Q First of all, I actually read your column but mostly for the occasional humor and to hear about situations that lawyers get themselves into. But I don’t read it for advice because I’m what you call a happy lawyer. I like what I do, love the practice of law (family law mostly), and enjoy working with my colleagues. Plus, I get paid fairly well in my market.
No, I’m not fresh out of school and, yes, I have student loan debt, plenty of it. But I’m happy because I wanted to be a lawyer and am now a lawyer and loving it for three reasons: 1) it’s challenging; 2) I like solving problems; and 3) people respect me. So, my question: why aren’t you happy? Or, maybe put it this way: what makes lawyers so unhappy?
A Who says I’m unhappy? My nom de guerre is Ex-Bitter, emphasis on the Ex. Meaning I was bitter but no longer. While I’m still a lawyer, I’m no longer bitter because 1) the practice of law does not take up 95% of my life; 2) I wear flip flops to my office; and 3) I’m not dealing with Type A nutjob partners and colleagues who go apeshit over typos, office politics, and #winning. In other words, I’m not in a big law firm. Or any law firm, I guess.
But all the power to ya, Happy. In fact, I’ve texted you an emoticon to carry you through the day, as I’m sure you have a few of these on your desk and other successories hanging around your office.
Seriously, though, what makes us so unhappy? My guess is that the practice of law suffers from one overriding principle: it overpromises and underdelivers. And that overpromise starts way back before you go to law school. We throw around words like justice and respect and “the profession”—all of which also, surprisingly and purportedly—provide access to vast sums of money. Few if any of those materialize and most lawyers find themselves dealing later with the gray minutiae of the law, 12-16 hour workdays, and being treated like shit by opposing counsel and some colleagues, who are hard-wired by “the profession” to win. Who wants that, at any price?
But if I were to pick the top three things that make most of us lawyers unhappy (besides lack of clients), it would be:
- Lack of Control (or, to use a buzzword of your generation, the lack of a true “work-life balance“)
- Cost of Living. Whether you are a highly-paid associate or just a lawyer skimming by, a lot of lawyers are trapped by living the dream. Either they cannot get out of a job because the financial hit will kill them (though I call bullshit on this one, just do it) or they are so indebted that no other real options are available except to work shitlaw jobs for years to pay the debt down. Not that appetizing.
- Lack of Civility. While the snarks among us poo-poo the concept of civility, the lack of civility within the legal profession really is one of the primary things that make the practice of law a true suckfest.
If you can conquer one or two of these (and sounds like that you may have done so, at least so far), then the practice of law will be a lot less bitter. If you can’t, my suggestion would be to get out before it destroys you, because it will. Oh, and thanks for the mention of my “occasional humor.” I’ll take what I can get.
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