Myths About Happy Lawyers

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1) There aren’t any. In surveys of all occupations, lawyers are in the middle of the pack. They are less happy than those in jobs that offer pleasurable social connections: hairdressers, ministers and educators; more satisfied than roofers and gas station attendants, workers in pressure-driven jobs that offer little intellectual stimulation.

2) High pay leads to happiness. Absolute income does not matter a great deal to lawyer satisfaction, at least above $75,000. Far more important for lawyers is how their salaries compare to people they perceive as peers.

3) You can’t make an unhappy job better. What’s critical to happiness is a sense of control. It can come from work-life balance, a change in working environment, belief that your contribution matters or spending more time with people you like at work.

4) Law firms eat you up and spit you out. This one is partially true: Hourly billing expectations for associates on large-firm partnership tracks can amount to 1,900-1,950 hours each year. This can mean 60 or more hours of face time in the office. But some firms are developing part-time or alternative scheduling because job flexibility promotes attorney retention.

5) You’re stuck. A striking recent trend is the increasing extent to which lawyers change jobs during their careers—85 percent do so at least once during their career. Don’t be afraid to move or to leap.

See “Hunting Happy.”

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