Why are so many lawyers unhappy with their jobs?

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Why are so many lawyers unhappy with their jobs?

We know there are a number of attorneys who are not happy with their jobs. So we decided to ask attorneys why so many lawyers are unhappy with their jobs. There are a variety of reasons why lawyers are unhappy, but the most frequent answer was that they didn't know what they were getting themselves into. Another potential reason is that they thought becoming an attorney was as glamorous as it was portrayed on film and television.

I run the blog Leave Law Behind (http://www.leavelawbehind.com) and I write for and coach many attorneys who are unhappy practicing the law in ways to explore their skills and strengths and find other opportunities, within law or in other industries and areas.

In short, I feel that many attorneys are no happy with their jobs because of the following X reason:
  1. They didn't really think critically about going to law school. They just went. I was a Jewish kid who didn't like blood, ergo no medical school for me, how about law school? Really, this important life decision is often done without much critical thinking.
  2. Their skill set is not in line with what it takes to be a lawyer. Many attorneys are good at certain things: speaking, writing, analyzing, etc. But often times the actual practice of law requires other skills, such as adversarial litigation, and constant mundane scheduling or boring contract review. After a while, attorneys realize they are leaving their skills on the table and, day to day, doing things they don't like to do and aren't confident doing.
  3. They are risk averse, so they don't take the time to really explore what other options are out there. Instead, an attorneys' default position is to not take a chance, or prepare and explore change. Rather, they just keep doing what they are doing.


I have taught law as an adjunct professor for over 18 years and have therefore met many law students, including first year students. I have been able to observe what made them pursue a legal career first hand. As a result, I am confident that the primary reason that lawyers are dissatisfied is that they should not have entered the legal profession at all. Many students chose law as a career without ever working for or with an attorney. Accordingly, they have no idea what the practice of law is really like or, even worse, they believe it is similar to what they have seen on TV or in the movies. The disillusionment they later feel is therefore completely reasonable - they literally did not know what they were getting themselves into. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that law schools take a wide variety of undergraduate majors and have expanded in number in recent years. Accordingly, if someone cannot find a suitable job or does not have an idea what to do, there will likely be a law school willing to admit them. Finally, some people simply want the prestige that comes with being a lawyer, but quickly realize that the alleged prestige is not worth it if you are not interested in legal work.

Accordingly, there are two pieces of advice I give to every person considering a legal career. One is to work for a law office to see if you actually like the day to day responsibilities and lifestyle of an attorney before you decide on a legal career. The other is to make a decision on your career before you begin preparing to take the law school admission test. Many people take the LSAT with little or no preparation and then decide to go to law school or not based on how well they do. However, basing a 30 year or longer career on the results of one exam is not a sound decision making process. Taking the LSAT and practicing law are very different, requiring completely different skills. You may be great at the LSAT but abhor the actual practice of law. So, the better approach is to work for a lawyer and, if you are then committed to becoming one, put all the resources necessary into obtaining a high score on the LSAT and going to the best school possible.

-Thomas J. Simeone, Esq., Simeone & Miller, LLP

The legal profession is increasingly evolving into "finding a forum that fits the fuss," as my teacher the great mediation guru Frank Sanders at Harvard Law advocates.

Such mediation and negotiation practices are exciting tools more lawyers should properly train themselves in order to raise their professional profile and career satisfaction in the lawyer's primary role of bringing "good ideas" to the deciding judge that increases their role in the contingency on chance in dispute resolution. This is especially so inside the emerging legal forums that are becoming more "interests-based" than "rights-based" going forward in the age of shifted demography and heightened engagements.

-Oliver McGee

Most unhappy lawyers suffer from a failure of expectations. They entered law school with idealistic notions of what "being a lawyer" would mean. Then they found that the real life of most attorneys bears little resemblance to the literary and media images that shaped their expectations and propelled them into the profession. The current environment -- too many law school graduates for the number of available legal jobs -- has made things worse. Even the lucky "winners" -- young attorneys who land lucrative positions in big law firms -- are finding that the prevailing law firm business model is exacerbating the expectations-reality gap as senior partners focus on maximizing short-term profits at the expense of attorney well-being and long-term values.

