I had a good conversation with a colleague recently about the legal profession and the perceived or real problems within it. I’m not talking about the fact that our society is litigious and non-lawyers feed the appetites of unscrupulous lawyers; tomes within multi-volume books could be written on this without scratching the surface.
But the question is this. Why are lawyers so unhappy?
Here is my short answer: I don’t know, but I have some ideas.
Yes, there are happy lawyers. I’m not sure I know many, but they exist. Some are in love with their jobs, their clients, their partners and their parking garage attendants. My focus in this post is everyone else, who in my personal view are the vast majority of those in the legal profession.
I was a happy lawyer briefly, but not for very long. Early in my career, I wasn’t happy because of my own issues and “junk,” aspects of my personality that I brought to the table (and that I think many lawyers do too). Then, as I worked on myself, I was somewhat happy with my life, so my law practice followed suit. In other words, it was good enough to believe that I must be happy in law if I was relatively happy in life.
But I quickly became unhappy again. I was unable to influence the law culture and felt powerless and alone. I sometimes felt like I was the only one who was unhappy. I later learned I was the only one who attempted to address it up the food chain. The culture of silence discouraged me from trying to change that very culture. I walked away from the practice of law, thinking I’d never return. I’ve returned to law, though not full-out practice. This post, one of many, I think, serves only to outline some of the big elephants in the room.
Here are my surely flawed but somewhat true thoughts:
1. Many lawyers become lawyers for the wrong reasons. Money, fame, pride with a capital P, balm for a bruised ego or an unloved heart. Mine? Importance. Not really fame, but validation that I could do something right.
2. Law schools don’t lead lawyers into real lawyer life. At least in my experience and based on my research of current curricula of most schools, law schools irresponsibly fail to equip the next generation of lawyers to lead people, to strive for work/life balance, and to run businesses and organizations that actually lead. In fact, this failure is so irresponsible as to rise to a sin, in my view. Therefore, law firms and legal organizations are not primed to lead, and indeed belittle the discipline of leadership altogether. Along with members of my law firm, I participated in making fun of the “pseudoscience” of organizational health.
3. Lawyers tend to have deficits they bring to the table. Here me out on this. People with the gifts that allow them to excel in this field often also have the burden of ultra, unhealthy competitive personalities, paradoxically paired with low self-esteem that masks itself as calm arrogance. This is a recipe for bad behavior, addiction and broken relationships. I don’t know why this is, and I’m no psychologist. But I have seen it so many times, first and foremost in myself, that I know it is true.
4. Lawyers don’t mentor each other. Naturally, if we don’t believe in principles of leadership and organizational health, and if we suffer from self-centered Pride, mentoring will fall by the wayside as just another distraction from getting work done. I have a good friend who is actually mentoring a law student about law and life. In fact, her role as a mentor made me think this blog post needed to be written, with the hope of opening up the commentary.
I don’t have answers here. In my world view, faith was the answer for me–to be broken, face my own limitations and rebuild my life as a lawyer. It might not be your world view. That’s OK. But either way, lawyers need to start examining themselves and reaching out to the tormented among us. They are everywhere. Tormented by our own demons, the expectations of poorly run law offices, or the practice of the billable hour (or as I am fond of calling it, the near occasion to sin on a minute by minute basis).
Please comment. What can we do?