published November 22, 2017

By Brittany Peacock

The Top 7 Ways You Can Be Happy as an Attorney at Work: How to Choose a Law Firm Where You Will Be Happy

The Top 7 Ways You Can Be Happy as an Attorney at Work: How to Choose a Law Firm Where You Will Be Happy
Beep. Beep. Beep.

You hear the alarm, but you dread the thought of going to work. Not today. You don’t really need this job, right? And yet, there it is again.

Beep. Beep. Beep.

Sigh. You finally turn off the alarm clock and fall out of bed.

We all have days where we do not want to go to our jobs. Sometimes this feeling persists for so long that we find ourselves questioning, “Why did I choose this job in the first place?”

Workplace satisfaction is a key ingredient to employee happiness. It correlates to an increase in productivity, a decrease in employee turnover, and a boost to overall morale around the office.

In fact, these numbers are so important that the folks at CareerBliss completed an employee satisfaction questionnaire to find out how workers were feeling across different industries. The rankings proved very interesting and at times, surprising! Who would have guessed that the happiest job in America was a Real Estate Agent?

This survey allowed us to evaluate not only the best jobs but the worst ones as well. Which employees were the unhappiest in the workplace? Nearing the bottom of the list, you will see that the second worst ranked job is “Customer Service Associate.” It’s not hard to see why. Constantly dealing with angry customers, working during the holidays, and the relatively low pay across the board are a few contributing factors to this low score.

But what job could be so bad that it is the lowest on the list below a customer service rep? Associate Attorney is the lowest ranking job on the list. If you are an associate attorney, then you probably know why this job is ranked so poorly.

In order to explore why Attorneys received the worst score, we need to dive into the questionnaire to see how satisfaction was scored. CareerBliss stated that they based the scoring on the following key factors: work environment, job resources, compensation, growth opportunities, company culture, daily tasks, and control over daily work activity.  Let’s explore these categories to see what could be the cause(s) for the scourge of lamenting lawyers.
  1. Work Environment
Your place of work, also known as your work environment, can shape how you go about your daily activities and personal interactions throughout the day. A cashier at a fast food restaurant works in a loud bustling environment, where they are prone to high temperatures and cramped quarters. This environment breeds stress, anxiety, and an overwhelming sense of dread.

A lawyer, on the other hand, usually works for a firm in a nice office building or suite. What could be difficult about that? Well, being forced to complete work in one area may not be appealing to all work types. While most firms employ the use of individual office rooms, this distances them from other people in the office. They may feel secluded or unengaged in the workplace.

That’s not all. The general workforce in today’s market has been requesting more work-from-home positions or alternative schedules. We have seen an increase in the number of Ad Hoc counsel being hired at large firms, much to the enjoyment of these contract workers. They state that the varying schedule allows them to coordinate their day and the amount of work they do. While we are mostly seeing the adoption of Ad Hoc counsel in larger firms, the effect is likely to spread to smaller businesses as well.

Furthermore, a study conducted by PsychSafe principal consultant Dr. Rebecca Michalak revealed multiple reports from legal professionals detailing cases of employee mistreatment, ineffective human resource departments, and sexual harassment within the office. Obviously, these types of behaviors create a toxic work environment.

Additional Toxic Work Factors Include:
  • Destructive Leadership Styles
  • Poor Human Resource Policies
  • Unethical Work Behavior
The combined effects of such a dysfunctional environment mean higher rates of absenteeism and turnover rates. The report found that lawyers were three times more likely to resign after being treated poorly.
  1. Job Resources
With a full support staff and often times a legal research library, it may seem like the average associate is far from lacking in available resources. Many workers may feel as if they do not know their job responsibilities. They don’t have clearly defined objectives and goals.
  1. Compensation
Here we have the top-rated aspect of the legal career. Where salaries are concerned, lawyers have great security knowing that they traditionally rank as one of the highest paid careers in the United States. Average salaries for first-year associates range from $110,000 to as high as $180,000 annually, according to NALP’s 2014 Associate Salary Survey.
  1. Growth Opportunities
Opportunities within the legal sector are numerous and continually expanding. Most associates move into a career as an attorney or general counsel, but some enter into corporate environments, consulting work, or even become Ad Hoc Counsel. Growth here is steady, with an increase in experience remaining consistent with an increase in salary.

Within a small to midsize firm, associates can become a law firm partner. Alternatively, once they gain enough experience, they can open their own office or become a Senior Attorney.
  1. Company Culture
Remember that study we discussed earlier with Dr. Michalak? It is titled “Lawyers have the worst health and wellbeing of all professions.”

Yikes! That is not a good sign. The study has even more bad news for attorneys.

According to a study lawyers working at law firms have the “lowest psychological and psychosomatic health and wellbeing than all other professionals.” Not surprisingly, a combination of heavy workloads, excessive overtime, and mounting industry pressure is causing a decline in overall health.

On top of this, attorneys are more likely to employ a mindset of resilience and tough it out because stress comes with the territory, right? Unfortunately, lawyers are also more likely to lean on harsh substances to support their so-called “resilience” technique.

