As an ex-barrister dissatisfied with the job, I’ve wondered why is it that lawyers are near the bottom of happiness studies like the Career Happiness Index.
Your money or your life? Although oversimplified, this captures the trade off more and more professionals are no longer prepared to make. We all yearn for something different, yet are often lost about how to move on. Identifying what it is, exactly, that makes us happier in our work lives can be challenging - good work can often be a concoction of fun, excitement, challenge, stress and uncertainty. When you’re trying to figure out how to do something exciting and meaningful with your career it’s easy to feel completely stuck. I know exactly what it feels like. I’ve been there. That single feeling is what drove me to set up Life Productions.
Start with where you’re at right now. Take a Job History Inventory. Write out all of the things you liked and didn’t like about each job so far. Once you’ve done this, take a look at your likes and dislikes as a whole and take note of the themes on both sides. Lawyers so often have become so distant from this – emotions are unnecessary baggage in crushing, high pressure environments.
Identify how you can change your workplace right now. Set, when possible, a timetable for finishing work and develop a strategy for meeting goals in the most efficient way. You need time and energy to devote to any changes that you want to make. Remind yourself what you really like about your job. Explore whether happiness seems possible in your job - if it is, commit to it.
Whilst most are still ready to leave even after this, it makes the current situation more bearable, brings into sharp relief why you want to leave and allows you to plan to leave on your own terms. Too many lawyers escape without a plan to find themselves back in another legal job they don’t like before they know it.
Strive to be a happy lawyer in 2016 and make a good life in the law. Why wouldn’t you want more of that?
Some of these suggestions are common sense, you’ve heard it before and this is a gentle reminder to stop thinking about it and do it. Others are frankly fanciful for most lawyers (good luck with four days a week or telecommuting early in your career) and are there to show you what could be at the right organisation, inside or outside of law.
1. Connect with people.
• work on collaborative projects when possible
• eat lunch with colleagues or clients
• participate in firm or chambers social events
• choose face-to-face work when possible
2. Make sure your job is one that matters to you.
• choose meaningful projects over busy work
• try to become a key player in your firm or chambers, and legal community
3. If happiness seems possible in your job, commit to that job.
• don’t always look for greener grass (water your own)
• remind yourself what you really like about your job
• trust those who earn it and remember that building trust takes lots of interaction
• personalise your work space with photos, art, etc.
4. Think about the way your job positively affects other people.
• identify how your work has bettered lives
5. Strive for a comfortable work-life balance
• be willing to sacrifice income if necessary and go someone working less hours
• consider telecommuting or “5 days work in 4” options
• discuss work flexibility with sympathetic partners
• find a team where they’re all in it together, it’s properly resourced and the boss is fair
6. Work to make your job more secure.
• know and become friends with those who control your fate
• meet or exceed firm or chambers expectations
• develop expertise in noncyclical or countercyclical areas
7. Increase the frequency of your “flow experiences (for more info see Csikszentmihayli - Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience)
• think about projects that have “made time fly”
• identify common characteristics of those projects
• find a work setting where distractions are minimised
• try to include a variety of tasks within your work day
• work in places with natural light and views of nature
8. Take control of your work
• set, when possible, a timetable for finishing work
• develop your own strategy for meeting goals
9. Avoid making upward comparisons.
• focus on internal goals, not keeping up with colleagues
• remind yourself that money has little to do with happiness
• choose, when possible, projects that benefit the less fortunate
10. Find out what experiences have made other lawyers happy.
• remember that people are more alike than different
• talk with other lawyers and ask about their experiences
• observe what seems to make other lawyers happy
• choose jobs and projects that have made other lawyers happy
11. Know your strengths and what gives you pleasure.
• identify tasks and events that give you pleasure, and do them more often
• recognize your strengths and find ways to use them
12. Align your work with your values.
• identify your values and look for work consistent with those values
• consider volunteering for pro bono work or work that you care about