You have probably heard it more than once: Most lawyers are unhappy with their careers, which can lead to substance abuse, depression and other mental health disorders. According to Bernard Burk’s 2013 article, “many in the legal profession and the legal academy have begun to accustom themselves to a dark and depressing ‘New Normal,’” in which they are unhappy, saddled with debt and are paid less in a shrinking market.1
Don’t let this scare you, though. Recent research proves otherwise. In a July 2017 survey of more than 11,000 lawyer members of the State Bar of Texas, only 13.5 percent of all attorneys and 11.5 percent of full-time attorneys said they are dissatisfied with their careers.2
Let’s turn that around in a positive way: 88.5 percent of full-time attorneys are happy.
Instead of focusing on why lawyers are unhappy, let’s celebrate the reasons lawyers find joy in their careers. Here are five reasons why most lawyers live happy and fulfilling lives.3
Lawyers change people’s lives for the better
When asked why you became a lawyer, you probably respond with “I wanted to help people.” Clients come to you for help, sometimes at their darkest and most stressful hour. They depend on you to help them resolve their issues. They trust you. You counsel businesses and help them prosper, you help clients understand the fine print of contracts. You write wills, trusts and DNR orders. You help victims of crimes get the justice they deserve. You keep people safe. You help a single mom sleep at night because you assisted her to get a restraining order against her abusive partner. Where would she be without your assistance?
Lawyers solve problems
You use your legal training to help your clients solve problems. A young entrepreneur looks to you to determine what makes the best legal sense for his business. With your problem-solving skills, you help the businessman determine that the best thing for him is to create a limited liability company, and you help him register for his business license. A new father is confused about his rights because he is not married to the mother. You help him determine the best way to see his child. The scenarios are endless, but you get the picture. Solving other people’s problems is second-nature to you.
Lawyers have more than legal skills
You are multi-talented. Not only do you practice law, but you are also a writer, a counselor and a speaker. You write briefs and articles about the law that help clients and other lawyers. You speak at events and in the courtroom. You have the empathy that is necessary to counsel crime victims. You have compassion and can put yourself in others’ shoes. These are some of the rare traits that lawyers possess.
Lawyers have influence
Being a lawyer is an honor, and many companies and non-profits want you to sit on their boards because of your prestige and legal knowledge. They see the value in your good reputation and your personal community network and know that you will help them achieve their strategic goals.
You help shape new laws because of your influence at the statehouse. You provide legal guidance and help draft bills and resolutions, making a difference statewide.
Lawyers are always in demand
Society will always need your expertise and counsel. Businesses form daily, families have issues that need to be resolved, criminals need to be defended and proven guilty, some children need loving homes, civil rights need to be protected and so on. There is no other profession that has the potential to make such an impact in a person’s life.
As a lawyer, you get paid to analyze the law, solve problems, research, communicate, write and, most importantly, help people. Of course, you will have bad days, as all people do. Just remember these five facts, which will remind you of why you became a member of this noble profession.
1 Burk, Bernard A., What's New About the New Normal: The Evolving Market for New Lawyers in the 21st Century (August 13, 2013). UNC Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2309497; 41 Florida St. L. Rev 541 (2014). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2309497 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2309497.
2 Markovic, Milan and Plickert, Gabriele, Attorneys' Career Dissatisfaction in the New Normal (July 12, 2017). Texas A&M University School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 17-47; AccessLex Institute Research Paper No. 17-05. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3001391.
3 If you are a lawyer who falls into the “unhappy” category, recite these five affirmations daily. This will help you remember why you wanted to be a lawyer.
*This article was first published in the Spring 2018 Columbus Bar Lawyers Quarterly.
OLAP can help
If you are unhappy, depressed, suffering from substance abuse, burnout or stress, and you believe it is affecting your life, the Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program can provide CONFIDENTIAL help. For more information, go to ohiolap.org or call (800) 348-4343 or (614) 586-0621.