Job satisfaction is one of the most important career drivers for future lawyers and barristers. When asked, ‘what do you want to specialise in?’ answers tend to centre around areas of law that inspire passion. Afterall, when you have to get out of bed at 06.00, it’s better to leap out filled with joy than do the resentful shuffle of dread towards work.
Plenty of lawyers actually change lives for the better, making others happy simply by practicing their profession. Public interest lawyers champion legal causes – always thinking about the greater good. And any lawyer can bring happiness to others by taking on pro bono work, to serve the under-represented and impoverished.
‘Do what you love’ is advice often given to aspiring lawyers – as being mentally and emotionally invested at work is one of the ways to build a meaningful and rewarding life. And then there’s the argument that doing what you love and have a natural aptitude for, gives you a natural advantage. When so many of us spend so much of our lives at work, it becomes clear how important it is to do something that makes us truly happy.
Of course, there’s plenty to challenge happiness in the life of a lawyer. Whether it’s the ever-increasing pressure to make billable hours, an adverse ruling or getting to grip with tedious subject-matter, lawyers must be tenacious in their pursuit of happiness.
Personality factors come into play too. Arguably the very people who become lawyers – intelligent, nuance appreciating, shades-of-grey-perceiving, ambitious and often driven – are not the people most naturally disposed to experience happiness per se. And indeed, any good lawyer could spend many hours arguing the very nature of happiness – a nature that many writers, artists and philosophers have tried to agree over the centuries, always without consensus.
It’s certainly fair to say that defining happiness is best left to the individual – and the route each individual takes is just as personal, just as unique. There is no one answer, and no common answer for all – but that is what makes finding your version of a happy career both possible and probable. The trick is to take ownership of that desire early on, and actively go towards it, choosing to get involved with the things that have the highest possibility of making you happy – whether it’s a pro bono case or prosecuting a criminal mastermind. One person’s sad is another person’s happy, so it pays to spend time finding out exactly what makes you happiest.
The good news is that career happiness is increasingly relevant to law firms, as they recognise their huge interest in making their employees and associates happy. They understand that workplace demoralisation and disengagement affects both work quality and the company bottom line. As a result, the old ways of employing many but keeping only a few have changed to become far more initially selective. Employers now spend time cherry-picking candidates, ensuring they are retained with attractive packages for career development and financial reward.
Today, lawyers can expect a whole host of benefits designed to keep them happy at work. In fact, according to The Lawyer Employee Workplace Benefits Survey of 2015, more than half of all law firms provide 25 days’ paid leave each year. Workflow monitoring is big news now, with 61% of regional firms and 41% of London firms keeping their eye on the amount of work their employees have, to help them work at their optimum level.
Other happiness incentives include flexible working, which is currently practised by 86% of the top London law firms, the survey found. Sabbaticals, mental health and wellbeing resources, general healthcare and employee assistance programmes covering anything from relocation to finding schools, also offer a real ‘life support’ network – greatly upping the happiness stakes for lawyers.
With both legal professionals and legal employers taking a much bigger interest than ever before in happiness, it makes sense to take it seriously too. And, with a bit of luck, your career in law won’t just be long, prestigious or enviable. It will be happy – arguably the most important of all.
Find out more about our happy-making employment promise.