-Steven J. Harper
Author of The Lawyer Bubble -- A Profession in Crisis (Basic Books, 2013)

When I founded Law ternatives in 1988 to help lawyers wanting to transition from law jobs to more satisfying positions, I thought it was just the long, billable hours and meticulous attention to detail that was driving them crazy.

Over the years, though, I have come to see numerous underlying trends that drive attorneys to the brink. Many of my clients confess that, for starters:

The constant conflict inherent in all practice areas beats them down.

The fear of possible repercussions from everyone including one's own client/partners creates unbearable levels of stress.

The need to master an ever increasing, ever changing body of information is overwhelming.

The amount of time it takes just to keep afloat leaves no room for a satisfying personal life.

The money, even when good, comes to very little when computed as an hourly wage (and that's when good paying legal jobs can even be found).

Add to that the dysfunctional, powder-keg dynamic that exists in many law firms and the lack of "happy campers" isn't surprising.

One of the most basic problems of all is that law attracts smart people from all backgrounds, yet not every personality type is equipped to deal with the narrowness and minutia required of legal counsel today. Creativity in the law, at least at the more junior levels, doesn't really exist. So, it follows that when bright, creative individuals enter today's legal field thinking they will be offered thought-provoking, intellectually challenging work, they will likely meet with a great deal of disappointment.

Cheryl Heisler, President/Founder

There can be many reasons:

They have huge debt from student loans and the big money they thought they would make is not there.

They practice in an area that they hate like Divorce.

They have unreasonable clients whose expectations they cannot meet.

Judges can become impossible after developing what we call in private practice as 'Black Robe Disease.'

It's where once they become a Judge they take advantage of their power and use it to make a lawyer and/or his/her clients unhappy.

Long Hours…

The List can go on and on.

-Thomas Taneff, Attorney at Law

Aside from the usual suspects (looming loans and deteriorating job prospects) I think the personality profile of many attorneys (from what I saw in school and have met since then) is what causes us to stay unhappy,not necessarily makes us unhappy.

The same character traits that tend to make us so successful (that put your head down, push through, work till is perfect attitude, the fortitude, avoidance, perfectionism, etc.) is the same thing that can cause us to disconnect and be really dishonest with ourselves if we're not careful.

Consequently, I feel like that "I think I made a wrong choice" conversation hits us really hard.

Because honestly, I don't think there are any more attorneys that decide that law isn't for them than there is others that feel the same for any other profession. But so many attorneys have that type A personality that we can tend to worry about the "buts"...."but my father and his father is an attorney", "but I paid all this money", "but I spent so much time in school", "but this is what I thought I wanted", "but what will people think if I quit" that even once they've had the epiphany they choose to stay in a practice area or field altogether that they know they're not happy in.

It's all a matter of awareness and honesty.

Just my take!

-Erin McClarty Esq.
website. www.erinemcclarty.com
blog. www.notationsonnonprofits.com

I am not a lawyer but we have consulted with a few law firms.

Freedom is the most important predictor of success and lawyers have little freedom to decide on how they do their jobs. When this is coupled with high demands/responsibility, it exacerbates the problem.

If you feel like you are making a positive impact on the world, you are also less likely to be happy. Many lawyers entered the legal profession because they thought they could make a difference but instead lawyers are perceived by society and greedy and unlikeable so the dissonance between self-perception and societies perception creates unhappiness.

Finally, for years we have heard that there are more lawyers in school than are practicing law. I am not sure if that is still true but it does create a sense that you can never rest because if you do, there is someone who will do your job for less.

-Dave Popple PhD
President Corporate Insights

I believe that lawyers are no longer seen as valued advisers, counselors,or guideposts. Lawyering is no longer valued as the service that it is. Rather, I believe, that society in general views lawyers as a necessary evil and their work not as valued or worthy legal services but as commodities. Lastly, lawyers find themselves competing against the internet which further commoditizes their legal services and negatively impacts their earnings.

