March 3, 2022

Happy Lawyering

BY: Ben Charlton

Sometimes, we just want to be happy. All jobs have their ups and downs, but us lawyers have it particularly hard. Whether it be the combative nature of representing clients’ interests, relentless deadlines, or the humdrum of unfun but necessary tasks, lawyering isn’t always the dream job. But fret not – following a few simple tips in your work- and home-life can help you turn up the happy knob.

Here are some simple home-life tips:

First, take one day off a week. The practice of law can be at times overwhelming. Sometimes, you just can’t help having to put in those 60-hour work weeks. The stress and workload can lead some young attorneys to get burned out. Try to take one day a week where you don’t work, don’t stress over your job, and do something fun.

Second, take care of yourself physically. The practice of law can be physically draining. Getting a full night’s sleep is important to stay sharp. Your health is important. Eating right and exercising when possible are crucial.

Third, find something non-work related to discuss with family and friends. Your friends and family only want to hear so much about work and the law. When you aren’t at the office, try to find something non-work related to discuss.

We can also take concrete steps at the office. Here are our top tips:

First, get in the zone. No, not that car parts store’s zone, your zone. Much like a basketball player who can’t seem to miss tough shots, sometimes lawyers find themselves in the zone. And it’s great: time flies, we’re productive. Not all of us get in the zone in the same way, and that’s okay. Sometimes it’s writing appellate briefs. Other times, planning work social events. Or marketing. Whatever it is for you, find a way to do more of what gets you going. It will take some time to reflect on your past experiences, but a few minutes of introspection can really pay off.

Second, find a way to have some control. As new lawyers, we find ourselves without much say in our daily lives, and the lack of control can be stressful. But there are some things we can control. Try arranging your office the way you want it, including your office décor. Or, at the beginning of the week, write five things you want to accomplish that week on an index card. No matter what else happens, get those things done. As you finish each, draw a line through it. Try it. It feels great. Another area where you could find more control may be counterintuitive – take on more cases. But not just any cases! Take on a case or two where you can take the lead. Sure, your partners will be there to answer your questions, but you will meet with your client, you will decide the strategy, you will exercise some control.

Third, relationships matter. It’s hard to be happy at a place where you don’t know anyone else, and they don’t know you. That’s true at new schools, new lunch tables, and new jobs. So take some time to get to know your colleagues. Have lunch with an office-mate every once in a while. Find out everyone’s birthday and send them a fun email on their special day. Engage in some water-cooler gossip. We work for a huge chunk of our waking lives – spend that time with people you have relationships with.

We can’t promise you a stress-free life. But if you implement some of these tips, you can expect to feel a little happier with the path you’re on. Happy lawyering!

*The authors were first exposed to some of these tips via a fantastic book on this topic. Nancy Levit & Douglas O. Linder, The Happy Lawyer: Making a Good Life in the Law (2010).


About the Author

Ben Charlton is an associate attorney at Frei, Mims & Perushek, L.L.P., where he represents personal injury and medical malpractice plaintiffs. He is a Director on the Fairfax Bar Association’s Board and is the Immediate Past President of the Fairfax Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Section. He also represents the Fifth District to the Virginia State Bar’s Young Lawyers Conference. He can be reached at [email protected].