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Happiness in the legal sector

Written by: Anthon Linton, Recruitment Account Manager, The Law Society Gazette Jobs
Published on: 21 Jun 2022

business women



Happiness in the legal sector

In the 2022 Law360 Pulse Lawyer Satisfaction Survey[1], Fisher Phillips listed a number of categories that make employees happy, including "pay, billable hours and possibilities for growth.

Due to a rise in demand for lawyers, wages at large law firms have lately risen dramatically. According to City AM, as of January 2022, a freshly qualified solicitor in Milbank's London office may expect to earn $215,000 per year[2]. While bigger salaries could be intended to lead to happiness, the truth, on the other hand, is a little more subtle. Working hours are escalating with the average end time for the day being 11.28pm in 2021[3] up from 9.46pm in 2020[4]. Burnout and mental health concerns in the legal profession appear to be on the rise, clearly, law firms are feeling the heat.

When talking about happiness, well-being is an important factor. To manage heavy workloads, a lack of sleep appears to be the norm, and the high-pressure climate may lead to anxiety and other mental health difficulties. The worst-case scenario,  is a full mental collapse or burnout, which does not happen to all lawyers but appears to be more prevalent in the legal sector.

One system that is commonly cited in this context is the billing system. Lawyers are expected to charge a set amount of hours at most legal firms. This ratio has been continuously rising, due to the desire of law firms to bill more money. At elite legal firms, associates may now be required to bill almost 2000 hours per year, averaging over 35 hours per week — which does not include time spent on administrative activities, training, or even breaks, implying substantially more hours are worked. Lawyers are being pushed to their boundaries, and many will go as far to accomplish or surpass their goals.

Given the significance of incorporating mental health into a firm's mindset, some law firms have begun to implement mental health and well-being programmes. Such programmes are now in place at Ashurst, Baker McKenzie, Allen & Overy, and others. There is no certainty that these programmes will result in rapid change, but there is hope that by raising awareness of the problem, it will eventually permeate into the firm's culture.

There are several additional practical strategies to boost the happiness of lawyers. Improving resource management – with more partners participating on the same transaction – might ease workloads.  Investing in technology to digitise routine operations allows solicitors to spend less time on these activities and more time on adding value, perhaps reducing total hours worked. Allowing lawyers to take time off without the assumption of being always accessible, such as after a major deal or court case, might help to restore equilibrium. Another good answer is to encourage flexible working, but companies must check in with their staff when they are not in the office.

Overall, law firms must think about their employees' mental health and what practical strategies will help them.

Most can believe there should be no need for change because there are solicitors who will work enormous hours for similarly high salaries. However, the amount of lawyers quitting the business demonstrates that high incomes alone cannot provide happiness for lawyers, and that more needs to be done. Increased mental health mindfulness in legal businesses might be the secret to this fulfilment.

On a personal level, though, happiness is reachable. Happiness can be reached with the appropriate mentality, the correct skills, and the ability to adapt (when necessary).

When lawyers are fresh out of law school, it can sometimes be difficult to draw the line between job and personal life. New solicitors are likely to become happier over time as they negotiate the job and learn how to develop their careers sustainably without burning out fast.

What factors may influence happiness in the legal sector?

A study by Larry Krieger and Ken Sheldon, titled What Makes Lawyers Happy? A Data-Driven Prescription to Redefine Professional Success, and published by the Florida State University College of Law[5], explored this topic. They observed that what solicitors believe would make them happy in the long run, such as money, reputation, becoming a partner, or status, in reality, does not. According to science, they have little to no relationship with happiness.

Autonomy, control, self-determination and relationships are more strongly linked to long-term happiness. Lawyers who are strongly independent believe they have the freedom to make their own decisions and present themselves truthfully. Working with a partner who is more dominating is demotivating, but being encouraged to work in this manner is highly associated to greater well-being. Lawyers are also happier when they believe they are efficient and successful at handling challenging jobs. "Master of a domain" is the term for this idea. The relationship factor  refers to a lawyer's ability to connect with and relate to people, whether or not they feel a strong feeling of belonging at work.

There are several methods and strategies that may be used to improve well-being and establish a healthy working environment inside a law firm. This will make solicitors feel more valued at work, which will lead to increased productivity throughout the business.

Developing a support system, improving work-life balance can enhance job satisfaction and happiness. The ability to clearly identify roles and duties within a team so that everyone knows who they're working with,  negotiate and resolve disagreements inside the team as well as with internal and external parties by perceiving conflict as an opportunity to learn and grow. Getting frequent feedback, coaching in areas where you need improvement and mentorship all help in the development of a sense of mastery.

Competence is another factor that might influence and improve happiness. With improving at targets that are important to you, you feel competent and successful in your current position and you want to continue to progress as a professional by acquiring new skills. Directors may promote this demand by spreading knowledge widely and focus on learning workshops.

More Money Is Important

Money has always been at the basis of well-being since it is the main factor to sustenance. Besides survival, research has shown that more wealth increases life satisfaction, including a well-known 2010 study by Nobel laureates Angus Deaton and Daniel Kahneman. "High income improves evaluation of life but not emotional well-being,"[6] according to the Deaton and Kahneman study, looked at two measures of happiness: life satisfaction, which refers to an overall evaluation of life, and emotional well-being, which is a more dynamic measure of mood and was found to plateau at an income of $75,000 with no further progress beyond the annual income.

So, sure, happiness is achievable in the legal industry; businesses, organisations, and the individuals who work there just need to focus on what truly nurture it, which is frequently the polar opposite of what society tells us is important.

Understand what makes you happy. It's impossible to work toward happiness until you know what your happiness goals are.

Determine what matters to you and what improvements, large or little, you can do to achieve your goals.


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