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Finding happiness in the legal industry

published January 05, 2022

By CEO and Founder - BCG Attorney Search left
( 4 votes, average: 3.7 out of 5)
What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.
What does it take to be happy as a lawyer?

The law can be overwhelming, especially for new attorneys who have just finished law school; Lawyers may also feel that they are not making enough money or do not have enough opportunities for advancement; If you're feeling this way, consider these tips on how you can increase your satisfaction and happiness at work and in life as a lawyer.


Finding contentment is a challenge in any industry and the legal profession is no exception. There is no exact formula as to what makes lawyers happy but there are some time and tested ways that could actually give you that state of satisfaction that seems so hard to come by these days.
There is always a lot of drama everywhere around us that is distracting us from focusing on the important things. However, happy lawyers in their career would know that they have to push the drama out of their life and not give it the opportunity to cloud their mind. Whether you are connected to big or small law firms or on your own solo practice, lawyer well-being should be a top priority these days especially at this time of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Smartest People in and Outside the Legal Profession
I have an acquaintance from childhood I consider one of the smartest people I know. It was not because of high IQ, top test scores, or being able to hold complex, sophisticated conversations. It was because he was not at all interested in the drama happening around him. Other kids were competing with each other about who had better stuff, richer parents, better grades and were complaining about everything around them. Many started to deal with the pressure and their perceived problems by turning into substance abuse. However, this guy did not care about any of this. He focused on doing the best he could and was happy with what he had, no matter what happened in his life. His positive psychology worked wonders for his well being and for others he gets to meet and work with.
Because he was not the most intelligent kid in our school, many of us assumed he would not go far and become successful. But the opposite happened. He built a successful business and was at the top of his game in his profession very early. He also found a wonderful wife and was happy in his professional and personal life. And it was all because he focused on positive psychology, doing the best he could and did not get involved in unnecessary drama. Law students could also learn from an associate I recently hired, who finished her first year in law school, still a working student, but has so far proven her worth in practicing law.
Although she had only spent two semesters in law school and did not have significant experience or has not even passed the bar examination, she was a better attorney than many other people with stellar credentials. She had great results in school and before working in my company, she started working as a summer associate during her first year in a big firm. She had amazing results. However, the firm cancelled its summer associate program. I decided to hire her, although I could only offer a significantly lower salary than what she was getting before. The situation was far from ideal and she could have complained and felt unhappy. However, that was not who she was. She was happy she got another opportunity and worked hard to fulfill all the assignments as best as she could. She always turned in perfect work and never got into drama with other people in the firm or complained about difficult assignments. I am sure she will always be a great lawyer, whatever her life brings her.
If everyone, more importantly lawyers, focused only on doing their work and did not occupy their minds with gossip, complaining, and comparing, the world would be full of happy people. Lawyer well-being is now the focus in firms big or small. However, many people do not opt for this. Instead, they bring drama into the job and think about everything else but the work itself. Practicing law just like any other profession needs a balance in perspective that gives one a sense of happiness by prioritizing what really matters in life.
The Attorney Who Was Too Picky
As a legal recruiter, I get into contact with many different lawyers and many to mention law firms. I worked with one who started out great but could not find success. He graduated from one of the top schools and his career path led him to a major firm and was en route to finding success. However, he had some expectations from his work environment. The hours he had to work were not what he wanted, he complained about his peers, superiors, practice area, location and work environment and everything else he could find fault on. He decided that working in government would be better for him. He believed that he could work less for more money and that is what he wanted.
Unfortunately, just a few months after he started, his party lost an election and he was left without a job. Finding another job in other law firms was extremely difficult, he did show that he was not committed to the law practice, after all. Luckily, he was able to secure an offer from a major firm in the Midwest for a position as a non-partnership track attorney with the possibility of getting a full position after a year. His salary was half of what general associates earned in the firm. He convinced the firm that he would work hard, try to get clients, and they hired him despite his previous move to the government.
Both the firm and the attorney quickly regretted their decisions. He complained about his pay, about the work he was assigned, about other lawyers he was working with and their qualifications. He was not satisfied with the work environment and about anything in the firm and felt like what he was doing was beneath him. He wanted to be transferred to a bigger city and a bigger market. In his situation, it was probably the worst thing he could ask for. He focused on everything he did not like about the situation and forgot to focus on doing good work. He did not go into the office every day and did not try to do the work as best as he could. Not surprisingly, he was fired after a few months.
Take note of the Distractions
Those who are happy and successful are not concerned about other things and just put down their heads and work hard, just like my friend and the young law student. Unfortunately, most attorneys are not like that.
It is common to find attorneys in law firms, who believe they are better than the rest and should not be there. They do not like the tasks they are assigned with, they are concerned about the prestige and they are constantly worrying about how they look in the eyes of other people and what others think about them. Instead of focusing on doing their best and working hard, they start to worry about everything else but their own work. They are not committed to their job but rather worry about their image, their clients, family, law school, previous employers, and everything else. They believe that they are too good to spend so many hours a day working and want to have the money and recognition without putting in the work. They are looking for anything and everything they can be unhappy about and they complain a lot. A person like this will never become a happy lawyer. Big and small firms do not want to have associates with this mindset.
