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Only Connect

I don't know many lawyers who are happy with their professional lives. I think they continue on with it because they invested so much to get to that point.

My impression is that it's extraordinarily hard to avoid the creeping cynicism that the system produces.

John P.

I'm a 6th-year associate, and I'm happy doing what I do. I also think that 25-50% of the lawyers in my (mid-size) firm are happy practicing law. Law is, in my opinion, the greatest profession, because we solve not only the problems of individuals but also the problems of society (mainly through the incremental law-making that results from litigation).

I can make a few guesses as to why so many lawyers appear to be unhappy. First, too many surveys of lawyers are based on those in big firms in big cities. Smaller firm, smaller city practice tends to be less stressful, less aggressive, and more gratifying.

Second, it's really hard to know what type of practice you will like before you actually try it. And the way the hiring system works, most new lawyers (especially those at the big city big firms) get plugged into a practice area with little opportunity to check it out. (Some firms do this almost at random -- we need an associate in this section, so that's where Ms. X is gonna go.) Then, once you're in an area, it can be very hard to change. Some big firms have a put-up or shut-up policy -- if you don't like the area you've been assigned to, there's the door. If making a change will involve a pay cut, then it's even less likely to happen. I was fortunate in that my firm made it easy for me to switch from litigation to transactional work when I realized where my real interests lie.

Third, too many people go straight from undergrad to law school. If you have a "real" job in some other field for a few years before law school, then, by the time you start practice, you appreciate the things that are great about being a lawyer, and you brush aside the annoyances that come with *any* workplace.

What do I like about being a lawyer? The intellectual challenge. The variety. The smart and talented colleagues. Being able to set my own schedule, more or less. Yes, the money is awesome. The perks are awesome, too -- having my own window office with a beautiful view, having my own excellent secretary, having an IT staff that will fix my computer at the drop of a hat, being respected by other adults, having the inside scoop on a lot of important things.

Sure, I have killer days and killer weeks. Times when I'd rather be a janitor than have to answer that call from the client. But, luckily, there are many more good days than bad days.


I'm obviously not a lawyer yet, but I'm certainly a happy law student, and I've noticed even that is rare. I have no intention of becoming an unhappy lawyer.

I'm going into law school with the goal of 1) going into a profession where I like the intellectual challenge, 2) getting a job that I can grow in and enjoy for years and 3) doing something I really, really enjoy.

This may mean that I deliberately avoid the large law firm associate track. It probably means the first job I take will be less than I was making at my enginering job before I quit and went back to school. I'm okay with that.

I've done the start-up, 80 hours a week life before. And while it was exciting and fun for awhile, it's a recipe for an unhappy life in the end. At this point, I'd rather make 60k a year and work 40 hour weeks than make 120k a year and work 80 hour weeks. After all, you'll notice your hourly rate is exactly the same.


I think in the end, it is a personal choice.


Can I just give a little squee of delight at this?

Prof. Schiltz was my civil procedure professor in law school, and several of my female classmates (myself included) had a crush on the guy.

Yes, I know this is not at all germane to the discussion, but there you go.

I still feel like a jerk whenever I complain about my job, because when they pay you such boatloads of money, you feel ungrateful and elitist to complain about anything they dish out. But I can tell you that in law school I loved school, loved my professors, and I loved learning the law, but mostly I just loved THE LAW. Now, after 2 years in practice, I find that the love is slowly being sapped from my body, and I fear the day when I wake up and it is completely gone.


I think the new Secret Society of Happy Lawyers is related to this post. More here:


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