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Legal Employment Myth Buster: ''Are New Lawyers Unsatisfied with Their Legal Jobs?''

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Q: What do you call a smiling, courteous person at a bar association convention?

A: The caterer.

The myth of stressed out lawyers

Regardless of whether you are walking the halls of a law school, a firm, or networking at a bar event, as a new attorney one question remains the same: “Are you happy?” For the last few years, the legal market has been tough, and more young attorneys are finding themselves questioning their decision to go into law school or are they?

Despite the numerous statistics that new lawyers are depressed, suicidal, and some argue more than 40% more likely to suffer from psychological disorders such as OCD. Our research shows that despite these statistics most newly employed attorneys like their jobs.

We admit the “bad” facts. Lawyers are prone to depression, car crashes, and suicide. According to the ABA, attorneys are more likely to get into a car crash than any other profession except doctors. In fact, for attorneys the accident rate is 106 accidents for every 1,000 drivers and the rate of speeding tickets is 37 for every 1,000 drivers.

Detailed Measures of Job Satisfaction

Although one possible culprit could be fatigue or exhaustion, some argue that lawyers have a hard time turning off their thoughts and tuning into the present moment, which results in more accidents. For example, some attorneys admit it is impossible to turn off a trial, a seasoned New York litigator admits he is “always thinking about the trial.”

There are many reasons that new lawyers think they should be miserable at their jobs. According to past studies, lawyers are more likely to suffer from depression and suicide. On average attorneys are four times more likely to suffer from serious depression. In addition, the California State Bar Association presented facts in a recent CLE to show that the leading cause of death for young attorneys is suicide. Even though lawyers may be prone to depression and other disorders, this depression may not have anything to do with the attorney’s level of job satisfaction.

In a recent study by the Association for Legal Career Professionals (“NALP”), new attorneys reported “high levels of satisfaction.” Further, more than 3/4th of the respondents reported being “moderately to extremely satisfied with their decision to become a lawyer.” Now, it is time for the real question.

Are these attorneys satisfied with the underlying work or the social environment of the law office?

Dimensions of Satisfaction by Practice Setting

According to these statistics, some attorneys find the underlying work satisfying, but more new lawyers are most satisfied with the “social index” of their work. NALP has new lawyers analyze their satisfaction in terms of satisfaction with the substance of the work, the job setting, the power track, or the social index. One large law firm associate may dislike the long hours, but this factor may be offset by the associate’s satisfaction with their pay and advancement opportunities.

Contrary to media reports, lawyer complaints, and the general stigma of misery plaguing the transition from law school to law job, young attorneys are overall satisfied with their jobs in law.

Disagree? Feel free to comment below.

  • See, After the JD II: Second Results from a National Study of Legal Careers (with R. Dinovitzer, G. Plickert, R. Sandefur, & J. Sterling), American Bar Foundation and The NALP Foundation for Law Career Research and Education (2009)
  • See, (Last visited on August 16, 2012)
  • See,e.g.,
    /lawyers_second_most_likely_professional_to_be_in_a_car_crash/(Last visited on August 16, 2012)

About Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes is the founder of LawCrossing and an internationally recognized expert in attorney search and placement. Harrison is extremely committed to and passionate about the profession of legal placement. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placement attract millions of reads each year. LawCrossing has been ranked on the Inc. 500 twice. For more information, please visit Harrison Barnes’ bio.

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LawCrossing has received tens of thousands of attorneys jobs and has been the leading legal job board in the United States for almost two decades. LawCrossing helps attorneys dramatically improve their careers by locating every legal job opening in the market. Unlike other job sites, LawCrossing consolidates every job in the legal market and posts jobs regardless of whether or not an employer is paying. LawCrossing takes your legal career seriously and understands the legal profession. For more information, please visit

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Harrison Barnes does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for attorneys and law students each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can attend anonymously and ask questions about your career, this article, or any other legal career-related topics. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom

Harrison also does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for law firms, companies, and others who hire attorneys each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom

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Harrison Barnes is the legal profession's mentor and may be the only person in your legal career who will tell you why you are not reaching your full potential and what you really need to do to grow as an attorney--regardless of how much it hurts. If you prefer truth to stagnation, growth to comfort, and actionable ideas instead of fluffy concepts, you and Harrison will get along just fine. If, however, you want to stay where you are, talk about your past successes, and feel comfortable, Harrison is not for you.

Truly great mentors are like parents, doctors, therapists, spiritual figures, and others because in order to help you they need to expose you to pain and expose your weaknesses. But suppose you act on the advice and pain created by a mentor. In that case, you will become better: a better attorney, better employees, a better boss, know where you are going, and appreciate where you have been--you will hopefully also become a happier and better person. As you learn from Harrison, he hopes he will become your mentor.

To read more career and life advice articles visit Harrison's personal blog.

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About Harrison Barnes

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