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Which Lawyers Are The Happiest?

There’s more to life than money, and most lawyers don’t like their jobs. At least, that’s what the data says. According to one study, only 17% of lawyers are very satisfied with their jobs. Another found that 35% of lawyers were seeking another position, and 23% planned to leave their firm in the next two years. Those numbers seem pretty dismal, but they’re not entirely unexpected given the nature of legal work.

Lawyers are often portrayed as sad, depressed people with no social life, but the truth isn’t that simple. An analysis of data from millions of lawyers shows that certain attorneys are far happier than others, and several factors contribute to their happiness levels. When deciding where to attend law school or which firm to work at, here are some factors you should consider to maximize your happiness as a lawyer.

What Are The Characteristics Of Happy Lawyers?

One commonality among them is that happy lawyers love what they do. A lawyer who loves practicing law also enjoys his or her job. For example, a lawyer who went to college to become a litigator may not enjoy reviewing documents for hours at a time, even if it is required for her job, because she doesn’t like legal paperwork.

To be happy as a lawyer, you have to enjoy your work and be passionate about practicing law. While passion comes with experience and training, everyone has different interests and aspirations in life, so if you don’t find law enjoyable now don’t expect your outlook on practicing law to change later. Keep an open mind about working in different fields within legal practice.

Happy attorneys have a strong support system. There is comfort in knowing that when times get rough, there’s someone who will help you get through it. Although it may be difficult to ask for help from your peers at work, don’t be afraid to go outside of your office and social circles. The best people to talk to might be a professional counselor or trusted family member or friend. No matter what stage of practice you’re in, knowing that someone else cares about your well-being is comforting and encouraging.

Types of Mostly Happy Lawyers

Findings from a recent survey of more than 1,300 legal professionals indicate that those who work at boutique law firms and in-house departments (including legal affairs) tend to be happier than their peers. According to the survey, 57 percent of attorneys said they were somewhat or extremely satisfied with their jobs overall. Lawyers who earn more money reported greater satisfaction, as did those whose jobs involved client interaction.

Just as predictably, those who described themselves as less happy tended to work in bigger firms; took on high levels of debt to pay for school; and had less positive relationships with partners at their firm. The job title most likely to bring unhappiness: Litigator. This group—which includes bankruptcy lawyers, commercial litigators, antitrust specialists, and intellectual property litigators—reported very low levels of job satisfaction.

Although it’s not certain why these professionals are so unhappy with their careers—perhaps because such positions often demand long hours away from home and family—it could also stem from an inherent contradiction between what these individuals do (litigate) and how they think others perceive them (not as aggressive). Lawyering is one area where workers may benefit by managing expectations.

 Which Firms Are More Suited To Happiness?

If you’re a lawyer and looking for a job, you might want to consider how happy and productive your colleagues seem. After all, research has shown that your happiness is tied directly to productivity. Happy employees make for more productive offices; unhappy employees do not so much. And sometimes productivity comes down to whether or not you work with people who enjoy their jobs (which makes them happier).

The same can be said of law firms: As our infographic notes, certain types of firms tend to bring out varying levels of satisfaction in their attorneys. If you’re not sure which kind of firm would be right for you — or just don’t know which questions to ask — check out our handy guide to finding and making sure it’s a good fit.

 In general, midsize firms tend to have happier lawyers than large or small firms. Why does size matter so much in measuring happiness at a firm? In large firms, it can be harder to feel connected with your colleagues and more likely that you won’t know everyone’s name on a first-name basis. As our infographic notes, that feeling of being part of a larger team makes a difference in terms of job satisfaction.

Things That Make Lawyers Happy

Lawyers do more than just argue cases and research precedents. They also love interacting with people, which is why they feel happier in cities like Boston and Chicago. And while you might assume an attorney’s happiness is tied to pay (it isn’t—money doesn’t make up for the poor quality of life), an attorney’s mood is affected by factors like commute time and public transportation access.

Law firm management could benefit from taking these factors into account when determining which lawyer will get an office closer to home (and therefore happier). Also, look out for local discounts that could make your commute easier; if you can get to work faster or cheaper, that should increase your overall mood throughout the day.

Happier Colleagues

Lawyers who communicate more frequently with their colleagues report higher job satisfaction. If you’re not talking to your colleagues enough, consider introducing yourself at work events or opening up to them about professional interests. And, if you find it difficult to strike up small talk at work, consider taking a class outside of work that piques your interest and forces you to talk with others in person. Consider public speaking classes or sign up for an improve workshop.

Promotions

Lawyers can do much to improve their happiness at work by making efforts to promote themselves. Instead of being in a rush to be promoted, focus on being in a position that makes you happy. Here are some ways that you could get yourself there learn more about legal practice management and law office administration, participate in industry associations and attend conferences, volunteer for leadership roles in your firm or chapter/association, take continuing legal education courses which will give you more tools and skills.

Better Work-life Balance

The legal industry has notoriously high levels of work stress and turnover, which means that most law firms don’t enjoy a lot of emotional stability. Lawyers who feel more fulfilled at home generally spend less time dreading Monday morning, meaning they’re happier—and they can pass that happiness on to their clients. Lawyers who describe themselves as happy make more money than their unhappy counterparts. All things being equal, studies show that happy attorneys earn an average of $10,000 to $20,000 more than their peers. What’s worse, your happiness doesn’t just affect you; it also affects how others see you and your profession. Happy lawyers will be seen in a better light by clients, co-workers, and other people who come into contact with them.

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