A Johns Hopkins University study found that lawyers suffer a depression rate 3.6 times higher than the rate of employed persons generally. This should prompt all attorneys to ask themselves: “Are you happy?” To find some answers, a 2014 study entitled “What Makes Lawyers Happy?” used theory-driven empirical research to find out who is happy in the legal profession and why. The study, conducted by a professor at the Florida State University College of Law, polled thousands of lawyers in four states, each representing a different geographical region of the United States.
The Florida study authors remind us that “happiness is a prime human motivator,” one that pushes many people to enroll in law school in the first place. Yet the study finds that law school students report increasing anxiety and depression before graduating into a profession with high rates of depression and substance abuse.
Among the most important factors predicting happiness in an attorney was competence. Happy attorneys felt that they were competent in conducting their work. In addition, work-life balance had a strong correlation to attorney well-being. In fact, vacations and exercise correlated to well-being as much as or more than salary.
Perhaps high levels of attorney depression and substance abuse relate to the demands of the traditional law firm business model. Volume is important to a profitable law firm. High volume gives an attorney less time to allocate to each case, task, and document. Meanwhile, clients demand and deserve effective representation at an efficient cost, making it impractical to hire extraneous support staff and salaried associates to handle volume.
Thoroughness and preparation speak to competence as much as knowledge. Freelance attorneys help busy attorneys do thorough work. Thereby, freelance attorneys can empower you to feel competent in your work. This feeling of competence can contribute to your happiness. It can also simply give you the time you need to take care of yourself and enjoy your life.
I became aware of the “What Makes Lawyers Happy?” study in the summer of 2014. Around that time, I was taking CLEs to meet my August 2014 reporting deadline. I took course after course on attorney mental health and work-life balance. They had an effect. I reprioritized, and I started my own law firm, where I focus on competence, thoroughness, preparedness, and autonomy.
Now, I am a hard-working attorney with a great answer to the question, “Are you happy?” So, I ask you, “Are you happy,” and “can a freelance attorney help you?”