Attorneys in large markets are especially good at this and be their own boss. Many of them stop practicing law and leave legal work behind them. In big cities, people are much more competitive and are quick to let others know about their disadvantages. Lawyers are constantly reminded that their clothes are not good enough, they are driving the wrong type of car, they are living in a neighborhood that is too cheap, or they did not go to a prestigious enough school. Working long hours to get a decent pay that can afford a decent life seems not enough to have job satisfaction. Some are concerned with what political stance their superiors have or what school their kids go to.
Some of it might sound like going too far but I have seen attorneys consumed by thinking about things like these. Many focus loose their sense of focus in practicing law and helping others. They opt to focus on the small insignificant things instead of doing their work, which in turn could make themselves unhappy with the situation they are in.
On the other hand, an attorney in a smaller firm in a smaller city usually does not cloud their mind with things like this. Attorneys in smaller firms in smaller markets usually stay long-term. They are happy with any case that comes their way and they focus on doing their job. There is not a lot of people in these towns in front of which they can flaunt expensive cars and there are no prestigious private schools around where they can put their children. They fully focus on their job, their clients and the clients' needs.
As a legal recruiter, I work closely with many different types of lawyers in different legal markets. What I have noticed is that the larger the market an attorney is in is, the more attorneys let their minds fog with everything but doing the best job. That is why so many lawyers in large markets are so unhappy while many lawyers in smaller towns have a more promising outlook for their long term well-being.
The Consequences of Not Focusing on Being a Lawyer
When an attorney focuses on everything else but doing a good job, it can have dire consequences. A talented lawyer sought out our recruiting services recently. She had a great law school in her background and got a position in a wonderful firm right afterwards. However, she decided to quit and take an in-house position in a big firm. Once the company went out of business, she was interested in going back to the law firm environment.
She did not grow up in money and had to work very hard to get where she got. Once she was around people who have been around money, her priorities changed. She was no longer that focused on working hard but was concerned about what others thought of her.
That is why she only wanted to work in a firm at least as respectable as the law firm she worked in previously. That was, of course, very difficult, as she has previously shown a lack of commitment to the practice of law. She also changed practice areas which was another disadvantage in her job search.
Despite these setbacks, I was able to get her a few interviews in smaller firms. She was not happy - she did not consider the firms good enough and was concerned about what her peers would think about her if she started working there.
After some time, I finally secured her an interview in one of the more prestigious law firms. They called her back for more interviews several times; however, the process took too long. Because she was out of a job, she could not afford to pay her rent and had to first sleep at her friends' houses and then decided to move back to her parents in her hometown. She gave up on practicing law completely and started studying something else to change her career.
After a month or two, the firm contacted her again to call her in for one last interview. They explained the long interview process as not being sure whether they would have enough work for her and now they finally knew that they needed her. However, she has already started studying for the new career path she chose based on what would look good in the eyes of the people around her. She gave up something she worked very hard for. She failed once and did not want others to see that she could fail again. She chose her career based on how others perceived her, not based on what she really wanted and what would make her happy. She was too concerned about what others thought of her.
The Key to Finding Happiness
As you have probably understood, there are many forces and people around us that can influence us and how we view ourselves. When we focus on doing things based on what others think and on pleasing them, we can never be happy. The key to finding success and happiness is focusing on doing good work and not getting distracted by those around us. You do not need to work in the best law firm, drive the best car, or live in the most expensive house in the richest neighborhood to be happy. Committing to a job you love and to the people closest to you is enough. Avoiding all things that distract you from this is important for finding happiness.
There are various ways for avoiding distractions. You have to push all the drama out of your mind and completely focus on the tasks you have at hand. Many people choose to avoid watching the news to avoid distractions. Keeping yourself healthy and in top shape is also a great way to keep focused on the right things. For that, you need to stay physically active and avoid using alcohol or drugs. Some people even choose to meditate. You have to find what keeps your mind clear and focused for yourself in the end.
Being happy is not something that is automatically associated with the legal industry. The secret in making lawyers happy is a mix of overcoming one's own personal challenges and getting as much autonomy support at work. For many lawyers, unhappiness is just part of their daily job. But it does not have to be like that. Lawyers can feel satisfied with their lives and well-being and be successful. The key is to not get distracted by the unnecessary drama happening all around. A lawyer who can focus on doing the best job he can and to not get distracted by trying to please people around at all costs is a lawyer who is happy and successful.

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Alternative Summary

Harrison is the founder of BCG Attorney Search and several companies in the legal employment space that collectively gets thousands of attorneys jobs each year. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placement attract millions of reads each year. Harrison is widely considered the most successful recruiter in the United States and personally places multiple attorneys most weeks. His articles on legal search and placement are read by attorneys, law students and others millions of times per year.

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