Being Happy as a Lawyer – Is it Possible? The Answer Is Yes

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Imagine someone offered you the following job: A starting salary of $160,000/year. More benefits than you’ll be able to take advantage of. Countless “free lunches.” The admiration and respect of your friends, family and peers.

Before saying “yes,” consider one final requirement of the job. You’ll be working 70 hours a week, 50 weeks a year, for years. If you sleep seven hours a day, you’ll be left with a few scant hours per day for “life” — everything outside of work.

My Story

If you’re like me, you were dimly aware of these possibilities when you accepted your first high-stakes job offer. You had a creeping feeling your work/life balance may soon precipitously tilt toward work and away from life, and that this imbalance would leave you financially comfortable but perpetually discontent, lonely, and anxious. Perhaps your acceptance was fueled by rationalizations like “I’ll figure it out,” “What other options do I have,” and “It would be nice to make six figures.”

These are the things I told myself when I accepted a job as a first year associate at a corporate law firm in New York City.

It didn’t take long for the realities of a big law to set in. The rewards of spending more time working, including free lunches and dinners from expensive restaurants, impressive headway on my billable targets of 2,500 hours/year, and praise from the associates and partners above me, outweighed the costs of spending less time on my life.

But I was beholden to a new set of shareholders. Not the people who had shaped my life to date, loved ones who had sacrificed large segments of their lives to place me in a position to succeed, but instead the people who stood to gain the most financially from my future success. I cared more about the opinion of me held by a partner I just met at a cocktail party than those of my closest friends and family members. And that was a good thing, because many of those friends and family members had stopped depending on me for the essential ingredient of a successful relationship: time, the currency of life.

If I had been the sole driver of the course of my life, I would still be working at that firm. Instead, the vagaries of life yanked me out of New York City, delivered me to New Orleans, and left me pondering existential questions about happiness.

The Science of Happiness

As a first-year psychology/neuroscience student, I learned that happiness depends on our satisfaction of three fundamental needs: survival (safety, water, food, money), emotional support (undivided attention, compassion and encouragement) and self-actualization (the realization of one’s individual potential).

To get a quick measure of your happiness, rate yourself on a scale of 0-10 in each of these categories. The closer you are to 30, the happier you are likely to feel.

The legal profession is most conducive to high scores in survival: The median salary for lawyers is $120,000.

There are certain legal practices that pave a straightforward path to self-actualization. We feel most self-actualized when we know we’re contributing to the happiness of others. Public defenders, prosecutors, and civil rights attorneys are the kinds of lawyers who may see these contributions most visibly and frequently.

But if the legal profession is successful at promoting survival and serviceable at promoting self-actualization, it is practically designed to deprive a person of emotional support. Attorneys work long hours at places where colleagues have neither the time or skills to emotionally support each other. In the limited time attorneys spend outside of work, many lack the energy, skills or interest to provide loved ones with the emotional support they need — which demotivates those same people from providing attorneys with the emotional support attorneys need in regular and substantial doses.

This leaves many lawyers starved of a fundamental human need, the satisfaction of which is critical to people feeling heard, motivated and convinced that they matter. In fact, the practice of law may be the loneliest profession: 60% of lawyers rank above average on loneliness scales.

Happy

To help address the legal profession’s need for greater access to mental health and emotional support services, I began freelancing as an attorney through a company called InCloudCounsel. The flexibility of their platform allowed me to focus on the creation of a company called Happy. The initial concept was simple: create a more supportive culture. How? Make the most caring people in the country – everyday people with exceptional abilities to support others – available on demand. No waiting a week to speak with someone; no $200 copays; no implicit assumptions that there is something wrong with you. Hit a button, hear a voice, it’s one of the most supportive people in the country, they know you’re looking for support, and the whole thing is completely anonymous and costs less than $25/hour.

Two years in, we’ve built a state-of-the-art technology platform and vetted 2,500 Support Givers — teachers, writers, artists, nurses, caretakers — from across the country. Our founding partner is Mental Health America, and we will soon be the go-to peer support resource for emotional support for national health organizations like the American Heart Association. In pilot testing our callers report an average decrease in anxiety of 45 – 50% and an average improvement in mood of 45%.

Happy is a not just an app or service available to overworked lawyers. We are a compassionate community here to support everyone whenever they need to be heard and encouraged.

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