Making a Good Life in the Law

About The Happy Lawyer

Are Lawyers Happy?

Happiness: A Primer

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



            Satisfaction with a career tends to increase over time. As the years go by, many workers manage to find ways to spend more time performing the tasks they enjoy most, while passing off to other—usually younger—workers some of the more annoying tasks. More experienced workers generally have achieved a higher level of competence and that makes for less job-related anxiety. They have a clearer understanding of what is expected from them. Finally, in the absence of excessive turnover, bad hires, or a repellant personality, they likely have accumulated a set of relationships that provide support and a source of fun.

Surveys of lawyer satisfaction show a clear upward trend in job satisfaction over time. According to an ABA study, lawyers with more than a decade worth of experience reported career satisfaction that was 40 to 50 percent higher than those with less than ten years work as a lawyer. Atlanta career consultant Monica R. Parker offered this explanation for the happiness of more experienced lawyers: “Probably they’ve become partners or senior counsel, and by that time they’ve decided that the law is for them; they’re going to stay and they like it.”

In addition to more satisfying work and more work product control, there is another reason for higher career satisfaction as the years go by. As we age, we learn to use more “mature adaptations” to deal with the inevitable setbacks and disappointments that come our way. Mature adaptations probably account for the higher rates of happiness reported by people in their sixties than in their twenties. When we are young and confronted by frustrations, we are more inclined to turn to repression, disassociation, projection, or passive aggression (consult your old Psych 101 text to jog your memory about these classic defense mechanisms). As we get older, we increasingly use healthier techniques, including altruism, humor, anticipation, suppression, and sublimation. For example, an older person is somewhat less likely to obsess about an office slight and more likely to shrug it off or laugh about it.

The central finding of George Valliant, in Adaptation to Life, an account of a classic longitudinal study of ’42, ’43, and ’44 male Harvard University graduates as they progressed from their early twenties through middle age and into old age, is that developing mature adaptations to setbacks is the single best predictor of a successful life....

The Happy Lawyer