Ed. note: Please welcome Elizabeth Adams, who will be covering health and wellness in the legal profession. You can read her full bio at the end of this post.
Ever wonder what the secret to happiness is? Landing a Biglaw job? Making partner? Saving your innocent cousin from wrongful conviction for a convenience store robbery in the small town south? Whether you’re a currently-miserable attorney who’s pinning her hopes for happiness on eventual career success, or a veteran attorney who could stand to be a bit more happy, I have both bad and good news for you. The bad news: you may have to look beyond the bounds of your career for the additional keys to lasting happiness. The good news: doing so is easy! But how could this be, you ask?
I found some clues to the answer in a book I just finished reading called A Life Worth Breathing (affiliate link), written by Julian Assange doppelganger (see cover photo), yoga teacher, and self-proclaimed “innovator,” Max Strom. To be honest, I was initially pretty skeptical of the book. From the title alone, I could tell how much heavy eye-rolling was likely in store for me. And — just to be clear — the book did prove chock-full of more than its fair share of what my father would call “illogically formulated and poorly communicated hippie hooey.”
That said, A Life Worth Breathing did deliver a few precious nuggets of information valuable enough to make the whole undertaking worthwhile…
The idea of “happiness” is the basis of an ever-growing body of research. In fact, while economists traditionally measure a nation’s prosperity by looking at GDP, there is a growing movement for them to consider a different measure, something akin to “Gross National Happiness.” One of the best-known efforts to move away from a reliance on GDP as a measure of national welfare is the UN’s Human Development Index, which amalgamates three metrics: lifespan, educational attainment, and adjusted real income. Then there are dozens of much more subjective surveys of national happiness, many of which find Costa Rica to be the happiest country in the world. Others say it’s Norway. (Then there is this preposterous “Happy Planet Index,” which ranks the U.S. at number 113, between Madagascar and Nigeria.)
Of course happiness research is performed in more narrowly targeted ways, such as examining specific professions. Earlier this year, Forbes reported on a “Career Bliss” survey of 65,000 employees that ranked “law firm associate” as the unhappiest job in America. (See Joe’s take on that survey here.)
The results of the annual American Lawyer midlevel associate survey are out, and it looks like people have been taking happy pills. We thought things were going well last year, but this time around, it’s all lollipops and double rainbows for third-, fourth-, and fifth-year associates. According to Am Law, these happy campers gave their firms the highest composite scores the publication had seen in almost 10 years.
These associates have good reason to be happy. They’ve secured and maintained jobs at elite firms while entry-level hiring has been swirling down the drain. Spring bonuses have come and gone, but they’ve managed to stick it out. They’ve seen the rise and fall of Biglaw empires. They’ve seen the worst of the profession’s worst, and still, they’ve survived it all. They have the right to be happy.
Of course, not everyone is as thrilled. For the first time, American Lawyer measured gender differences in question responses, and women are markedly less satisfied with their jobs than their male colleagues. Considering how difficult is is to gain entry to the Biglaw boys’ club, who could blame them?
Enough idle chatter, let’s delve into the details of the survey and discuss the results…
You mean this groundbreaking Newtonian equation might be wrong?
One of the things I’ve learned in my time here at Above the Law is that most people are desperate to justify the decisions they’ve made, even if you can logically show them that they made the wrong call. People who go to terrible law schools argue endlessly that either their law school isn’t so terrible, or that they personally made a good call to go to a terrible school. People who are willing to take a massive pay cut to get the hell out of a soul-destroying Biglaw firm will still tell you that they “really valued” their time there. Obama voters look the other way while the “progressive” president allows robots to indiscriminately rain down death from the sky. Republicans act like they’re just supporting the “conservative fiscal policies” of the nutjob racists and homophobes they vote for.
Everybody wants to feel like every decision they made was the “right” one in some way. People like me who are willing to publicly admit that they’ve made some freaking awful decisions that haunt them to this day (like defaulting on my debts) are rare.
