Practising Law With Joy

Both a choice and a practice

Practising Law With Joy

A 2007 American Bar Association survey cited in The Happy Lawyer found that fifty-five percent of lawyers are not happy with their careers. While many love the law, lawyers are frequently unhappy with their work environments.

Studies show that the top five criteria for happiness at work (for workers generally, not just lawyers) are autonomy, respect, the belief that your work is important, opportunities for growth and appreciation. Money does not appear in the top criteria. For most people, you can’t pay them enough to work in a place where they are bullied or the work is repetitive or micro-managed, where there is nothing new to learn or they are never thanked.

Many lawyers believe that the key to being happy at work is better practice management skills. If they simply manage their time and clients better, they will be more productive and more in control of their practice, and this will then lead to a more satisfying life. While good practice management provides many benefits, especially in reducing stress, this alone cannot lead to happiness because it tinkers only with the outside of our lives.

In order to love what we do and gain joy from the practice of law, we must do work that is aligned with our core values. What are core values?

Core values may include justice, social or environmental issues; family, faith or community; health or fitness; professionalism, honesty, respect or collegiality; or status or creating wealth. The list is long, however most people have never considered what their three to five core values are. Michael Melcher’s excellent book The Creative Lawyer: A practical guide to authentic professional satisfaction sets out values, exercises and other helpful ways to create a legal practice that will bring joy.

If autonomy is a core value, then working as a sole practitioner or a partner likely satisfies that need. If family or community is a core value, then work that allows sufficient time for a personal life will be necessary. If professional recognition is a core value, then practising in a firm that allows work on major cases in your practice area may support that value.

It is also important to realize that just because you are good at something doesn’t mean that you enjoy it. Skills should never be confused with passions.

Joy is both a choice and a practice. While circumstances and genetics contribute to a certain baseline of happiness, much of our happiness is within our control. Developing even small habits such as taking regular breaks from work to walk outside, or doing activities that make us laugh or make our heart sing, can dramatically increase our joyful energy.

No one should ever be satisfied with a good-enough life or feel stuck in a stress-filled, unhappy one. No amount of money can make up for unhappiness or feeling disengaged from our work. Too many lawyers look forward to weekends or vacations as the only time they feel truly free and can be truly themselves.

We should expect to be joyful every day. Aristotle said, “Happiness is the meaning and purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.” Joy is the energy that fuels our highest productivity and creativity, and leads to our greatest success in whatever we do.

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