Happiness

Space

Time

Change

Control

We’re kicking off our new blog with a five-part series from Ava Chisling, media lawyer and award-winning author, editor and advertising copywriter.

The first two posts appeared on July 18, 2022. With the balance coming over the next two weeks.

Follow along as Ava examines the link between life, work, and happiness for legal professionals.

 

What would make you happy at work?

This has never been an easy question to answer because happiness is subjective and it changes over time. Free coffee and a pinball machine may have excited you years ago (and may still today) but you’ve got more responsibilities now, more files, more complicated cases and more people who count on you – your clients, your colleagues, your family, and your boss, if you have one. Given this, endless café au laits may keep you awake longer but they’re unlikely to increase your happiness at work. So let’s take a look at this thing called happiness and explore why it matters.

We’ll start with a fundamental question:

Who are you now?

We have just emerged from a period of enormous upheaval – personally and professionally. Everything has changed. Where we work. How we work. Who we are. Something that may have been critical to your work in 2019 may have zero use today (a wired conference room, anyone?). And a tool you may have never heard of before has suddenly become essential to your work in 2022, like Zoom. Or Slack. Or filters.

The nature of your work may have also changed. YOU may have changed. There has been a lot of pivoting these past years, and legal professionals have not been exempt from needing a quick-change. So when trying to find things that make you happy at work, first you have to sort out who you are right now – and then find the tool, tech, product, service (or people) that meet your needs at this moment. Not a year ago. Not yesterday. But now.

Who needs happiness, anyhow?

Well, everyone, and not because of some Stepford Wives “utopia” of impeccably dressed, smiley workers going about their day. That is just not realistic for lawyers, many of whom are overworked and overwhelmed, drowning in cases (some of them long and complicated and adversarial), and researching and billing and returning desperate phone calls… so yes, it’s hard to find happiness as a lawyer with an inbox of 1483 unread messages. But you have to. For your sake. Your family’s sake. And for work. And yes, it is there to be found – but first, here’s where not to look.

Where happiness is not found

By the time you’ve reached the articling or junior lawyer stages of your career, you’ve likely realized that the Big Three S’s that may have drawn you to the profession – Security, Status and Salary – are not making your days any easier. If you doubt this fact, check out the partner in the corner office of any big firm – they’re soaked in the three S’s and chances are pretty good, they’re not any happier than you are. According to a comprehensive 2015 study of lawyers published in the George Washington Law Review, “lawyers in public service positions reported higher satisfaction levels than the highest earning lawyers.” It’s not hard to further extrapolate this to new calls vs old calls. Money and power don’t bring you happiness. Yes, we’ve said it.

What does make lawyers happy is control

Happiness for lawyers, from the most junior to the most senior, is control over the kind of work you do. Control over how the work is approached. Control over the tools that can help you succeed. THIS is what makes lawyers happy on the job, and happy humans as well. This was just one of the major findings found in the Review. One other major conclusion was that job satisfaction was directly linked to feeling like you’re competent and successful when tackling difficult tasks.

PWC’s wide survey of 12,000 workers supports this conclusion: people want control over their work and the tools they use to accomplish their tasks, from “choosing devices, to picking apps…” people want options that make them work better. And if you work better, your feeling of satisfaction goes up and this may give you more time for friends and family and life.

Other happiness factors

Yes, the standard roads to happiness also apply here, sort of. Of course, you should work out. Make time for your family. Get on that whole work-life balance thing (see Stepford Wives above). Make sure you are a good cultural fit for your office because if your principles align with your employees, bosses or your co-workers, it makes being at work and accomplishing tasks more rewarding. Heading back to the office after years of praying you won’t do something embarrassing on a conference call like become a cat in front of a judge, may also increase your job satisfaction. Surrounding yourself with people you care about is undeniably important for our well-being, at work and in life. 

Conclusion

Finding happiness for a lawyer is like finding happiness for anyone else, if everyone had the same workload, stress and expectations as a lawyer does. The key to job satisfaction is in your hands, quite literally. The more control you have over your work, the more satisfied you will be on the job. Control will mean different things to different lawyers, depending on your circumstance. As a solo lawyer, you may want to say no to mandates that you know will be extremely difficult to handle and you don’t have the staff or the tools to make it easier. As a young lawyer, you may want to ask for tools to make your work more effective. Or buy them yourself. Sometimes it’s worth investing in happiness.

Remeber to read the whole series

Happiness

Space

Time

Change

Control