In this week’s podcast, I discuss a study I recently came across on happiness in the legal profession. In 2015, Lawrence S. Krieger from the Florida State University College of Law and Kennon M. Sheldon from the University of Missouri at Columbia ? Department of Psychological Sciences conducted a survey of over 6,000 lawyers in various practice areas to determine what caused wellbeing and happiness. And the results may or may not be surprising to you.
First, the study found that meaningful and personally engaging work were far more predictive of attorney well-being than external factors relating to law school competitive standing, honors, or post-law school annual salary.
Second, the study showed that public service lawyers were happier and more satisfied than other lawyers, including those in the most prestigious, highly paid positions.
Finally, a number of personal routine and lifestyle choices matched or exceeded the power of income, honors, and credentials as predictors of lawyer well-being.
What does this mean? Law schools lied to us. We were told that in order to be successful and fulfilled lawyers, we needed to get high grades, be involved in activities that built our resumes, such as law review, in order to get to the promised land of a high-paying legal job that would ultimately make all of our dreams come true.
So, we worked hard, dedicated our time to studying and getting involved in resume-building extracurricular activities, graduated, took the bar exam, got a job and then? realized that it was not all cupcakes and rainbows as we thought it would be.
We learned that this profession is inherently full of circumstances and situations that can result in stress, anxiety, overwhelm and situational depression. And at some point, no matter what our income level is, we realize that money is not an antidepressant or an antidote to any negative thought pattern.
So why do law schools feed you this lie? On one hand, I think it is because some of their leaders truly believe that external circumstances such as prestige and money can make you happy. On the other hand, I believe that law school leaders know they would be out of the job if their prospects really knew that what they were chasing was going to come at a heavy emotional and mental cost.
So, what does this mean? Does it mean that the hours you spent working on Law Review articles while in law school was a complete waste of time and set you up for a life of overachievement and depression?
Does this mean that if you’re working in Biglaw or Midlaw, you’re doomed to an emotionally destroyed existence?
Does it mean that if you work in public service making less money than your law firm-collegue counterparts and you are still unhappy, in contrast to what the study says you should be, this is just the way it is?
No, No and NO.
Although this study sheds light on what makes attorneys happy, the most important part of this study is this:
Each lawyer can choose to find meaning in their work no matter where they practice.
Each lawyer can choose to find happiness irrespective of their income level.
Each lawyer can choose to engage in personal routines and make lifestyle choices that can increase their wellbeing.
Each lawyer has a choice.
So, identify what makes you happy but ultimately recognize that external circumstances are not the cause of that happiness and make peace with and let go of what you may have been chasing that has only caused you more stress than fulfillment.