Happy lawyers?

Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today, Sunny Choi of Ms. JD interviews lawyers who have found their passion practicing law.

The idea of passion is a seemingly far-fetched one for most people working as an attorney. At some point, 99% of us have regretted the decision to attend law school. Just ask the anonymous 28-year-old who told Business Insider that law school was “a waste of my life and an extraordinary waste of money.” Even the articles on Above the Law will occasionally have you feeling disgruntled about life in the practice.

However, passion is a matter of perspective and it’s very possible to find your passion in, out, or above the law. Part one of this series will focus on the rare breed of attorney who has gone the obvious route and found passion IN the law.

Continue reading at the ATL Career Center…

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….

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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….

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In the nascent spirit of positivity around here, 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….

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Martin Luther dropped out of law school and he did just fine for himself.

Not all of our coverage of law schools is depressing; we bring you happy stories as well. In recent weeks, we’ve written about one law school dean’s creative (and healthy) student outreach program, a law student demonstrating kindness to animals, and someone having fun — perhaps too much fun? — in the library.

Let’s continue the good cheer. Back in the spring, we wrote about a law student who was thinking of dropping out of school. He sought our advice — and, surprisingly enough, my colleague Elie Mystal advised this fellow to stay in school (even though Elie is generally not a fan of legal education).

Some commenters disagreed with Elie (shocker), and urged the kid to drop out. But now we bring you an update suggesting that perhaps Elie’s advice was sound….

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* While med school grads can stop a person from bleeding out, law school grads could probably treat a papercut (but that’s a bit of an overstatement). Who will be there to stop our bleeding? [Am Law Daily]

* Annie Le’s family is suing Yale over her death, saying the school failed to protect women. Yale says the suit has no basis, but when someone has died, that just makes them sound like tremendous d-bags. [CNN]

* The unhappiest workers in professional fields are unmarried, middle-aged, female lawyers. Figures. Maybe we need to arrange some Geriatric Courtship Connections for these gals. [ABA Journal]

* China’s new marriage law interpretation has set women’s rights back a few decades. Next thing you know, women will be back in the kitchen, with bound feet and pregnant. [New York Times]

* Is it defamatory to say someone is a millionaire, not a billionaire? Don’t mess with the Donald’s money. Apparently he has enough of it to appeal even the dumbest of lawsuits. [Wall Street Journal]

* A noise complaint against Madonna will go to trial. Her neighbor was borderline, but the Material Girl’s not sorry. It’s human nature. And I’m all out of applicable lyrics. [New York Daily News]

Our research shows that inner work life has a profound impact on workers’ creativity, productivity, commitment and collegiality. Employees are far more likely to have new ideas on days when they feel happier. Conventional wisdom suggests that pressure enhances performance; our real-time data, however, shows that workers perform better when they are happily engaged in what they do.

Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer, authors of The Progress Principle (affiliate link), in a New York Times op-ed piece, Do Happier People Work Harder?

How can you be a happy lawyer?

* Is concern for “privacy” simply a justification for censorship on the internet? Some thoughts from a lawyer for Google. [Peter Fleischer: Privacy...? via Kashmir Hill / Forbes]

* What’s the secret to lawyer happiness? And no, it doesn’t involve illegal drugs or porn stars (Charlie Sheen isn’t a lawyer). [Slaw via Legal Blog Watch]

* Want to start your own law blog? Read this interesting interview with BL1Y (a regular in the ATL comments section). [Lawyerist]

* Superstar criminal defense lawyer John Dowd, the Akin Gump partner who successfully got Monica Goodling (among many other clients) out of legal trouble, offered a rousing defense of Raj Rajaratnam today. [Dealbreaker]

Jonathan Bristol

* Ex-Winston & Strawn partner Jonathan Bristol, former counsel to money manager / fraudster Kenneth Starr, has reached a plea agreement with S.D.N.Y. prosecutors. [New York Law Journal via Summary Judgments]

* Elsewhere in Ken Starr news, it seems that some celebs are getting hit with IRS tax liens as a result of their ties to him. [TaxProf Blog]

* Congratulations to a 3L at Harvard Law School, Nneka Ukpai, who trounced the prosecution at trial and won an acquittal for her client. [Yolanda Young / On Being a Black Lawyer]

* Congratulations to a 3L at NYU Law and future S.D.N.Y. law clerk, Eli Northrup, who belongs to a hip-hop band called Pants Velour — which has, in the words of our tipster, “captured the magic of Charlie Sheen as only music can.” [YouTube]

* This week, A Round Tuit includes a nice round-up of opinions on the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in the Westboro Baptist Church case (Snyder v. Phelps). [Infamy or Praise]

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….

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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.

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