Despite Strenuous Hours, Deadlines, and Demands, Many Lawyers Find Happiness

Wherever you turn, it seems, you read and hear that people are dissatisfied with their jobs. In fact, in recent years a few surveys, including those by the US Chamber of Commerce, report that 70 percent of the American workforce hates or at least dislikes their jobs. While images of coal miners and toll-booth takers might come to mind, professionals who make good money and have “important” and “interesting” careers are glum on the job too, including lawyers, of course. Surveys of the legal profession bear that out year after year.

But surely it’s not a 70-30 dislike-to-like ratio like that of workers nationwide, right?

Well, probably not, but some inside the profession aren’t so sure about that. “I don’t know if the ratio is like that in the legal profession, but it wouldn’t shock me if it is,” says Daralyn Durie, litigator and name partner at San Francisco’s Durie Tangri who says she’s quite happy being a lawyer, and an online search shows that, given all of her honors and recognitions, she also quite successful, too. “I think there are a lot of lawyers who don’t like their job. People tend to start out pretty excited, but there’s a lot of drudgery in this job, as there is in all jobs, and the workload’s heavy. The overworked thing is real.”

Sometimes that unhappiness translates into serious health and behavior issues, as is well documented. “Depression continues to be extremely high, and alcoholism, dependency on substances, suicide, and other issues are highly prevalent in the legal profession,” says Charlotte Wager, a partner and chief talent officer at Chicago’s Jenner & Block. “The profession is a very challenging and high-pressure environment for many people.”

Wager, her team, and Jenner & Block management work hard to help lawyers reduce the stress that seems as high as it ever has been in the profession, in part, because of increased demands from clients that want more for less, the mounting pressure on the billable hour, and other such stress-points, all of which she thinks are here to stay. “Those demands are not going away,” she says. “That’s the nature of the profession that we’re in right now, and I don’t see that changing.”

If attorneys don’t take care of themselves and find ways to beat the stress, over the course of their careers it can compound and lead to dire results. “I see lawyers all the time who don’t pay attention to physical fitness and their diets,” says Matthew Addison the managing partner of the Reno office of Las Vegas-based McDonald Carano.

Like others interviewed for this article, Addison paints a depressing portrait of the health and psyche of many lawyers. “Often their health problems just go through the roof, even in their early 40s,” he says. “You see people who are obese or addicted to alcohol and drugs or have high blood pressure and high cholesterol. You’re pouring over so many documents your eyes get burned out, and you’re on the phone so much your ears get burned out.”

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By Steven T. Taylor

Of Counsel

Vol 36 No 11, Nov 2017


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