Friday, September 25, 2009

On Lawyers and Happiness

The Wall Street Journal has a two-part interview with Gretchen Rubin about lawyers and happiness. Gretchen is a graduate of Yale Law School and blogs at The Happiness Project.

An excerpt from Part I:

Unhappiness among law-firm lawyers is a well-known phenomenon nearly at every level. Young associates are bored and unhappy; midlevel associates are overworked and stressed about making partner; and partners are, as the old saying goes, the winners of the pie-eating contest who get to eat more pie. What are your thoughts on lawyer unhappiness at law firms?

I think the main one is the one I referred to earlier — that people don’t go into it mindfully. They didn’t choose to be there. Of course, there are people who went to law school knowing they wanted to be law professors. I have a friend who’s like that. He talks about his job and my eyes glaze over, but for him, it’s a real passion. My father is another example — he’s a very happy lawyer. But if you’d rather be doing something else and you’re stuck in a law firm, you’re liable to be unhappy.

I’ve always thought that law school lures a lot of people who are highly ambitious, but don’t exactly know how to channel that ambition. It’s a weird mixture of highly driven and sort of clueless.

I think that’s right. And then, after you take on all this debt, you’re stuck there and don’t have control over your life. When you don’t have control, it can be an unhappy feeling.

And from Part II:

I’d imagine there’s another factor at play in lawyers’ unhappiness: the hours. A lot of sacrifice is required to practice law at the highest levels at big firms.

It’s true. The practice of law can crowd out other smaller things when you’re younger, like dusting. But as you get older, the things that get sacrificed can get more meaningful, like seeing your kids. Some people don’t care — they can tolerate the long hours, but others can’t, and they’re miserable. Some people have hobbies that are enormously time consuming, others don’t. It’s just a matter of the match.

This doesn’t just apply to the practice of law, does it?

No. But I think it’s especially acute in any type of job in which clients and time deadlines are involved.

Okay. But if someone’s thinking about law school, but isn’t convinced, would you try to talk him or her out of it?

Not necessarily. I’d ask first how he or she was going to pay for it. That’s one thing. If you’re going to take on massive debt, you’re not just spending three years waiting for the economy to improve, you’re making an extremely serious commitment.

Another thing: I completely understand the appeal of ‘it can’t hurt/it’ll keep your options open’ argument, but people should know that law school is hard. It’s hard and humbling. It’s not like going to college for three more years.

Michael Melcher, who wrote a book called the Creative Lawyer — which is a great book for lawyers trying to boost their happiness, by the way — said his rule is, ‘if you’re on the fence about having a baby, have one. If you’re on the fence about going to law school, don’t.’ I subscribe to that.

I can't comment about the baby advice, but certainly agree with the advice about law school. Don't go unless you have a very strong reason for going. There are much cheaper (and funner) ways of "keeping your options open" and figuring out what you want to do with your life.

Read both parts of the interview and be sure to check out Gretchen's blog, The Happiness Project.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A valuable post on happiness

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