Here’s an article from the New York Times last week with the headline “Lawyers with Lowest Pay Report More Happiness.”
The article is unsurprising, even if the headline is a bit misleading. From the article:
Researchers who surveyed 6,200 lawyers about their jobs and health found that the factors most frequently associated with success in the legal field, such as high income or a partner-track job at a prestigious firm, had almost zero correlation with happiness and well-being. However, lawyers in public-service jobs who made the least money, like public defenders or Legal Aid attorneys, were most likely to report being happy.
So what’s the problem with the highest paying jobs:
The problem with the more prestigious jobs, said Mr. Krieger, is that they do not provide feelings of competence, autonomy or connection to others — three pillars of self-determination theory, the psychological model of human happiness on which the study was based. Public-service jobs do.
It’s a good article that touches on issues of substance abuse and suicide by lawyers.
But I don’t think the article is news for many inside the legal profession. I don’t remember when I figured out that colleagues who went in-house or to the public sector were generally happier than those they left behind in big firms, but I’ve known it for a long time.
And it’s not the lower pay that makes the non-big firm lawyers happier. It’s the job. The lower pay is the tradeoff–not the benefit.
Unfortunately, the move becomes financially difficult for many lawyers. Most salaried employees in any field increase their lifestyle until they are spending their entire salary.
It may sound ridiculous to some people, but it’s easy. Go from an 1,800 to a 4,000 s.f. house, join a country club, put the kids in private school, get a couple of premium brand cars, go to ball games in the fall, go on a couple of nice vacations every year and boom: suddenly you feel broke.
Often, the result is that lawyers who felt wealthy making $45,000 a year fresh out of law school can’t fathom how their family can live on less than $250,000 a year. [Plug in your own numbers here–the exact figures aren’t the point].
So many lawyers end up feeling trapped in their big firm/ private practice jobs.
It’s a real issue for many lawyers.