by John J. Carey of Carey & Danis, LLC
I have been a lawyer for 17 years now and, believe it or not, I still enjoy being a lawyer. However, based upon informal conversations I have had with a wide array of lawyers from all over the country (i.e., plaintiff’s lawyers, defense lawyers, small firm lawyers, and large law firm lawyers), it is becoming painfully obvious that I am part of a small minority of persons in our profession who actually likes being a lawyer. Which brings up the question, why are lawyers so unhappy?
I attribute lawyer unhappiness primarily to four factors, which I discuss separately below.
The first reason why many lawyers are so unhappy is because they went to law school for the wrong reasons. For example, law school has long been known as a default choice for young college graduates who simply do not know what they want to do with the rest of their lives. By enrolling in law school, they can extend their adolescence for three more years while they make the difficult choice of how they will make a living as an adult. Many operate under the delusion that armed with a law degree the world will suddenly present a cornucopia of opportunities to them. The problem lies in the fact that prolonging adolescence comes at a steep price: not only is law school exorbitantly expensive, the ambivalent law student has foregone three years of income from real, gainful employment that their non-lawyer peers have enjoyed. In the end, the law school graduate discovers that the vast array of career opportunities are simply not there and, if there are career opportunities, the law school graduate cannot afford to take a low-paying entry-level corporate job because of their burdensome student loan debt. And Presto: you have a person that never really intended to practice law entering the legal profession out of sheer necessity.
The second reason why lawyers are so unhappy, especially older lawyers, is because lawyers don’t make as much money as they used to make. Many smart, bright-eyed people who once thought that a law degree was a ticket to riches soon face cold reality. The truth of the matter is the vast majority of lawyers are not rich, and many are struggling to even make a decent living. The reason for this is simple: supply and demand. There are many more lawyers chasing virtually the same amount of business. Moreover, because it is clearly a “buyers market,” large clients can successfully negotiate downward a lawyer’s hourly wage or contingent fee. The lawyer then faces the Hobson’s choice of either having no work to do or having work to do, but at a greatly reduced rate of pay.
Third, anyone who has been practicing law for more than 15 years will acknowledge an appalling decrease in civility in the legal profession. This not only applies to lawyers on opposite sides of litigation or a transaction, but to all aspects of the profession. Every lawyer has stories about the hard-ball tactics employed by adversaries, but some of the most difficult lawyers I have ever worked with are co-counsel, that is, lawyers who are supposed to be on the same team as me. Also, something that is rarely discussed is the lack of civility judges demonstrate toward lawyers practicing before them. Court opinions are now rife with derogatory and personal criticisms of the lawyers involved in the case, rather than the issues. Not surprisingly, the lack of civility, and sometimes downright rude behavior of other lawyers and judges, leads to lawyer unhappiness.
Finally, the fourth reason why lawyers are so unhappy is our profession’s negative public image. Sure, in order to be a lawyer, one has to be thick-skinned and I, for one, enjoy a good lawyer joke as much as anyone. However, it has now reached the point that one cannot watch television or read the newspaper without some criticism of lawyers. A certain political party has virtually characterized lawyers as the tools of the “Devil.” Indeed, Karl Rove has demonized lawyers with such great success that others are following suit, while others run away from trial lawyers as fast as they can (i.e., the Democratic Party). The truth of the matter is that our negative public image has led to self-loathing, which certainly leads to unhappiness.
Despite everything written above, lawyers SHOULD be happy. They are part of a distinguished profession that forms the foundation of a country that enjoys the most freedoms and privileges of any country in the history of the world. So the next time you are feeling blue or depressed, simply pop a pill (Prozac, Zoloft, Wellbutrin or Xanax will do) or have a beer (my personal preference), and GET BACK TO WORK!! As they say in the Bahamas: “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”
About the Author: John J. Carey is a founding partner of Carey & Danis, LLC. His professional resume can be found on his firm's website, which states that his firm has recovered "$677 million for [its] clients, including individual settlements of over $10 million and class-wide settlements of over $90 million." John was last mentioned on this weblog here.--Ed.