Making a Good Life in the Law

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Are Lawyers Happy?

Happiness: A Primer

What Makes Lawyers Happy and Unhappy?

Preparing for a Happy Career:
The Law School Years

Making a Happier Law Firm

Lawyers' Stories

Seeking Happier Ground

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Random Facts



            If you could pick your clients’ legal causes, what would they be? The ones you fight for now, or some entirely different set? If you’re like most lawyers, many of the legal battles you wage on behalf of clients concern matters that are of little significance beyond the parties. Sure, an indifferent or bad cause pays as well (often better) than a good cause, but we’d be happier if we earned our bread in some other way. Poet, lawyer, and Librarian of Congress Archibald MacLeish wrote that he knew it was time for a different line of work when he lost the ability to care very much “whether $900,000 belongs this way or that.”

The happiest lawyers tend to be those who do work that they think make the world at least a marginally better place. Law professor Deborah Rhode, one of the nation’s leading experts on the legal profession, states that attorneys experience “the greatest source of disappointment in practice” when they feel that they are not contributing to the public good. Unlike some other sources of lawyer unhappiness, feelings about not serving a larger social purpose come from a choice you made. No one forced you to take the job with the fancy downtown firm with its list of well-heeled clients. You could have taken a job with the county prosecutor or the public defender (which one would have given you a sense of contributing to society’s betterment depends upon your own views on law, order, and justice). Maybe that dream job with the Justice Department or the Sierra Club wasn’t going to happen, but there probably was something out there that would have aligned better with your own values than the job you took. If you have sympathies that run to the little guy, perhaps a job in a personal injury plaintiff’s firm would have been a good fit. On the other hand, if you believe, as did President Coolidge, “the business of America is business,” corporate law or a job as corporate counsel might have been a surer route to a happier practice. What are your values?

If you cannot readily answer the question that ended the last paragraph, make a list of people, causes, and things you pay attention to....

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