With extensive working hours, stressful cases and plenty of pressure to succeed, it seems only natural that many lawyers find their job difficult. In fact, a 2016 study by The American Bar Association (ABA), which questioned almost 13,000 working attorneys, showed that lawyers are the most unhappy professionals in the world.
Almost a quarter of the participants stated that they experience regular chronic stress levels, while 28% have endured mild levels of depression.
So, is it possible to be a lawyer and be happy? How can lawyers be happier, and what are the routes to building a better work-life relationship?
Here, we talk you through how to love being a lawyer, in 10 simple steps.
#1 Start by asking yourself what makes you happy
It may sound simple, but the starting route to happiness comes from defining your own understanding of the word. Begin by writing a list of what makes you happy, this way you can start to understand what is currently missing from that list.
Tutor and author Larry Krieger and social scientist Ken Sheldon examined lawyer happiness levels and found that things like money and status don’t lead to long-term well-being. In fact, happiness is down to personality, including integrity, relationships, and life goals, something confirmed by a study by Law Technology Today, which looked at 6,200 attorneys and judges and found that their happiness varied depending on these very factors.
The things that make us happy aren’t universal, so understanding your own needs and desires will allow you to begin working on changing your state of mind!
#2 Make personal time part of your daily task list
Lawyers don’t have it easy. In fact, it’s estimated that the average legal professional works more than 50 hours a week. So, it’s understandable that personal and social time may often be placed on the back burner. But how can lawyers be happier if they don’t take any time for themselves?
In order to make time for yourself and your family, you must see personal time as an essential daily task. That way, you’ll always schedule in work-free moments each day, to aid with de-stressing. Try booking in a daily morning yoga class, or enjoy your lunch away from your desk, even if it’s just for 15 minutes.
Discover more about making time for yourself, with our Top 15 Ways to Maintain Your Work-Live Balance.
#3 Be a master of your craft
In 2010, Princeton University released a study that showed that emotional well-being rises with income, but there’s no further increase in happiness beyond an annual salary of $75,000. So, instead of seeking extra money, perhaps seek additional education instead?
With a career in law comes continuous learning. Embrace the challenges of this on-going education and use it to become a master at what you do!
Learning is the route to mastery and the better you are at your job, the more satisfaction you’ll gain from it. Being the best you can be will lead to high rewards, both financially and emotionally. Ask for coaching in fields you need assistance with, seek feedback on tasks or cases and always play to your personal strengths.
In addition, keep your career and your work-life fresh by trying new things, experimenting with new routes to a solution, or getting creative with your workload. If you find your work stagnating, consider transitioning into high-tech fields of law, such as legal engineering, in order to increase the challenge and the excitement. With new skills comes new opportunities!
#4 Work with people who support your autonomy
In 2015, the Florida State University College of Law released a publication showing that providing autonomy support to lawyers in junior positions enhanced their ability to perform and boosted their emotional well-being.
Meanwhile, the Journal of Applied Psychology has recently mentioned that businesses that support autonomous environments tend to grow four times faster than more controlling companies.
Working with people who don’t support your methods, or don’t want you to have full power over your own decisions, can lead to conflicts in the workplace. Office stress is one of the biggest causes of unhappiness at work and it can be extremely demotivating and demoralizing to constantly be undermined or ignored by colleagues.
If you’re in charge of a team, try to show your support for their views and approaches to tasks and cases, to promote positive vibes in the office.
#5 Use technology to make admin easier
Often lawyers spend most of their time completing essential admin tasks. From billing to case paperwork, this monotonous side of law work can feel like a never-ending slog.
So, why waste unnecessary time, when you can use technology to simplify tasks?
There are some truly inspiring apps and software tools out there, that lawyers can use to ease their workloads, in order to break free from routine and allow more time for the parts of their job they actually enjoy.
These are the apps and tools you can’t afford to live without:
- Lexacom is a digital dictation app that allows you to create professional documents by speaking into your mobile device;
- Apperio lets you track and analyse spend in real-time, in one place;
- Bigle Legal lets you create and keep track of legal documents and offers an integrated digital signature
- CamScanner lets you scan documents with your phone and turn them into PDFs, so you can work on the move;
- SimpleLegal is a smart e-billing and expenditure platform that allows you to control how your team manages invoices and budgets.
Plus, with a helping hand in admin tasks, you can begin to get creative with your job and be more hands-on. It will also free up time for the more challenging and exciting aspects of law, such as helping your firm grow, becoming a leader of innovation within the company, or experimenting with new areas of law, which could be more interesting, less competitive and better paid.
#6 Be sociable with like-minded professionals
If you’re still wondering how to love being a lawyer, consider how creating a network of like-minded people could improve your state of mind. Meeting with other lawyers will allow you to discover shared experiences, express your concerns and chat about your successes.
You’ll also be able to learn from others working in the same environment and discover their routes to work-life happiness.
In fact, a 2017 Stanford Law Review explored the importance of networking, showing that professional connections allow lawyers to hone their skills, be innovative with clients and collaborate more meaningfully with others.
You can find like-minded people by joining social networks for lawyers, including iLaw and AWS London, or attending annual networking events such as LegalEx or Lexcel Conference. Meetup.com also offers groups and networking events in cities around the world.
#7 Work closely with clients
Can lawyers be happier if they form better relationships with their clients? Well, a recent study showed that lawyers that work closely with customers tend to enjoy their work more than those who don’t.
By spending time with the clients you are working to help, you will gain a better sense of reward from your job, which in turn will boost your happiness levels.
It may sound tricky to forge better relationships with clients, especially when you’re forced to work with a difficult character, but there are a few simple tips and techniques to improve things:
- Show them personal attention: make them feel like they’re your only client. When you’re with them, be fully with them;
- Be authentic and honest wherever possible;
- Try to resolve things face-to-face, rather than digitally - this will give you a human edge.
It’s also worth creating a list of the types of clients you and your team should avoid.
Patricia Yevics of The Maryland State Bar Association wrote a useful article about how to choose clients wisely, which includes avoiding those with unrealistic expectations and those too focused on fees.
Plus, legal project management is proving to be the latest modern technique that lawyers are using to provide their clients with better service. LPM means you will plan, monitor and analyze each project and case thoroughly, resulting in a better relationship with your customers.
#8 Know what you’re getting yourself into before you say yes
The key to workplace happiness is also down to your own personal career choices. If you blindly walk into a job or take on a case without knowing all the facts, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
Do your research before you say yes and ask yourself whether you’re prepared to put everything into it. If not, it might not be for you. Glassdoor is a fantastic tool for looking at company reviews, written by the people who actually work there.
When picking a job, go with the one that most interests you, as it will keep you engaged far longer than a role that offers little stimulus.
#9 Maintain your integrity
This one is quite simple. Working out of the boundaries of your own personal integrity will lead to unhappiness. If you find yourself acting in ways you believe to be wrong, dishonest or against your morals, step away.
The more integrity you maintain, the more satisfied you will be in your job. Act based on your ideas of right and wrong and walk away when you feel you are leaving your honour behind.
Maintaining your integrity is the simplest route to how to love being a lawyer!
#10 Be optimistic
Can lawyers be happier just by thinking happy thoughts? It may sound easy, but it isn’t always. Working in law comes with many challenges and sometimes the bad guy wins, which can lead to negative thought patterns and a defeatist attitude. But, luckily for lawyers, optimism is something that can be learnt.
Being more mindful about your reactions to situations, clients and colleagues, will allow you to better control your responses. See any failures as temporary setbacks and keep pushing forward as optimistically as you can. Apps such as Happify and Calm can help with this.
Afterall, positivity breeds positivity!