The Right Coast

August 25, 2005
Are lawyers unhappy?
By Tom Smith

I just had a conversation with a student who casually remarked, "being a lawyer is the worst job in the world. They're all so bitter and unhappy." I hardly knew what to say, but indicated I had heard of the surveys that suggested job satisfaction among lawyers was low. I wonder if it is really is, compared to other professions, and if so why. I have never actually seen these surveys, and don't know if they are any good, assuming they exist. It certainly seems to have become an official factoid, however, that lawyers are miserable. It would trouble me, if it were true, since I hate to think I am preparing people to be miserable.

I worked two years in the "real world" in government, assuming that is not a contradiction, and both of those were extremely illuminating if not always exactly fun, though they certainly were sometimes. I worked a little less than four years in practice. The first year was kinda fun, but admittedly it went down from there, as the work seemed to become more routine, and I became surer I wanted to get out of practice and into teaching. I will say my impression of the lifestyles of lawyers in big city big firms was not very positive, but there seemed to be a number of people either enjoying or at least doing what they were doing with a lot of energy, even if I knew I was not going to be one of them. Deep, widespread misery, that is, was not particularly evident. On the other hand, the atmosphere was not conducive to a lot of psychological self-revelation.