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DTCI: Is the notion of a 'happy lawyer' an oxymoron?

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DTCI-Bryant-micheleA “happy lawyer” – do you know any such creature? By coincidence (or maybe not), two recent but random events caused me to consider this question, of all things, in the middle of this long winter season.

Our local bar association recently held its annual luncheon honoring lawyers in practice for 50 years and welcoming the new lawyers who arrived in the last year. Some might perceive this as something of a terrifying experience for both; the new lawyers catching a glimpse of what they might become over the next five decades and the experienced lawyers a little apprehensive about challenges from the spring chickens.

On the heels of this luncheon, I came across reviews of a new book titled “The Happy Lawyer: Making a Good Life in the Law” by Nancy Levit and Douglas O. Linder. I began to wonder if there is such a thing as a happy lawyer. I wonder if the fellows in practice for 50 years were happy lawyers. I began to consider whether the practice of law contributes to our happiness or is a barrier to happiness.

The book reminds us of some not-so-nice statistics about being a lawyer. Some studies report that more than 70 percent of practicing lawyers would not do it again if given the choice. At least half of us would discourage our children from entering the legal profession. We all know that the rates of depression and suicide for lawyers exceed those of most other professions. If lawyers represent the best and the brightest (at least we choose to think so), why do we find the notion of a “happy lawyer” so amusing?

The pursuit of happiness is not just a right fought for by our Founding Fathers. The power of positive psychology is such a hot topic that recently the most popular class at Harvard University was not Introduction to Economics, but rather Positive Psychology taught by Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar. More than 800 students piled into the lecture hall hoping to learn the secret to being happy.

What seem to be the keys for lawyers? “The Happy Lawyer” offers many pointers. Managing expectations is a big deal. Much of our dissatisfaction (i.e., lack of happiness) appears to stem from reality falling short of expectations. A popular country music song reminds us that joy might come, not from having what we want, but from wanting what we have.

When the 50-year lawyers were asked at our bar association luncheon to reminisce on their careers, there was one strikingly consistent theme. None of them spoke of big trial wins or high-profile cases they had handled. Instead, each of them reflected on the civility and camaraderie of the lawyers in our Evansville Bar Association and how much this had meant to them over the years. The new lawyers were then asked to introduce themselves and to identify the charity or service organization with which they intended to be involved.

The bar association luncheon was a real-life example of several happiness lessons discussed in the book. Lawyers who remain in the profession tend to get happier over time, presumably because experience and skill development tend to lead to a greater professional comfort level. We also find satisfaction and meaning in serving others and contributing to the public good. Finally, the people around us make a difference. Enduring friendships and a pleasant working environment can help us as lawyers rise above the daily grind of legal work. Civility is not just a politically correct notion. It is a meaningful gift we can give to each other that, at least for a few of my colleagues, can last a lifetime.•

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Michele S. Bryant is a partner in the Evansville firm of Bamberger Foreman Oswald & Hahn and is a member of the DTCI board of directors. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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  1. It's a big fat black mark against the US that they radicalized a lot of these Afghan jihadis in the 80s to fight the soviets and then when they predictably got around to biting the hand that fed them, the US had to invade their homelands, install a bunch of corrupt drug kingpins and kleptocrats, take these guys and torture the hell out of them. Why for example did the US have to sodomize them? Dubya said "they hate us for our freedoms!" Here, try some of that freedom whether you like it or not!!! Now they got even more reasons to hate us-- lets just keep bombing the crap out of their populations, installing more puppet regimes, arming one faction against another, etc etc etc.... the US is becoming a monster. No wonder they hate us. Here's my modest recommendation. How about we follow "Just War" theory in the future. St Augustine had it right. How about we treat these obvious prisoners of war according to the Geneva convention instead of torturing them in sadistic and perverted ways.

  2. As usual, John is "spot-on." The subtle but poignant points he makes are numerous and warrant reflection by mediators and users. Oh but were it so simple.

  3. ACLU. Way to step up against the police state. I see a lot of things from the ACLU I don't like but this one is a gold star in its column.... instead of fighting it the authorities should apologize and back off.

  4. Duncan, It's called the RIGHT OF ASSOCIATION and in the old days people believed it did apply to contracts and employment. Then along came title vii.....that aside, I believe that I am free to work or not work for whomever I like regardless: I don't need a law to tell me I'm free. The day I really am compelled to ignore all the facts of social reality in my associations and I blithely go along with it, I'll be a slave of the state. That day is not today......... in the meantime this proposed bill would probably be violative of 18 usc sec 1981 that prohibits discrimination in contracts... a law violated regularly because who could ever really expect to enforce it along the millions of contracts made in the marketplace daily? Some of these so-called civil rights laws are unenforceable and unjust Utopian Social Engineering. Forcing people to love each other will never work.

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