Ed. note: This post is written by Will Meyerhofer, a Biglaw attorney turned psychotherapist, whom we profiled. A former Sullivan & Cromwell associate, he holds degrees from Harvard, NYU Law, and The Hunter College School of Social Work. He blogs at The People’s Therapist.

I feel self-conscious sometimes about the pessimism of this column with regard to law as a career path. That pessimism reflects what I see every day in my practice – miserable lawyers.

My experiences might be skewed as a result of self-selection. It makes sense that unhappy lawyers would seek a psychotherapist who is a former lawyer and writes a column like mine, and it makes sense that these same unhappy lawyers would write me letters and post comments on my site about their (mostly unhappy) experiences.

Also, in fairness, the country is in the midst of a deep recession. It’s hard to be happy at any career when you can’t find a job, or half the offices on your floor are empty and there isn’t enough work to go around and you’re worrying about whether you’ll have a job next week. I see clients from other industries who are also affected by the economic downturn, such as folks in the fashion and retail world, many of whom are struggling with long-term unemployment, and even bankruptcy and foreclosure. They’re not exactly brimming with high-spirited fun either.

The difference is that those people love what they do. They’re just out of work.

With lawyers, even the ones who have well-paid jobs seem – mostly – unhappy.

Nevertheless, in keeping with this week’s theme of cheerful good times, we’re going to ignore them – and talk about happy lawyers. Bouncy, perky, downright merry, good-time lawyers.

I have seen a few happy lawyers. They exist, and they tend to fall into two groups.

The first group work in criminal law. I’ve met Legal Aid attorneys, prosecutors and even lawyers doing white-collar defense, and they are often happy and like what they do. These are the guys who grew up wanting to be Atticus Finch or Perry Mason. They typically love their jobs, and are proud of what they do. Some Legal Aid lawyers have described their careers to me as a calling – they are deeply committed to their vital role in our society.

The other happy lawyers are the guys with lifestyle jobs – the ones who work normal hours, report to reasonable, supportive supervisors, and generally don’t mind being lawyers. Some quirky small practices fall into this “lifestyle” category. I’ve run into lawyers who specialize in employment contracts for fashion designers, run a “beverage and alcohol” group at a smallish west coast firm, or handle bi-lingual business for Chilean corporations operating in the US. It’s not so much about the work, but the laid-back, supportive atmosphere of these places. Going off the beaten path tends to let people relax – maybe because there’s less competition. I’ve seen a similar effect with lawyers who work in federal agencies and sometimes in-house counsel jobs, where – at least compared to big firms – the culture is friendly, the hours reasonable and the supervisors supportive.

Those two groups are the happy lawyers. They love the law, or at least don’t especially mind it.

The rest of the attorneys I treat – the vast majority – not so much.

So…what are the lessons to be learned from observing happy lawyers?

Read on at The People’s Therapist.


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