It’s Not Poverty That Makes Lawyers Happy, It’s Purpose

This part of the New York Times article is what is making headlines:

Researchers who surveyed 6,200 lawyers about their jobs and health found that the factors most frequently associated with success in the legal field, such as high income or a partner-track job at a prestigious firm, had almost zero correlation with happiness and well-being.

But this is the important bit:

However, lawyers in public-service jobs who made the least money, like public defenders or Legal Aid attorneys, were most likely to report being happy.

Lawyers in public-service jobs also drank less alcohol than their higher-income peers. And, despite the large gap in affluence, the two groups reported about equal overall satisfaction with their lives.

It’s not the salary that matters. Struggling to keep the lights on as a solo practitioner isn’t going to turn you into Happy McHapperson. On the other hand, “prestige” doesn’t do much for you, either.

If you want to be happy, build a practice doing work you find meaningful and don’t worry so much about your income statement.


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  • Goaty McCheese

    This is facile and, I think, incorrect. Making less money does, in a way, make some people happier. Some people find that budgeting imposed by relative poverty gives them a new purpose or focus. As a result, they find budgeting fun. These people are screwed up. Not coincidentally, many of them are lawyers.

    • Having my observation called facile by a commenter with the handle Goaty McCheese has got to be some kind of blogging milestone.

      • Woland
        • I tried to fix that so Disqus would show the animation, but apparently it doesn’t like Giphy.

      • Goaty McCheese

        I take that as a compliment. Then again I take everything as a compliment. Not coincidentally, I am a lawyer.