Lawyers Who Earn Less Are Happier


Lawyers With Lowest Pay Report More Happiness

Money isn’t everything. Except, how do you say that to a law graduate inundated with debt? Or to a voracious attorney hell-bent on bottom lines and the glam life? Truth is, many people go to law school for the wealth, status and competition. According to a recent study from the George Washington University Law Review, reported on by The New York Times, those pursuits often do not lead to happy and healthy lives.
In the study, researchers surveyed about 6,200 lawyers of all types about their jobs and health. They found things that usually correlate to success in the law profession—like high salaries and the partner track—have zero correlation to happiness and healthiness in life. Meanwhile, lawyers in lower paying jobs like public defenders or legal aid attorneys were most likely to report being happy.
What’s more, the lower paid lawyers reported less alcohol consumption and were just as satisfied with their lives as their higher paid colleagues. Additionally, junior partners reported the same happiness levels as senior associates, who are paid 62 percent less.
“Law students are famous for busting their buns to make high grades, sometimes at the expense of health and relationships, thinking, ‘Later I’ll be happy, because the American dream will be mine,’ ” Lawrence S. Krieger, a law professor at Florida State University and an author of the study told The Times. “Nice, except it doesn’t work.”
Krieger said the study was based on the three pillars of self-determination theory, a psychological model of human happiness. The pillars are competence, autonomy and connection to others and according to Krieger; the more prestigious jobs do not provide those feelings.
Of course, this is not the first study to link the legal profession with a lack of happiness. Studies have pointed to lawyers being nearly four times more likely to commit suicide than non-lawyers and the prevalence of mental illness within the legal profession.
The reasons for lawyers—especially those in high paying and high-pressure positions—to experience depression and stress are numerous. Many people go into law school with idealized and romantic dreams and then work ridiculous hours for demanding clients. Lawyers are also often the butt of jokes and receive hostility from the general public.
Patricia Spataro, director of the New York State Lawyer Assistance Program, told The Times “research shows that an optimistic outlook is good for your mental health” and that lawyers are trained to be “pessimistic” and look for “worst-case scenarios.”
According to Todd Peterson, a law professor at George Washington University Law School, more schools should provide resources to help guide students into legal career paths that best match their passions.
“We’re helping students figure out why they’re in law school and where they want to be,” Peterson told The Times. “So instead of just working to get the best possible grades so they can send out 500 résumés in their third year and hope that some law firm hires them, they are learning about themselves and why one part of the law might be more appealing to them than another.”
Source: The New York Times

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