Making a Good Life in the Law

About The Happy Lawyer

Are Lawyers Happy?

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



We live in a nation founded by lawyers.  Thirty-four of the fifty-five men who gathered in Philadelphia in 1787 to draft our Constitution were lawyers, including the document’s principal architect, James Madison.  Lawyer Thomas Jefferson authored The Declaration of Independence (with the help of John Adams, another lawyer). 
Among the inalienable rights Jefferson listed in his famous document of 1776, along with the rights to life and to liberty, was the right “to the pursuit of happiness.”  “Happiness” is not a word you expect to find in a formal document drafted and debated by sober eighteenth-century politicians.  But there it is on parchment, one of the three most important rights of a free people.
Of course, Jefferson couldn’t promise we would find happiness, only that we had a right to pursue it.  And pursue it we have, and still do—with ever more intensity—today. A quick Google search or perusal of the self-help section at your local bookstore will reveal the depth of our current interest in happiness.  A whole movement in modern psychology called “positive psychology” has sprung up to help improve our odds of finding a greater measure of happiness.
For all our efforts, Americans are no happier today than they were a half century ago—and, by most measures, we’re less happy.  We’re richer than ever before, have more leisure time, and we’re awash in happiness literature, but still we cannot seem to get more satisfaction. 
For lawyers, the picture is even bleaker. Many lawyers, perhaps as many as 70 percent in one poll, say they would not choose a legal career if they had to do it all over again. Half of all lawyers would discourage their kids from becoming lawyers. Applications to law schools are dropping.  Over one-third of big firm associates leave their firms within three years of being hired. Students at Stanford, dissatisfied with the nature of large firm practice, have launched a movement to change the way law is practiced.
It is an exaggeration, however, to describe law as a profession in crisis.  We do not see headlines announcing: “Lawyers Leaving Profession in Droves.”  Despite the odd story of a lawyer leaving practice to start a vineyard or become a hot air balloonist, most in the practice say they intend to stick it out.  Moreover, many say they are at least reasonably happy, even while admitting they’d like to be more so.
The story of the emotional state of American lawyers today is complicated and nuanced.  Lawyers are smart people; they expect complications and appreciate nuance.  They didn’t become lawyers because they woke up one day and said, “By God, I love the law!”  Many became lawyers because as college seniors they simply wanted to keep their options open and law school seemed a better place to do that than, say, dental school.  Moreover, it might well be that the sort of person best suited to the practice of law is more likely to have a personality type somewhat prone to unhappiness.  In law, unlike many jobs, it often helps to be the anxious, pessimistic person who worries about all the things that can go wrong if a contract isn’t written just so.  If lawyers are slightly unhappier than the typical American, it may be because unhappy people are more likely to become lawyers rather than that the practice of law has made them unhappy.
Sorting out this complex story is one of the goals of this book.  But we don’t intend to stop there.  Fully recognizing the limits of self-help, we will nonetheless offer “a happiness toolbox” that we believe will lead to at least a modest happiness boost for lawyers that follow our suggestions.  There are multiple paths to happiness, and a tool that works well for you might not for the lawyer in the next-door office.  We also will offer tips for law firms and law schools that wish to improve levels of satisfaction in the practice.  Along the way, we’ll share stories of both unhappy lawyers and happy lawyers, learning what we can from the insights they’ve garnered along their diverse professional trails.
Now seems like the right time for a book about finding satisfaction in a law career.  The last couple of decades have produced a torrent of research on happiness from the fields of neuroscience and positive psychology, and many of these findings have important implications for the way law is practiced, if happiness really matters to lawyers—and it obviously does.  You could, if you were determined, have some wires attached to your head and a researcher could peer inside your brain and determine whether you are happier reading a Supreme Court case on federal pre-emption or chatting with a client about her property dispute. 
In addition to the explosion of new research on happiness, the practice of law has changed in a way that makes the career satisfaction much more relevant both to law schools and law firms than used to be the case.  Law schools that previously told entering students, “Look to your left and look to your right; one of the three of you won’t be here at the end of the year” now have a stake in convincing prospective students that they can best help them achieve that satisfying law career they’re looking for—and this generation of students, more than any previous generation, ranks life satisfaction highest among their goals.  Law firms also have a growing interest in making associates happy.  The old system that welcomed many to the firm and retained few (the “up or out” system) has given way to a process that places a premium on careful selection and retention.  Firms have come to recognize the high costs of associate attrition.  They see that demoralization among associates affects the quality of their work product and their bottom line.
In short, lawyers, law schools, and law firms have a greater interest than ever in happiness.  In the pages to come, we will provide toolboxes, shaped by the new research, for all who have an interest in increasing satisfaction with the practice of law.
Of course, as wise people have told us, happiness isn’t everything.  It’s a very important thing, but so are some other values.  There is even something to be said for melancholy—and we will say it.  Without unhappiness from time to time, would happiness lose its meaning?  Would society lose an important source of creative inspiration and would we lose a springboard to personal growth?  We’ll explore those questions.
Mainly, though, this is a book about happiness.  We cannot offer any promises—lawyers, of all people, should understand that—but it is our hope that the words that follow will help make your life as a lawyer at least a little bit better. 
The Happy Lawyer