The Secrets to Being a Happy Lawyer

Lawyer Monica Zent writes in The Huffington Post, “Associate attorneys may have the highest salaries but, in a recent survey, they were rated as having the “least happy” jobs, perhaps because of the long hours and lack of work/life balance. Greater “balance,” however, might not be the answer. According to Wharton Professor Stewart D. Friedman, ‘A commitment to better ‘work/life balance’ isn’t the solution… A more realistic and more gratifying goal is better integration between work and the rest of life…’ As boundaries between work and home continue to blur and work/life balance becomes increasingly elusive, the future lies in integrating career and life in a more seamless, less structured way”. Read the rest of her article.

Happy: An App That Replenishes Your Most Important Resources

On January 27, 2010, I became an uncle.

The day was surreal — not for me, but for my brother, who welcomed his first child into the world at 2:34 p.m.

Immediately after the baby was delivered she began experiencing respiratory distress, and at 2:35 p.m. the doctors and nurses whisked the newborn to the hospital’s neo-natal intensive care unit (NICU).  At 2:37 p.m. — while standing in the NICU praying that his baby would hang on — the new father received a call on his cell phone from opposing counsel in a case halfway across the country, where a two-week trial was scheduled to begin in ten days.

This wasn’t just any old case — a seven-year old child with profound disabilities had been raped on a special needs school bus by a twenty-year old serial predator assigned to ride the same bus.  The point of the trial was to determine what steps (if any) the school district was required to take to ensure that something like this wouldn’t happen again.

From 2:38 to 3:00, my brother negotiated a settlement in the NICU.  To hear him tell it:

“With one hand, I was pressing the phone so hard to my ear that it left an indentation for a week.  With my other hand, I was cupping the receiver as tightly as I physically could, so that the lawyer I was speaking with couldn’t hear the instructions the physicians were shouting to the attending nurses.  If he had caught wind of the fact that I was standing in the NICU with my new baby, I would have lost any leverage to settle the case, and we almost certainly would have gone to trial.  Thankfully, by the way, my wife has no memory of any of this.”

By 3:15 p.m., my niece began to breathe normally.  Seven days later, my brother and his counterpart signed a settlement agreement that, among many other things, required the school district to place paid adult bus monitors on all special needs school buses.


I had not yet gone to law school when all this happened, and I recall being extraordinarily impressed with my brother.  But now, I realize that almost every lawyer has at least one story like this.  The simple fact is that lawyers experience tremendous stress from their vocation. Indeed, the practice of law is riddled with psychological land mines — tight deadlines, job insecurity, career dissatisfaction, pressure to achieve status (e.g, make partner), becoming emotionally invested in cases that may end unsuccessfully, feeling real fear of being chewed out for or embarrassed by a small error — to name just a few.

We experience such severe stress, and have such little discretionary time to address it, that it almost feels natural to reach for expedient but unhealthy solutions to life’s miseries (alcohol, prescription and non-prescription drugs, overly intensive exercise) that mask our problems instead of addressing them.

A group of Princeton graduates is building a valuable tool — called Happy — to help people like lawyers cope with stress and burnout in a healthier way that enables greater personal fulfillment and peace of mind.  Their big idea is that a short conversation with a compassionate listener can quickly restore perspective and significantly boost a person’s happiness and health.  Happy will soon be an on-demand app that connects callers to everyday people — lawyers, baristas, musicians, teachers, nurses, retirees, etc. — who have proven themselves to be exceptionally empathetic and highly effective. Happy is developing a community of these ‘happiness givers’ who are eager to hear your story, and help you in unexpected ways to find and experience the real happiness that is well within your grasp.

For now you can arrange a free conversation at one of the following links:

By Jeremy Fischbach, Esq., B.A. Psychology, Princeton; J.D., NYU

6 Big Myths About Lawyers

From the website The Careerist, a piece by law professor Dan Bowling who dispels myths folks have about lawyers — including the one that all of them are miserable.  Read the Blog

Happiness is How You Are, Not How You Feel

Aristotle said, “Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.” For him and most of his contemporaries, happiness referred not to an emotion but the long-term pattern of action, the sum of which was your moral character. It is the habits of virtue that are acquired over years of exercising the appropriate virtues.

A person doesn’t feel happy as much as happiness is a general state of being. Viewing happiness as something in the world as opposed to an individual feeling is not the way we usually understand the term.

The modern orientation is dominated by individual psychology. But something of the older understanding of happiness as essentially relational still exists in a secondary meaning. For example, we continue to refer to “good times,” or a particular era in a country, or to a happy period in a person’s life. This refers not to feeling happy per se—the kind of happiness that brings a smile to our face—but to a condition that arises in a larger context of actions, conditions, and behavior. To live well is to be good. A happy life is a good life, on this account, and a good life is a virtuous life.

“Happiness is the highest good,” Aristotle wrote. And happiness is realized through the practice of virtue. Happiness casts its gaze outward and is obtainable through the cultivation of moral habits.

The story of beautiful Narcissus is the cautionary tale. He drowns in his own reflection because in his love of himself there is no room for others. For Aristotle, friendship is central to human well-being. Human flourishing isn’t possible without it.

“Friends enhance our ability to think and to act,” Aristotle wrote. This isn’t just any way of thinking or acting but consists of good judgment and virtuous behavior. Friends hold us up to our better selves, directing us toward the good.

You need friends to do good and without them you are likely to fail. It is a failure to be virtuous, and without virtue you can’t be happy. Narcissus drowns because in his self-love there is no one to bring him to develop his moral character.

According to Aristotle, it isn’t good luck or fortune that determines whether you will be happy, although he acknowledges the importance of possessing certain goods as making the attaining of a good life more likely. Friendship, wealth, and power all contribute to a good life.

Conversely, happiness is endangered if you are severely lacking in certain advantages—for example, if you are extremely ugly or disfigured, or have lost children or good friends through death. Tragedy and misfortune hinder human flourishing. This is the impetus behind eliminating social injustices and addressing basic human needs—to open up life’s possibilities even to those beset by bad luck.

Today, I think Aristotle would have added the disadvantage of clinical depression, for, as we now know, this is a bio-chemical illness that is beyond the power of the mind to control through a change of attitude or behavior. Other forms of mental illnesses fall into this category. These are medical issues, not philosophical ones. In addition, I think he would have understood how the subordination of women was contrary to the good life. Parity in terms of power between men and women is necessary for the over-all happiness in society.

Basic needs of nutrition and shelter are necessary for a good life, as is access to knowledge. Good fortune and happenstance play a role in happiness but typically luck isn’t a determining factor. As the work of psychologist Martin E. P. Seligman demonstrates, factors such as money and health account for less than 20 percent of the variance in life satisfaction.

People rise above material circumstances by developing their moral character so that you act virtuously despite the limitations. It is possible to have the disposition to be good most of the time despite the lack of material support.

By Arthur Dobrin, D.S.W.


Act now to be a Happy Lawyer Later

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 

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



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