentioned earlier, the conflicts of interest in writing about finance and investing are impossible to avoid. I think about them, document them here and try to do what I can to minimize them. Yet, even if the site was “non-profit” I would still have conflicts in deciding how to answer some of the questions below. What are examples of some of these conflicts?

  • This site makes money thanks to its student loan advertisers. Is refinancing your student loans best for you? For the vast majority, I think it makes sense to refinance your student loans if you intend to pay them off. On the other other hand, if you’re pursuing PSLF or some other forgiveness program, it doesn’t make sense to refinance your student loans. Because I write about student loans I have a financial interest in you deciding to refinance! That’s not ideal. I’ve reduced this by negotiating cashback bonuses with the student loan refinancing companies so that you get most of their advertising budget but this hasn’t eliminated the conflict.
  • What order do I put the student loan companies or other affiliate partners? 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. Someone has to decide how to order them and the order does matter, since readers are more likely to examine the first few rather than the last few.
  • I may have described my foray into real estate crowdfunding as more interesting / fun and less stressful than it actually is.
  • I have referred a few of you to Amazon to buy books that you could have checked out for free at the library. You might have spent more money at Amazon than you intended, thus increasing unnecessary consumer spending.
  • 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 buy a house with less than 20% down is there a better option?
  • I may have suggested that you need life insurance when you don’t really need it.

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

New Visual Identity / Site Redesign. One of the toughest things about blogging is that what you see on the site is truly the tip of the iceberg. I receive enough emails that I could easily just keep answering them and it’d keep me busy for the rest of 2019. Unfortunately, that isn’t very good for the vast majority of you that are just looking for a resource on the web! On top of the admin stuff, I’be buried myself deep in a project redesigning the site. I wanted to create something permanent and I’m excited about what we’ve done so far. Unfortunately, it’s not quite ready to share just yet so you’ll have to trust me. I hope it’s something I can share with you in Q1.

Running A Business. Last year I said I’m starting to treat this site more like a business. If that’s true, I can’t say I’m doing a great job but I do think I’m getting better. There are now several people who have their hands in this project, from keeping WordPress fresh and backups on the shelf to making the glossy exterior A+ (trust me, you’ll see it soon). It’s been fun to learn project management skills completely outside of the legal world. I have a newfound respect for everyone that is running a team out there!

How You Can Help

This site grows by word-of-mouth.

You like it. You tell your friends. They like it and they tell their friends.

Then you get to talk to your friends about financial independence and we all win.

There are over 1.3 million lawyers in the United States (plus 110,000 law students), so we’ve only begun to scratch the surface. It’s the students that could use the financial education the most, as most law schools do not have classes on personal finance. Please take a moment to forward (or post on an appropriate forum) the The Biglaw Investor to someone you think could benefit from the site. Sharing the site is the single biggest thing you can do to spread the word.

Conclusion

Again, I’d like to thank the readers. I know this isn’t the typical post but I hope the disclosure and discussion increases your trust in the information provided on the site. Given that the web is the Wild Wild West, when I’m visiting sites I often find it difficult to understand whether the information is biased by the fact that the author is receiving some form of compensation. I hope that by writing it down for you – and by knowing I’ll be writing these posts each year – it keeps the conversation clear, so we can get back to talking about finances and investing.

Joshua Holt

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.

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    Thirteen thoughts on BLI: Year in Review (2018)


    1. Looks like you had a great year Josh! Exciting next step with being a parent – will be a great perspective to see how practicing law (especially biglaw) works with being a parent.

      Your site is always the first site I tell any lawyer to go to!

    2. Great post; I love your transparency. I share your blog with as many law students and lawyers as I can, because it’s been so tremendously valuable to me. Congrats on both another great year and all the excitement to come. I’m excited to see what’s next.

    3. Great stuff dude! Enjoyed chatting with you last year when I began my FIRE journey. I’m nine months in and I’m still loving early retirement. Spent the summer in Lyon and spending the month of March in Thailand. Still walking and cycling a ton and no boredom yet even though I have absolutely no plan or purpose 🙂

      Do you really spend about $25k on running the site? What could possibly cost that much?

    4. Nice work last year and good goals for this coming year.

      Averaging almost a post a week is impressive given the demand of your job and family. As a new personal finance blogger, I am aiming to hit a post a week and be consistent about it.

      Keep up the good work.

    5. I’m digging the site redesign, Josh. Would love to see more content and I’m sure you’d like to find the time to create more. Looking forward to more great stuff from the Big Law Investor as time allows.

      Cheers!
      -PoF

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