-Ramsey A. Bahrawy, Esq.
Bahrawy Law Offices

I think it centers around a lack of self care, brought on by demands on time that are unexpected and often unwelcome.

Many attorneys are looking for the next fight, all the time. That leads to too much cortisol perhaps.

Many times, the brain chemicals are off. Whether brain chemical problems led them to becoming attorneys, or being an attorney led to brain chemical problems is anyone's guess.

-Byron B. Warnken, Esq.
Warnken, LLC

I can say this, asking lawyers why they are unhappy is not going to get you an accurate, honest, or even sincere brush off. After spending 13 years investigating the Fulton County and Atlanta Metro Judicial System, I can tell you with complete confidence that society is in the dark as to just how deeply the state of corruption is within the Metro Atlanta Area, and can reasonably assume the rest of the state follows suit. There is so much corruption and lack of ethics. I uncovered a conspiracy so depraved, yet so readily allowed to function that if I did not have the evidence no one would ever believe such a twisted tale. The last six years I went off the grid deep underground because I never knew if I walked out of my temporary hotel room if it would be the last door I opened. Murder, mayhem, fraud,and billions of dollars involved. National heavy hitter law firms were aware of the crimes, yet covered them up. I am piecing the evidence together so that I can prosecute the case if I wished. I am not a lawyer, but hired them and spent seven years tied up in the court system. I have spent enough time in the law library that I could pass the bar. I was setup for murder and successfully defended myself. I was dragged into this scandal not by any choice of my own, but rather became the target of two sociopaths, my ex and my fiance's ex-wife, decided to eliminate us, then steal his billion dollar net worth. I was left a great deal in assets, his will and many millions in insurance policies. But since they murdered my fiance when I was away from the country estate, his ex cleaned out the safe with all the actual documents, policies, wills, and 12 million in art. What those two did to me, my fiance, and all of our children is nothing short of characters such as Ted Bundy or Hitler. The capacity for such dark levels of cruelty and the willingness to do what ever they had to in order to get what they wanted, and to them murder arouses as much emotion as eating a ham sandwich. But money, take that from them, and then I get my justice for myself and my sons (currently held hostage by their father under threat to murder them should I produce my overwhelming evidence.) I have a business degree in finance, sold stocks, worked in banking and trust, sold real estate, worked in corporate investment law and in 2006 became a trained private investigator, after having studied the topic on my own for several years. I never knew the path that I would be lead down as I was put through so much, I needed answers. I wish I had not. Luckily, I am probably the .01% that did not end up on Dateline six years ago found dead inside a blown up home from a "gas leak". But I happen to know some very powerful people myself, and I called in a favor, which put them and I in a state of flux. They of course kept trying to destroy me or imprison me, while I kept my head down, needing to know why so many people wanted me dead. I got my answers. I am not afraid any longer. I am going to get my life back, and justice will be served. Or I will die trying. After all, I am going to be asking an entire legion of crooked lawyers to take down some of their own. And there is no ethics committee for the GA Bar. If they say there is...well you have to actually experience to understand. And when you are on the radar, cops, DA's, judges, personal attorneys, all are benefiting from my (never going to happen) early demise.

The Truth is at hand.


I believe many attorneys are unhappy with their jobs because of the high level of stress involved in almost every aspect of practicing law. Supervising staff, negotiating with opposing counsel, and appearing in court all bring separate pressures. However, the greatest concern always lies with meeting the client's expectations.

Often, clients are talking to me on one of the worst days of their lives.They rightfully want answers and clarity as soon as possible, however, judicial resolution of problems is slow, expensive, and unpredictable.

Balancing the client's demands with the realities of litigation is difficult, even more so when the client may be on the right side of the facts, but the wrong side of the law. The inequities at play are frustrating not only to the client, but to attorneys as well.

The daily stress of attempting to solve, or lessen, clients' problems while playing in the scope of court rules and procedure, can wear on attorneys and cause them question whether this is how they want to spend their time.

Fulfilling victories in law are sometimes few and far between. However, the practice of law can bring great challenges that make us want to get up everyday and do it all over again.

Eric Misterovich, Newburg Law, PLLC

Simeone & Miller, LLP


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