I don’t think we needed a whole study to make that point. I certainly don’t think we learn a lot by asking lawyers — generally employed lawyers — if they are “happy” with their decision to go to law school. What are they going to say? “Dear God, no. I hate my life. Please help me.”
But some law professors did ask that question, and SURPRISE, it turns out that going to an “elite” law school doesn’t automatically make you happier with your career decisions than going to a slightly less elite law school. Wow. In other super shocking news, marrying the hottest stripper in the club doesn’t make your marriage significantly more stable than marrying the second hottest stripper in the club….
* Eric Holder comes clean on his involvement with the James Rosen search warrant, and to the chagrin of many, he isn’t plotting the death of journalism. That, or he’s a big liar. You pick. [Volokh Conspiracy]
* George Zimmerman is going to be staring down an all-female jury for the next few weeks in his murder trial. And let me tell you, that’s going to be so much fun when everyone’s cycles start to sync up. [CNN]
* It’s amazing that the Framers’ intentions can be applied to true love. Best wishes to Ilya Shapiro on his new marriage. Professor Josh Blackman is one hell of a wedding speaker. [CATO @ Liberty]
* Is there an appropriate way to deal with cosmetic surgery — like a breast enlargement, breast reduction, or a nose job — in the office? Just be ready for people to talk about you. [Corporette]
* Former Above the Law columnist Jay Shepherd offers up the secret to lawyer happiness in just six minutes, while taking shots at the world’s largest law firm and the world’s shortest movie star. [jayshep]
Workplace satisfaction isn’t quite the hot topic it used to be. In the 90s, everyone got all touchy-feely because an unhappy employee could pick up stakes and move at a moment’s notice. Today, the primary axis of worker satisfaction is, “Am I working?”
But satisfaction surveys still fascinate, and Jacquelyn Smith of Forbes recently posted a new survey from a firm known as CareerBliss that used a multi-factor survey to determine the happiest and unhappiest jobs in America.
Wonder what came in the top spot? Well, OK obviously it was an associate. I’m not going to hide the ball here. If it was anyone else, we wouldn’t be writing about it. But what’s more interesting is who came in the rest of the top 10, because that really puts in terrifying perspective how terrible a job in Biglaw really is….
There’s lots of misery in our profession. Much of it occurs because lawyers didn’t realize that the practice is not like some television show glamorizing our daily lives. We are also a miserable bunch because many of us do the same thing every day, we hate what we do every day, and we deem it useless. Even if you’re one of those rare lawyers who loves what they do, you stand the risk of being around the miserable ones.
I love what I do. I don’t love it every day, and like everyone else on the planet, occasionally think about doing something else. There are days when, like everyone else, I have to deliver bad news to a client, or wonder if every conversation I am having is a conspiracy to cause me to jump out a window.
So because I love what I do and love you all so very much, I thought I’d give you some thoughts about how to actually enjoy lawyering….
The annual Am Law midlevel associate survey came out yesterday, and for the first time in years, satisfaction among third-, fourth-, and fifth-year associates seems to be up across the board. According to Am Law, this year’s average score across all firms was the highest it’s been since at least 2004.
But, as with all things in Biglaw, their happiness is relative. After all, these are the people who survived the worst of the layoffs, and the lucky few who managed to get a foot in the door during a time of reduced new associate hiring. Above all, these are the people who must be thanking their lucky stars that they weren’t midlevels at Dewey & LeBoeuf. They may have been working extremely hard on cases that were understaffed, but at least they were working.
Last year, my colleague Elie Mystal noted that the midlevels who were whining about their unhappiness were “missing the big picture” — that they’d be making serious bank for the rest of their lives if they remained in Biglaw. Given the results of this year’s survey, perhaps these midlevels have come to that very realization….
