Romance and Dating, Small Law Firms

Size Matters: Love and the Small Law Firm

Ed. note: This is the latest installment of Size Matters, one of Above the Law’s new columns for small-firm lawyers.

Valentine’s Day was yesterday, and everywhere you turned, someone was trying to spread the message of love. Rachel Ray was on Good Morning America, showing us how to cook breakfast in bed. Every grocery store was hawking roses. There was a marathon of Millionaire Matchmaker on Bravo all weekend.

But the most interesting way to say “I love you” is the Pajamagram. While watching Patti Stanger yell at some wealthy old man trying to date a woman who is way too young for him, I saw the Pajamagram commercial. The commercial featured an attractive woman emerging from her bathroom in a “sexy” pair of pajama pants and a tank top covered in hearts. And, according to the Pajamagram people, if you really want to show her you care, then get her a Hoodie-Footie. Apparently, nothing says you are in for a romantic evening like a giant pink-velour onesie. If watching multiple episodes of Millionaire Matchmaker was not enough, seeing these commercials has convinced me that no one is feeling the love this year.

The ABA Journal disagrees. The February 2011 edition is devoted to discussing how lawyers can find happiness — even love — in their legal careers. In Why I Love Being A Lawyer (Seriously), several practitioners share the reasons that they love being a lawyer. Most of the quotes refer to the lawyer’s ability to make the world better or the freedom that comes with practicing law (for those who own their own firms). Unfortunately, I could not relate to any of those happy lawyers.

There was another article in the Journal that struck a little closer to home. In Hunting Happy, Becky Beaupre Gillespie and Hollee Schwartz Temple chronicle the happiness movement in law — specifically, how lawyers can be happier. The article discusses The Happy Lawyer, a book by Professors Douglas O. Linder and Nancy Levit of the University of Missouri-Kansas City, in which they conclude that the path to happiness comes from working at a small firm.

Or, at least, the path to being happier than people at big law firms….

From the ABA Journal:

Levit and Linder can quantify . . . the happiness disparity among different types of lawyers. Those who work at smaller firms or in the public sector tend to be happier, as do those who are older than 50 or work reduced hours. The least happy are those in large firms, where only 44 percent report they are satisfied.

These results have confirmed my theory that there are some happy lawyers out there, and those happy lawyers spend less time lawyering than their unhappy counterparts. Indeed, older attorneys are happier because they do not have to do most of the painful grunt work (and the lucky geezers are almost done being lawyers altogether). Similarly, attorneys who work reduced hours are happier because, duh, they work reduced hours. And, I suppose, those in the public sector are happier because they are making the world better. There is nothing like moral superiority to get you feeling happy.

But I’m not sure if I understand why people at small firms are categorically happier than those at large firms any better than I can understand that there are attorneys who love the law. I would like to ask Professors Levit and Linder what small firms they studied. And, I would like to ask the lawyers at the happy-making small firm if they have room for a mid-level associate.

I think the biggest problem with Levit and Linder’s results is that “small firm” is too large of a category. There are boutique law firms, large firm spin-offs, lifestyle firms, very small firms, somewhat small firms, medium-sized small firms, small firms that specialize, small firms that do everything, etc. I cannot believe that everyone at these different small firms is happy. In fact, I know that to be untrue, since I work at a small firm and I am not happy.

What is it about certain small firms that make them great places to work? I do not know. The article offered no explanation. This is our challenge, then, to uncover.

So, what are the take-aways from the ABA Journal’s February edition?

1. Spinsters and big-firm lawyers should be treated with care during this Valentine’s week.
2. There are happy lawyers.
3. Some happy lawyers work at small law firms.
4. Some lawyers make the world a better place.

Why I Love Being a Lawyer (Seriously) [ABA Journal]
Hunting Happy: In Grim Times, a Search for Joy in Law Practice Gains Ground [ABA Journal]
The Happy Lawyer: Making a Good Life in the Law [Amazon]

Valerie Katz (not her real name) works at a small law firm in Chicago. You can reach her by email at and follow her on Twitter at @ValerieLKatz.

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