Law in Contemporary Society
“To Be a Lawyer in My Own Estimation is the Key to Happiness”

I Want to be a Happy Lawyer

Aristotle said, “Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.” I agree with Aristotle, and my biggest fear in life is not being happy. Yet, I chose to be a lawyer. According to a Johns Hopkins University study of more than 100 occupations, lawyers lead the nation with the highest incidence of depression. An ABA survey indicated that 41 % of female lawyers are unhappy with their jobs. The ABA also estimates that 15-20 % of all U.S. lawyers suffer from alcoholism or drug abuse. Moreover, in 1996, lawyers surpassed dentists as the profession with the highest rate of suicide. Although these statistics are grim, I believe that it is possible to become a happy lawyer. In fact, when people ask me what type of lawyer I want to become, I do not say, “a prosecutor,” or “a bankruptcy attorney.” I say, “a happy lawyer.”

I am a Control Freak and a Pessimist

My goal in law school is to learn how to become a happy lawyer. But first, it is important to learn why many lawyers are generally unhappy. In doing so, I will gain a deeper understanding of who I am, and what I need to accept about myself. Once I am confident in myself, I can figure out what it is that makes me truly happy. Psychologist Lynn Johnson attributes depression in the legal profession to two personality traits many lawyers have: perfectionism and pessimism.

The legal world attracts perfectionists because the legal world rewards perfectionism. We learn this very early on. In undergrad, we strive for a near perfect GPA and perfect LSAT score to get into the best law school. Then, we strive for perfect grades at the best law school in order to get into a law firm on the Vault 100 list. Unfortunately, the majority of lawyers do not succeed in getting into the best law school or succeed in working for a top law firm, compounding the feeling of failure. Then, as lawyers, we are criticized for small writing errors, and praised for billing 14 hours in one day just to have a perfect answer for our client. And as much as we strive for perfection, we never feel like anything is good enough. As a result, our level of stress rises and our happiness diminishes.

Many lawyers are also pessimists. We are always planning for the worst, never taking risks, and constantly worrying about the future. Not surprisingly, a Johns Hopkins study in 1990 showed “that in all graduate-school programs in all professional fields except one, optimists outperform pessimists. The one exception: law school.” Why? Because “pessimism helps us excel: it makes us skeptical of what our clients, our witnesses, opposing counsel, and judges tell us. It helps us anticipate the worst, and thus prepare for it.” It is no surprise that lawyers are unhappy. Put a control freak and a pessimist in an unpredictable, hyper-competitive, and very often extremely demanding environment, and you get depression, suicide, and substance abuse.

To Be a Lawyer in My Own Estimation

If lawyers are unhappy because many of them are perfectionists and pessimists, the question then becomes: am I a perfectionist and pessimist? You bet I am. Will I be able to avoid being a perfectionist and a pessimist? No, I will not. So then how can I be a happy lawyer? I will not find the answer to this question by choosing to work at a law firm that I like the most. I will not find an answer to this question by starting my own practice, finding my own clients, and making my own hours.

I believe I will find the answer through the advice a professor once gave me: to be a lawyer in your own estimation. To me, the words “my own estimation” remind me of two moments in my life when I experienced overwhelming clarity. The first moment was when my stepdad took his own life, and the second moment was when my dad died unexpectedly. The death of a loved one is devastating. Yet, when I lost my stepdad and dad I felt so centered, so in touch with reality, so connected with nature and to other people. Life became very simple. I walked around for weeks with a sense of clarity about what mattered to me—love, relationships, kindness, and peace. I became all of these things despite the pain I felt. I believed this is who all of us are, and who I am at the core. We are all the same and connected in this way.

As I am reminded of these moments, “my own estimation” means to be true to myself. When I am my true self, I am operating not by superficial wants and needs but through love, kindness and peace. I let go of believing I can consciously control my ideas and feelings, and operate at this simple state of existence. This is when I am truly happy. When I am in this state, I am reminded of the issues I am most passionate about. I am reminded of other people who are deprived of love, kindness and peace. I am reminded that I am privileged despite my losses, and I am reminded that I am in a position to help people less fortunate than me acquire what matters to them.

I agree that lawyers are pessimists and perfectionists. But lawyers are also lacking a sense of clarity to help them realize what truly matters to them.

I believe that I can find happiness as a lawyer by staying true to myself, by finding passion in my work and believing deeply in its value, and by facing the future with confidence and clarity. I am hoping that law school will help me maintain this clarity, and not take it away from me.


Webs Webs

r4 - 14 Jan 2015 - 22:15:33 - IanSullivan
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