What’s Good in Big Law Isn’t Good for Happiness


I started thinking about some reasons why so many big law attorneys are unhappy and why the rate of attrition is so high at big law firms.  While some of these may seem obvious, the following are just a few examples of things that are considered good by big law standards, but that won’t bring you happiness:

  • working your ass off
  • making more money (via profit sharing, bonuses, or promotions)
  • accepting what other people tell you (e.g., your boss)
  • competing with others (for more work, more billable hours, more clients, etc.) and rank and self-worth at the firm largely depending on these factors
  • working so many hours that you start neglecting your friends, family, and especially, yourself
  • making partner and getting the corner office with the nice view
  • working while on vacation
  • all-nighters
  • never speaking up to say what’s really on your mind and not shaking up the status quo of the firm
  • never turning down work

While some of these examples are obviously not conducive to happiness (hello, working on vacation?!), some others may surprise you.

Generally, the ultimate goal while working in big law is to make partner and maximize profits.  Basically, the goal is to make lots of money.  But research has shown that once your basic needs are met, more money doesn’t mean greater happiness.

The problem is that many unhappy lawyers start looking to external sources of happiness (such as money, a nice car, a nice house, a nice watch, etc.) as their motivators that keep them working at their jobs.  So they start acquiring things, and they keep working so they can keep paying for those things, and again they buy more things to “reward” themselves for working so hard.  But what they don’t realize that is that even after acquiring all these things, they still would not be happy.

Any person that strives for things outside of themselves to make them happy will ultimately be unhappy.  It’s as simple as that.  And the big law firm model seems to reward behaviors that are more conducive to making people unhappy.  No wonder there are so many unhappy big law attorneys looking for a way out!

What do you think?  Does big law reward the very behaviors and ways of thinking that make people unhappy in the first place?  Leave a comment below.  I’d LOVE to hear from you!

If you know lawyers seeking a way out of big law, please send them over to the blog (www.escapefromthelaw.wordpress.com), or share this post on Facebook and Twitter using the buttons below!  I’m sure they would appreciate it.


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