Wow, this is fascinating. This is my first post on the forum - I came looking for info about midwives in my area.
I am a fifth-year litigator at a midsize regional law firm, making about $10k-shy of big firm bucks at a somewhat more family-friendly firm.
I went to a Top 3 law school right out of college, like another poster said, "just because I could." I didn't know what else I wanted to do. Honestly, I had no clue what I was doing. I remember a few people asking about loan forgiveness at my orientation, and I thought, "Ha! Who cares? We're going to be lawyers!" Hahahaha! I did a lot of public interest work during school, including asylum cases, capital defense, and work with Indian tribes in Maine. But of course, despite the wonderful loan forgiveness at my school (your loans are paid in full each year if you make less than $50k, in a nutshell), I was seduced by the money. A big part of that was the fact that my husband has been working on his PhD in English for the past eight years...
I am thrilled to have finally gotten pregnant after two years of trying, because it marks my departure from firm life (and the legal profession in general). I didn't want to leave until I got the chance to take advantage of the fabulous 12 weeks paid maternity leave! And I figured, who cares if I'm stressed, work too much, and hate my job, if I don't have kids to worry about? So the second thought I had after getting my BFP was "yes! Only eight more months at the firm!" Honestly, for those of you who are TTC, I think that the stress of my job had a lot to do with my difficulty conceiving. I am just not suited for legal work of any kind.
After I graduated from law school, I worked as a second grade teacher for a year. That is my passion, and I can't wait to go back to elementary school. I think I will try for a good private school - there is things that drive me up a wall about our public schools, though I am a big supporter of the system.
What gave me the ability to take a $100k pay cut? We bought a house three years ago, and we sold it for a $65k profit. We are using the money to pay off all of my husband's student debt, most of mine, our car loan, our credit card debt, etc. etc. We plan to live in a much smaller house and otherwise live more frugally. It is worth it to us for me to have summers off (with my husband) and be generally a happier person. Of course, whatever of my debt we can't pay off will be covered by the loan forgiveness program. And my husband should be getting a full-time teaching job at some point (though academia is tough and we can't count on it). The wonderful thing is I will even be able to take an extra unpaid three months of maternity leave, which will take me right up to September (and hopefully, the start of my new career!)
ETA - I worked for The Princeton Review, and they have a great program, but honestly, I would say Kaplan is probably better for grad school tests. I really prefer The Princeton Review's home study books, though.
And debt? UGH! I had about $95k worth of debt, from law school alone (thank goodness I went to a public undergrad with a scholarship and a job). And that was accumulated from 1999-2002, AND I had a large scholarship the second year ($20k)... the way costs have spiraled upward is mindblowing.
And part-time... my firm offers part-time work to litigators, and literally EVERY women who has a schoolage child or younger works part-time. It's hideous. Doesn't that tell firms something? Most of these women are on the partner track, but we are just now hitting the wall where they are starting to vote down part-timers and put them up the next year. It will be interesting to see how that develops. I know I don't want anything to do with partnership, building business, etc., that's why I'm jumping ship. I may take advantage of the part-time route if I don't manage to get a decent teaching job without my certification, but even the idea of working 50% and going to school for my certification while taking care of a baby is dizzying.
Our maternity leave policy is in writing, standard. There are NO negotiations before you leave, which I think is wonderful. They don't ask when you are coming back, whether you will be full-time, etc. You can work all that out when the end of your leave is approaching. That way no one can hold it against you before you go out on leave. I know there are several women who have been granted extra unpaid leave - up to 10 months beyond the 12 weeks paid - but it's on a case by case basis.