Making a Good Life in the Law

About The Happy Lawyer
Happiness: A Primer

What Makes Lawyers Happy and Unhappy?

A Happiness Toolbox for Lawyers

Preparing for a Happy Career:
The Law School Years

Making a Happier Law Firm

Lawyers' Stories

Seeking Happier Ground

Buy The Happy Lawyer

News & Notes


Random Facts



           At the Hogwarts of J. K. Rowling’s imagination, the Sorting Hat magically assesses the character and talents of first-year students and assigns them to the house—Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, Slytherin, or Gryffindor—that best matches their individual strengths. Every student ends up where he or she belongs and stands the best chance of thriving.

In the muggle world—our world—there is no Sorting Hat. Choosing a career path requires doing our own assessments of our abilities, interests, and desires. Every year some 48,000 Americans perform that assessment, however imperfectly, and set down a path that they hope will lead to a satisfying career of practicing law. The fact that so many of them, perhaps 20,000 or so, will end up disappointed has many, varied causes. Some of the disappointed were never meant to be lawyers, their talents and passions pointing elsewhere— perhaps in the direction of winemaking, printmaking, or teaching.

Other unsatisfied lawyers embarked on their careers with unrealistic expectations about law practice. They considered themselves the best and the brightest, excelling in college and graduating from top law schools, and they believed their hard work entitled them to fulfilling and happy careers. High expectations and feelings of entitlement to great jobs might account for the higher levels of dissatisfaction among graduates of the nation’s highest-ranked schools compared to those lower on the pecking order. People who go into sanitation work do not expect to be made deliriously happy by their jobs. They haven’t dreamed since junior high of joining the sanitation force. “It’s a job isn’t it?” they might say, and they are pleased to have one. Once at work, however, they find some things about the job they like—the camaraderie, the work in the sunshine, the sense that they are serving their community—and, you know, they begin to feel pretty good about their job. When reality fails to match high expectations, however, as it probably does for many lawyers, the result can be a gnawing sense that a better career choice could have been made.

Finally, one other point should be made about the surveys that place lawyers somewhere in the middle of the career satisfaction continuum. What it means to be, say, “fairly satisfied” with a job might mean very different things to different types of lawyers. For the trial lawyer, whose career is marked with the emotional peaks and valleys that result from our adversarial process, “fairly satisfied” might in fact reflect a perceived ratio of quite high highs and quite low lows. Trial work is a “high amplitude” career. On the other hand, a “fairly satisfied” transactional lawyer might be one who finds modest pleasures in the daily practice of law but keeps wishing for a bit more of an emotional charge. One person’s “fairly happy” is not the same as another person’s “fairly happy.”

The Happy Lawyer