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Happiness is an Option for Lawyers: Creating Success and Fulfillment in Work and Life

Happiness is an Option for Lawyers: Creating Success and Fulfillment in Work and Life

In the increasingly demanding world lawyers face; many lawyers desire to achieve professional success, a fulfilling life, and true happiness. However, achieving both their personal and professional goals sometimes proves to be very difficult. Many lawyers report being unhappy with the choices they have made and desire a different future.

Most lawyers live hectic and stress-filled lives. They experience a great deal of pressure from the billable hour requirement and client/firm demands. Finding a balance between work and life without sacrificing professional success, deciding on the best  practice area or work setting, and making possible career transitions can be challenging tasks, even for the most talented and effective lawyer.

A number of lawyers choose to develop their own practice or seek alternative careers. Lawyers frequently find marketing their practice or creating a career that is more aligned with their values and evolving interests a significant challenge. 

You have made a major investment in your legal career and developed some very valuable competencies. You've earned the right to both career success and a happy personal life. To be happy, requires knowledge about how to achieve happiness (wisdom and hard work) and taking small action steps.

Research indicates that the following strengths are most highly correlated with overall life satisfaction:

1. Capacity to love and be loved (valuing close relationships)
2. Curiosity (interest, novelty seeking, openness to experience)
3. Zest for life (vitality, enthusiasm, vigor, energy)
4. Gratitude (awareness and thankfulness of good things)
5. Hope (optimism, future-mindedness, future orientation)

In the demanding world lawyers face; becoming stress resilient is an essential component of happiness. Resilience is the ability to persevere and adapt when overcoming obstacles. It is the key to happiness and success at work and in life.

The secret to the emotional intelligence competency of resilience is accurate thinking. It is important to challenge limiting beliefs and negative thinking.  Managing stress allows you to excel in the workplace while maintaining a well-balanced, healthy lifestyle. .

Life in the 21st century law firm has become more business-minded focusing on billable hours and the bottom line. This change in focus makes it difficult for lawyers working in a firm to have time for relationships and other meaningful pursuits. The current tough economy has provided enough pain for some more enlightened law firms to transition to project-based and value pricing.

Martin Seligman, founder of the positive psychology movement, suggests that lawyer imbalance, and therefore unhappiness, has three causes:

      1. Lawyers are pessimistic and are rewarded for their pessimism.
      2. Young lawyers have jobs with a lot of pressure and low decision latitude. The result may be poor health and
          low morale.
      3. The practice of law is to some extent a zero-sum game.

Seligman claims it is easy to remedy the problems of pessimism and low decision latitude by learning “flexible optimism” and in-house firm training and mentoring programs to address systemic issues. Seligman believes that the win-lose adversarial legal process might be a significantly more difficult problem to solve. More focus on mediation and negotiation may provide some relief.

Balance is about integrating the needs and wants of our personal and work lives. A number of attorneys I have coached have expressed the desire to spend more time with their families or other priorities than constantly striving for recognition, status, and money. Balancing your personal and professional life requires making different decisions based on clear values and a life plan.

There are many outstanding lawyers who are happy, functional, and able to integrate their professional and personal lives. In order to convert professional success into personal happiness, you need to leverage your successes and strengths.

Factors that contribute to happiness and subjective well-being:

  1. Strong social relationships
  2. Physical health and fitness
  3. Feelings of competence and control
  4. Progress on Meaningful Goals
  5. Marriage
  6. Positive self-esteem and optimism
  7. A clear sense of life purpose

The difference between successful lawyers and firms and those that are struggling may be due to business development skills. Successful legal enterprises have developed the competencies of rainmaking, marketing and client development.

The business side of being a lawyer can be exciting and fun. A well run successful practice and/or firm can provide a great deal of happiness and professional satisfaction. The following are a few tips to help you focus your efforts.

  1. Create a compelling purpose, vision, and goals.
  2. Craft an attention-getting marketing message.
  3. Develop a dynamic website.
  4. Get consistent visibility for yourself and firm.
  5. Do keep-in touch marketing that shows you care.
  6. Determine your ideal clients
  7. Overcome disempowering beliefs about practice development.

Are you clear about what you want out of your legal career? Are you fully engaged in your work and love the practice of law or are you looking for an alternative?

There are a lot of things you can do with a legal degree. What are your talents, skill, and interests? If you are considering leaving the law you need to have an accurate diagnosis of the problem. Is it the practice of law, your area of specialty, your job, the firm you are with, financial pressures, the number of clients, or lack of work/life balance?

Career coaching may help you find the best fit between your talents, skills, interests and values. Personality assessment tests and career interest inventories can help you learn about yourself and determine work where you will be happy and fulfilled.

Happiness is clearly an option for lawyers. It takes closing the door to whatever is not working in your life, and opening the door to a life where you can realize your fullest potential.

                                                                             © Copyright 2010 Dr. Maynard Brusman, Working Resources


Dr. Maynard Brusman
Consulting Psychologist and Executive/Career Coach
Selecting and Developing Emotionally Intelligent Lawyers
Box 471525 San Francisco, California 94147-1525
Tel: 415-546-1252
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