* Apparently spring bonuses don’t make the Biglaw world go ’round after all. The annual Am Law midlevel survey is out, and satisfaction levels are up across the board. Maybe they’re happy to still be employed. [American Lawyer]
* When Dewey get to retire this used up, old D&L pun? Probably around the same time as that Howrey joke — never. Oh, and the firm asked a bankruptcy judge to approve its $70M partner “clawback” plan. [WSJ Law Blog]
* Oh mon dieu, it’s time for some law firm merger mania! DLA Piper, the second-largest Biglaw behemoth, proposed to French firm Frieh Bouhenic, and of course, the corporate boutique said “oui.” [Legal Week]
* Judicial efficiency: Judge Robert Hinkle says he’ll block Florida’s regulations on voter registration groups just as soon as an appeals court boots the state’s arguments. [Bloomberg]
* Judge Kenneth Lester Jr. will step down as judge in the George Zimmerman case after using “disparaging” language in a bail order. Zimmerman’s probably hoping that the third judge will be the charm for him. [CNN]
In the nascent spirit of positivity aroundhere, let’s take a look at where, according to our research, Biglaw’s happiest troopers can be found.
To be sure, lawyers are a notoriously depressive lot. Various studies — and presumably Will Meyerhofer — suggest that the characteristics that make a good lawyer actually correlate with clinical depression. Combine these alleged traits with crushing debt, an oversaturated job market, and an uncertain future, and the industry seems mired in malaise.
But what about those fortunate ones who’ve managed to snag a coveted Biglaw gig? Why, not only are they employed, but they have a realistic chance to pay off their loans. Are they any more upbeat than the industry’s rank-and-file? Our own survey data strongly suggests the answer is definitely maybe.
Respondents to our ongoing ATL School & Firm Insider Survey give their “firm morale” a mean rating of 6.81 out of 10. (By the way, if you haven’t yet, please take the survey here.) For context, lawyers rate morale a bit higher than “hours” (6.55) and bit lower than “training” (6.88). So, generally speaking, firm morale is not conspicuously singled out by lawyers as a negative.
But which are the happiest firms? And the unhappiest? Let’s have a look at the Biglaw shops getting top marks for esprit de corps….
Hey, have you read Above the Law for like one single minute in the past month? If so, you probably know that we’re having this big blogger conference on March 14th at the Yale Club. Yeah, the Yale Club. You’ll be able to recognize me: I’ll be the only big… blogger guy surreptitiously holding a can of crimson spray-paint.
Speaking of coming, you should come. We’ve got CLE and all that. Click here to buy tickets to get CLE credit for listening to bloggers scream about stuff on the internet.
To refresh your memory, details on the panel that I’m moderating — almost entirely sober, mind you — follow.
My panel is called Blogs as Agents of Change, and we’re going to talk about whether all of these spilled pixels are actually making a difference. You know my view… just ask Lawrence Mitchell, but here are the panelists:
So you spent a considerable amount of time courting, selling and maybe even doing some friendly stalking of that attractive lateral partner candidate with a sizable book. After he or she ignored your emails and didn’t return your calls, a few weeks go by and you read a press release in the legal media announcing the recent move to a competing firm.
Rats. Another one got away from you. You cringe when you consider how much time was spent in meetings that did not bear fruit. Your heart aches when recall how you were led to believe this was a marriage made in heaven.
You have been rejected.
The sting of rejection is painful, even for fancy law firms. But you need to find a way that you can turn this disappointment into a legitimate learning experience.
No, this isn’t a pre-party before we come back next fall for the real thing. This IS the real thing. Quinn Emanuel is pushing the envelope on recruiting. The party is now. This is when you meet the partners and associates face to face. This is when we begin the dance that could land you an offer for your second summer BEFORE school starts in the fall.
First: You come to the party. Second: If you like us, you send your resume after June 1, 2014. Third: If we like each other, you get an offer.
We’re not waiting for fall. We’re not doing the twenty minute thing. This party is the real thing!
We hope you’ll join us, and look forward to meeting you.
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