Valentine’s Day is right around the corner: a joyous time when people are supposed to be happy and celebrate the things in their lives that they love. This concept seems a bit ironic for lawyers. We’re supposed to be heartless, unhappy pessimists. Moreover, when stories about unemployed law school graduates and the plight of lawyers continue to plague the headlines, how are we supposed to be happy as professionals?

It seems like we hear about all of the negativity surrounding the legal profession on a daily basis. What we don’t hear about, though, is those who have managed to find happiness in the law, in spite of the turbulent conditions of today’s legal economy. As lawyers, do we have a choice when it comes to being happy? If so, how can we find happiness, that which has been so elusive to others in our profession?

Recession rhymes with depression

Lawyers suffer from higher rates of alcoholism, divorce, depression, and suicide than any other profession. The recession certainly didn’t do the legal profession any favors in terms of lawyers’ mental health issues. In fact, in 2009, the demand for lawyer assistance programs grew exponentially. While it is said that money can’t buy happiness, for lawyers, the opposite seemed to be true. When lawyers lost their jobs and their salaries, they also lost any sense of happiness that they may have had.

These unhappy lawyers may have fallen victim to hard times due to the state of the economy, but they also succumbed to one of the top five myths about happy lawyers. A high salary does not automatically lead to happiness.

When lawyers become slaves to high salaries, happiness declines in turn, based solely on the money-centric pathway that is cultivated by their materialistic wants and needs. Given the state of the legal job market, it seems that having expectations about money that are too high may actually be the number one cause of unhappiness in lawyers.

The key to finding happiness

In these hard times, the American Bar Association is making crucial efforts to instill in lawyers a new sense of faith in the legal profession. The February issue of the ABA Journal features stories about lawyers hunting for happiness and lawyers who actually love their jobs.

So, what does the ABA think is the key to finding happiness in the law? It sounds cliché, but the ABA advises that in order to be happy, lawyers should do what they love.

Nancy Levit and Douglas O. Linder, the co-authors of The Happy Lawyer: Making a Good Life in the Law, note that:

Love makes us happier than anything. We generally think of love as it relates to our feelings for another human being, but it is also possible to love your job, to pay attention to your work, and respect its traditions and noble goals.

Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor once said that work worth doing is the secret to a happy life. Although we as lawyers can’t force ourselves to be happy, we can certainly make a conscious effort to try to achieve happiness. It may seem like a lofty goal, but we can try to find “work worth doing,” that is, work that interests us, and more importantly, work that we love. After all, according to The Happy Lawyer:

The happiest lawyers tend to be those who do work that they think make the world at least a marginally better place. [A]ttorneys experience ‘the greatest source of disappointment in practice’ when they feel that they are not contributing to the public good.

The ABA Journal’s article on lawyers who love their jobs proves both The Happy Lawyer’s and Justice O’Connor’s sentiments: happy lawyers do what they love, and what they love makes the world a better place. Ruth Carter, a guest blogger on Legal Blog Watch, said of the article:

[N]one of the contributing lawyers said they loved being lawyers because it made them rich or feel important. Happy lawyers are in this profession because they like being of service to people who need someone to fight on their behalf.

Making the choice to be happy

For lawyers, making the choice to be happy seems like an obvious one, but it isn’t always the one that is most readily available. In today’s economy, some lawyers will fall prey to the money trap, while others still will take a job just because one is available. On the whole, choosing happiness may be more difficult than it sounds, simply due to the fact that lawyers are not frequently offered the opportunity to do what they love.

It takes a sense of bravery to bypass some of the seemingly desirable pitfalls of the legal profession which can lead to unhappiness — money and power. In order to choose and find happiness, however, lawyers must try to overcome these materialistic desires in favor of a more untraditional form of success: love for what they do.

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