Can Money Buy Lawyer Happiness?

I thought the answer might be yes. I was wrong. Money doesn’t just fail to make lawyers happy, it actually makes them unhappy.

I thought the answer might be yes. Why? Because a few years back I blogged about the 2013 Colorado Supreme Court Lawyer Satisfaction and Salary Survey, which showed that, although 2/3’s of Colorado lawyers didn’t like their jobs enough to recommend them to someone else, at least they liked the money. And because a widely-cited study published the following year found that people in wealthier countries are happier than people in poorer countries. Put those two together, and maybe lawyers might say they’re happy overall, despite their job dissatisfaction.

I was wrong. I went several pages into the results of several Google searches and found nothing about happy lawyers or what makes them so. Happiness isn’t bad news, so maybe it doesn’t get reported, but still… why the long faces? More Google searches turned up a LegalCheek.com poll conducted in Great Britain the day after Theresa May gave the required notice of Great Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union. It reported that 70% of British lawyers weren’t happy about Brexit. But that doesn’t really count, does it?

the Happy LawyerThe Happy Lawyer:  Making a Good Life in the Law (2010) by law professors Nancy Levit and Douglas O. Linder had a promising title, but then, after an extensive review of the literature on lawyer happiness, the authors concluded that “[M]oney is the root of virtually everything that lawyers don’t like about their profession: the long hours, the commercialization, the tremendous pressure to attract and retain clients the fiercely competitive marketplace, the lack of collegiality and loyalty among partners, the poor public image of the profession, and even the lack of civility.”

So… money doesn’t just fail to make lawyers happy, it actually makes them unhappy. Hmmm.

Money certainly doesn’t make associates happy, even though 2016 saw their salaries leap to new heights — at least in the world of BigLaw. In fact, the position of associate attorney came in rock bottom in a 2013 CareerBliss survey of not just lawyers, but 65,000 employees of all kinds. Forbes, The Happiest And Unhappiest Jobs In America, March 22, 2013. (Here’s Above the Law’s take on that story.)

A couple years after the CareerBliss poll, the Dean of Pepperdine Law School countered that well, there at least some happy associates. Go ahead — guess who they were — answer below.

If money doesn’t make lawyers happy, then what does? Earlier this year, Global Financial (“Financing Justice”) reported survey results by Robert Half Legal that a business casual dress policy helps lawyers deal with stress. Not quite the same as making lawyers happy.

Seriously? Business casual is the best we can do?

the Anxious LawyerAn August 2016 Above the Law article had a promising title — Why Are Lawyers So Happy? — but it turned out to be a tongue-in-cheek response to an earlier article by Jeena Cho, author of The Anxious Lawyer, all-around great person and reigning Goddess of Mindfulness in the Marketplace. (I’ve met Jeena, and she would be horrified at me giving her that title, but I do it with a smile, and besides, I think it’s true.) Both articles were written in response to a survey conducted by the ABA and the Betty Ford Foundation, which Forbes reported in an article whose title tells you everything you need to know:  Study Indicates Lawyers Struggling With Substance Use And Other Mental Health Issues, July 30, 2016.

No, money doesn’t buy lawyer happiness — according to pollsters anyway. Of course some lawyers are happy — with the money, their work, and maybe even life in general. I hope that’s you, and I hope you know lots of people like you. As for the rest, it’s hard to be happy about much of anything when you don’t like your work.

We’ll keep following the thread of money and happiness next time, to see what else we can learn from it. In the meantime, here’s your answer:  Who are the happiest associates?  Tax lawyers.

Author: Kevin Rhodes

Kevin Rhodes has been a lawyer for over 30 years. Drawing on insights gathered from science, technology, disruptive innovation, entrepreneurship, neuroscience, and psychology, and also from his personal experiences as a practicing lawyer and a “life athlete,” he’s on a mission to bring wellbeing to the people who learn, teach, and practice the law.

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