10.10 – Finding Happiness in the Law


Finding Happiness in Law

I want to end on a note of talking about finding happiness in the law and in the legal profession. The law can be a really tough profession. It has the reputation in popular culture that lawyers are mean or overworked or unhappy people. It is true that in the legal profession there's surprisingly high rates of really bad things like alcoholism. There are unquestionably a lot of unhappy lawyers out there.

On the other hand, there's a lot of happy lawyers out there. There's a lot of people who are very happy with their careers, very happy with their decision to pursue life in the law. How do you figure out how to be in that second group and not be in that first group? I can't give you all the answers, but I can give you a few tips.

Tips to Be Happy in Law

(1) Find what you enjoy in law, (2) have autonomy in your career

One is I think that you should find something that you enjoy doing in the law. If you really, really hate what you're doing every day, it's unlikely that you're going to be happy with your career choices.

That doesn't necessarily mean that you have to be doing something that's your passion in life. There's many things to do in the law, and it's not everyone's passion to write complex merger agreements. But I think that you can really enjoy what you're doing if you feel that you're good at it and it feels challenging. In that sense, that satisfaction from the work you do may come from a sense of mastery, a sense that you are good at what you're doing, a sense that you've really developed your skills.

Even if you don't feel necessarily passionate about the area of law you end up in, take some pride in it, try to really develop your abilities there so you can get to a point where you feel satisfied when you write that brief, when you file that motion, when you conduct that deposition. Whatever it is that you're doing, if you get good enough at it, you are going to find it satisfying in some way.

The second thing I think that people seem to really find satisfying in their legal careers is autonomy. There's been a lot of surveys of people in different legal professions, and it turns out that the thing that people enjoy the most, that makes them most happy, isn't actually making the most money. It doesn't correlate with salary of job. It's not the case that the highest-paid partners are the happiest with their careers in the legal profession. Instead, it seems like the people that are the happiest are the people that have the most autonomy in their careers.

There's different kinds of roles in the legal profession that have more or less autonomy. For example, if you're an associate at the very bottom of the hierarchy in a law firm and you're having to check your email twenty-four hours a day, you don't have a lot of autonomy and you're going to be unhappy about that potentially. But there's other roles, like the head partner is going to have a lot more autonomy. Prosecutors are a very happy segment of lawyers, in part because they have so much autonomy. They're usually setting the agenda, and they can control what cases they bring and so forth.

Judges, as you might expect, are very happy. They have a lot of autonomy. You can have autonomy in a lot of different areas of the law, but a lot of it is going to turn into the specifics of the role you have in your particular job. The way to get more autonomy, I think, is to figure out things that you're particularly good at and to make yourself particularly valuable. The person at the firm who's really seen as the expert on an area of law is likely to have a lot more autonomy than the person who is seen as fungible, is doing something that twenty other people at the firm could do just as well.

Concluding Remarks

Both of these points, I think, really point in the same direction. They point in the direction of just finding something where you can really pursue aggressively and just decide, "I'm going to make this area of law my own. This is something that I'm going to get really good at, I'm going to learn a lot about, and I'm going to really focus on it rather than just treat this as something where I'm going to do the bare minimum and come in and collect a paycheck." I think if you do those things, you're much more likely to have a successful and happy career in the law than if you just see what you're doing as something that you have to do but that you don't really enjoy doing.

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