I see what you mean but I'm having trouble translating this from lawyers to computer programmers. You can get a programming job at a large company and then impress someone with your skills and become a tech lead and an engineering director and eventually a Senior VP, is that what you mean? The odds for a hard working hacker of getting rich that way seem worse than for an attorney of becoming a partner, or for the same hacker of getting rich through a startup.
In my experience everyone who got rich did it by owning a significant stake in a business (not necessarily a startup or even anything high tech.) I'm aware there are people who got rich from writing bestsellers or becoming movie stars but I don't know anyone like it and I think such people are extremely rare. And I may be wrong but I would be inclined to classify hackers who got promoted to VPs and CTOs together with the movie stars.
I don't really know much about the ownership structure of law firms, but I always assumed becoming a partner is a big deal because it means co-owning the firm in some sense, and getting a share of profits directly, not through salary and bonus. So that's why I figure this is different.
I'm having a hard time addressing your concern, because your notion that it's harder for a developer to eventually become a director or VP than it is for a lawyer to become a partner is neither (a) supported with any evidence or (b) apparent from my experience.
I don't know anybody that you know who became rich, and so that whole second paragraph sails right past me. Especially when it concludes with a suggestion that hacker VPs are as rare as movie stars.
As for the partner track at law firms, uh, fine. Substitute MBA -> investment banker, or CPA -> CFO, or Med School -> Anesthesiologist, or any number of other careers that don't have partner tracks.
Even if your salary never breaks $110k as a dev, you're still fantastically lucky to get that in any career, and perfectly capable of becoming a millionaire. So, I guess, cry me a river about how hard it is for techs to succeed without starting entirely new businesses?
Finally, let me just leave you with an uncomfortable truth: it is a safe bet that you will never get rich starting a company, or any number of companies.
If your definition of rich is $110k salary or owning $1M in assets (which translates to relatively safe passive income of $40k before tax, according to the financial planning books I read) then sure, you can absolutely achieve it with careful career planning. I don't believe that's what most people would call "rich" though. There are actually people who will tell you that $100k in the Bay Area is "barely breaking it even" (not that I agree.)
I freely concede I could be wrong with respect to directors and partners. I work at a software company and my girlfriend works at a law firm.
I absolutely agree with you that the odds of getting rich by starting a company are low, all I'm saying they're better than the odds of getting rich by other means.
We're off in a little rat trap now about what the terminally awesome state is in any given career. If we were talking about salespeople, someone would be saying, "yeah, but how likely is it that you'd ever be a CEO? And hey, if you're a CEO, you might as well have started a company anyways, because most of your wealth comes from a stake."
But it's just a conversational rat trap. Unless your definition of "rich" means "owning a private jet", you never have to come close to being a VP/Engineering to become rich over a carefully managed career. You just have to be good with money.