Making a Good Life in the Law

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Are Lawyers Happy?

Happiness: A Primer

What Makes Lawyers Happy and Unhappy?

A Happiness Toolbox for Lawyers

Preparing for a Happy Career:
The Law School Years

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Seeking Happier Ground

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           Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, in their important bestseller Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness, demonstrate how the architecture of choice shapes public and private decision-making. Their insights could be used by a firm seeking to maximize lawyer choice while moving towards a better work-life balance and overall level of happiness within a firm. Thaler and Sunstein note, for example, that people derive roughly twice as much unhappiness from losing a certain amount of money than they derive happiness from winning the same amount. A $50 loss causes the same value of negative feelings as a $100 win causes positive feelings. Most people, in other words, are “loss averse.” When people think about what they have lost, or what they didn’t get that most people got, they are not happy campers. This would explain why most lawyers who are told “You can give up 20 percent of your pay in return for working proportionally fewer hours” might be unlikely to accept the offer, Instead, they will continue to grind away their unhappiness-producing 2,000 billable hours. However, if new hires are told, “We expect you to put in 1600 billable hours for $X (an amount equal to, say, 20 percent less than what is paid those who produce 2,000), but you have the option of working 2,000 hours and receiving a bonus (an amount that would bring pay up to the level currently paid for meeting the 2,000-hour expectation),” a much higher number of recruits might opt for the reduced pay and reduced hours, thus improving the overall psychological health of the firm. Why? Because the reduced hours for reduced pay, having become the default option, no longer is associated in the new lawyer’s mind with “a loss.”

The Happy Lawyer