This is startling, especially when you crunch the numbers. Legal professionals are twice as likely to abuse substances compared to other professionals.

See The Case of the Drunken Attorneys for more information.
  1. Daily Tasks / Control Over Daily Activity
As an associate attorney, the tasks are assigned by the Senior Attorneys and they come at varying speeds and difficulty. One day you are bored out of your mind on a simple task you could have done with your eyes shut back in law school. The next day you are tasked with a large complicated motion or brief with no clear direction or end in sight.

If you feel overwhelmed, you are not alone. The loss of control many associates experience leads to an uneasy feeling that maybe you cannot do the work.
  1. How to Achieve Workplace Satisfaction
I can hear you all shouting now—Enough with the bad news! Tell us how to do better! The answer is this: there is no simple solution. Ask blogger Annie Little, who tells her story as she decided to switch careers from law to career consulting.

In her article “Why I Left Law Despite Wanting to Be a Lawyer”, she chronicles her pursuit of happiness in the legal world. Beginning as a first-year attorney, she began to take on tasks she felt were too easy and became bored. In an effort to regain the old love for the industry, she switched to a newer firm with greater compensation and opportunity for growth. But she fell back into her old slump.

“Because I felt like I was doing everything I possibly could to improve my job situation, I allowed myself to dive into the world of personal development see what else could ‘Make me happier’.”

Months of yoga lessons, healthy eating, and pleasure reading passed and she still didn’t feel satisfied. She finally came to a stark realization:

“My happiness couldn’t be compartmentalized. No matter how well every other aspect of my life was going, my legal career cast a dark cloud over my psyche.”

For some, this feeling can be debilitating and disheartening. But, there are ways to improve your satisfaction. Annie was able to find happiness by changing gears and working with lawyers to help them find career satisfaction.

The good news is that there are opportunities to improve your daily job satisfaction. We need a widespread change within the industry, but first, it is important to understand the potential for successful outcomes!

Well-Being in the Workplace as Told by the Experts

The question of worker attitudes on business operations has been a highly demanded research topic for obvious reasons. If businesses can find out the best ways to keep employees working at peak levels, why wouldn’t they be interested? The best part of the research is that workers can benefit from this data as well.

James K. Harter, Frank L. Schmidt, and Corey L. M. Keyes set out to evaluate this data in their review of the Gallup Studies.  Gallup distributes and analyzes studies about employee engagement, customer engagement, talent management, and wellbeing.

They begin by addressing the biggest question of correlation between satisfaction and business output. The analysis provides proof that there is, in fact, a positive relationship between job satisfaction and individual performance—a big motivator for organizations to adopt techniques that support employees.

“Spector’s (1997) review suggested that satisfied employees are more cooperative and helpful to their colleagues, more punctual and efficient, show up for more days of work, and stay with the company longer than dissatisfied employees. “

After years of careful research, surveyors at Gallup have narrowed down their survey questions to 12 key statements that work as key predictors of employee engagement. Survey respondents mark from level 1 to 5 how strongly they agree or disagree with the following statements:
  1. I know what is expected of me at work.
  2. I have the equipment and materials to do my work right.
  3. At work, I have the opportunity to do my best every day.
  4. In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.
  5. My supervisor or someone at work seems to care about me as a person.
  6. There is someone at work who encourages my development.
  7. At work, my opinions seem to count.
  8. The mission/purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important.
  9. My associates (fellow employees) are committed to doing quality work.
  10.  I have a best friend at work.
  11. In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress.
  12. This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow.
The principles that build on these questions relate to three main factors that researchers believe contribute the most to happiness at the office: joy, interest, and love. Workers want to feel happy by being intellectually stimulated at work and supported by strong workplace relationships.

Managers can help support these positive engagements by providing staff with appropriate training, resources, and clear expectations, as well as maintaining an attitude of continual respect and improvement. Companies who strive to incorporate many positive interactions at work see a direct increase in worker productivity and a decrease in turnover.

Some larger companies have already employed these standards in an effort to support professional development. For example, Banfield Pet Hospital, a national chain of veterinary practices, mandates that all employees understand the 12 statements and work to improve on one chosen statement each quarter.

If law firms adopt these techniques, we may see an increase in job satisfaction across the industry, though it will take a large change to see these practices implemented effectively.
Final Thoughts

In the meantime, we can work independently to understand and implement as many of the principles in our daily lives as we can. Is there any way you can get closer to a co-worker? When is the last time you genuinely asked your boss about your progress?

There is one last question that needs to be addressed; With such bad worker experiences all across the legal industry, why don’t we see a significant decrease in attorneys entering the field? The answer can be found when we look at how employees view tangible rewards.

Workers who enjoy their daily work tend to feel as if they are receiving a tangible reward for doing so. When the job satisfaction is low, staff will stay if their pay is good enough. This could account for the thousands of unhappy lawyers we hear about that continue to come to work each day.

See the following articles for more information:

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