Law professors and television writers tell phantasmagorical stories of power and achievement in the legal profession. Big law firm associates haul in big bucks while mentored by legal bigwigs in fancy skyscrapers. Trial lawyers perform on stage to an admiring audience of jurors. Prosecutors save the city from dangerous criminals and are treated as community super heroes. Don’t be fooled. These are not the stories of lawyer life: the day-to-day work that goes into the paycheck and performance, and it is the lawyer life that determines your happiness. To be happy, focus on being interested, not interesting.
The State of Lawyer (Un) happiness.
Happiness matters, especially if you were born between 1965 and 2000. Your generation is less materialistic than the Baby Boomers who came before you. You value happiness more than money and prestige. You know that to be fulfilled in your heart and mind will lead to a full wallet.
Stories and statistics about drug abuse, alcohol abuse, and depression in the legal field abound. According to Dan Lukasik, noted expert on lawyers and depression, while 10% of the general population in the U.S. suffers from depression, 20% of lawyers and 40% of law students struggle with depression. Lawyers have the highest rate of depression when compared to 105 occupations. Lawyers are also twice as likely to become addicted to alcohol and drugs. As one of the new generation of lawyers, you need to know the numbers and steer clear.
To Be Happy: Know Yourself & Stay Focused
Friends and family may suggest you practice family law because you ooze compassion, be a trial lawyer because you are a captivating speaker, or specialize in tax law because complicated calculations make sense to you. These people mean well, but it doesn’t matter what others think you are good at doing because that may not be what makes you happy.
Studies show that lawyers who help less fortunate clients are the happiest. It is difficult to be happy when you are working 16-hour days while your bazillionnaire client is lying on the white sand of his private island. However, fighting for a client who was abused in a nursing home will remind you of how blessed your own life is. Specialize in elder law, personal injury, immigration, social security, or child advocacy to feel joy and satisfaction from helping those in need.
Studies also show that it is important to study yourself. What is your passion? Is criminal justice fascinating? Do you get riled up about civil rights? Are you drawn to downtown high-rises and conservative suits or do you gravitate to suburbia and khakis? Do you like having a boss who tells you what to do, or do you enjoy networking and finding your own clients? Know yourself. Pay attention to your passion. What other people think you should do and what other people think is exciting is probably not what will make you happy.
Do not choose your career direction based on money. A 2008 study by Tan N. Nguyen showed that many students enter law school with a passion for public service but few actually serve. Perhaps law school debt or law school curriculum pull students away from their passion. Whatever the cause, stay focused on your passion. Remain open to new discoveries, but be wary of changing course for “practical” reasons. You will be much happier working in a lower paying position that feeds your passion than hating every minute of your 14 hour, 6 day a week job. You may have more money, but not only will you hate what you do, but you will also have no time to enjoy the things you think the money will buy. Loan repayment assistance programs can help you.
To Be Happy: Ask Yourself
It is easy to be distracted by what others think you should do or by what you think you should be. Tal Ben-Shahar, a Harvard University psychologist suggests the “Three Question Process” to figure out your passions and your path. Ask yourself (1) What gives me meaning? (2) What gives me pleasure? (3) What are my strengths? Put your answers in a Venn diagram and pay close attention to the intersections. Keep an open mind. Include everything that answers each question, even if you think it is not job related. Answers such as hiking, shopping, cooking, and guitar are as valid as research, the Constitution, helping the elderly, and the environment. Plan your path based on feeding your passions and you will be a happy lawyer.
Remember, legal jobs look exciting as a trailer, but when you watch the whole movie, the job is sometimes hectic, other times uninteresting, and often unbearably stressful. Choose wisely.
– Guest blog by Judy Zimet, creator of lawstudentally.com
The Ally Program was created by an educator who mastered law school by applying proven learning strategies. After receiving a B.S. in Education and practicing brain-based, diagnostic, and rehabilitative techniques for over 15 years, Law Student Ally’s creator attended law school. At the outset, her goal was to crack the code – not only to make it easier to obtain the golden ticket (the J.D.) to sit for the bar exam, but also to develop strategies to help students reach their fullest potential. She now offers her approach to others.
“My life’s passions: Education and Advocacy. I combined two strengths to create a stronger force with the goal of empowering future lawyers by helping them achieve their greatest potential. I attended law school with a metacognitive purpose to create a program to achieve my goal. After graduating magna cum laude, number four in the class, serving on law review, landing a summer internship with a world renowned law firm, passing the bar exam, and doing all this in two and a half years, it was time to offer what I know about teaching, learning, and the law to other law students. Thus, LSA was born.” – Judy Z
Judy Zimet is a solo practitioner in Scottsdale, Arizona