Why do lawyers hate their jobs? (and why you don’t have to)

i hate my jobEvery day I have the misfortune of meeting lawyers who, it seems to me, hate their jobs.

They complain about clients, administration, fees, management, human resources, marketing, and pretty much everything that legal practice is about. It seems to me that they must be confused – because I enjoy every minute of every day.

But looking at it, I can’t help but wonder:  why are they a lawyer at all?

So What is it YOU want?

Here’s what I think has happened to many:  they went to school, got good enough marks either in senior school or initially at Uni and thought:  hey – being a lawyer would be cool.  So they enroll in law, work their butts off, get a job (hopefully) and work a few years.

At which point they come to a startling revelation: They have no Earthly idea what the point of all this is.

What’s happened is that they have never actually sat back and done a bit of deep thinking about their career – what do they want to be, what do they want to achieve, and how are they going to get there. As a result, they never have a sense of fulfillment, because they didn’t know what they were trying to achieve in the first place.   They can’t set goals, because they’re too busy turning up to work and going through the motions.

Stop Going Through the Motions

If you haven’t figured out your purpose yet then you need to.  How can you aspire to something that you can’t see?

So stop.

Take a break.

Think about your career and your underlying motivation.  Picture what kind of lawyer you want to be in 1, 2, 5 or 10 years.  I don’t mean “I want to be a partner” – I think we can do a bit better than that.

Are you a litigator, a deal maker, a power broker, a schmoozer, an ambulance chaser, an advocate, a fighter, a people person, an introvert, an expert, a motivator? The list could go on forever.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a student or a lawyer – you’ve got to have something to aspire to.  It doesn’t mean your happiness is derived from that goal, but it helps give you context and purpose.

Me?  Well, I want to be the kind of lawyer the gets the best out of other lawyers.  I want to have a team of passionate people around me who are motivated to improve themselves and their practice every day.  I want to be excited about going to work, about writing these articles, and about speaking to people about these issues.  I want to be someone that people listen to.

Am I there yet?  Maybe not.  But I’m doing my best to get there, with that person in my mind.  My vision may change, and that’s fine.

So What about you?

I’ve shared, and now it’s your turn.

What kind of lawyer do you want to be?  Once you’ve figured it out – write it down.  Tell me in the comments so that your vision can be articulated.  Once it’s there, you’ve got something to aim for.

Happy lawyering!

  • OK Chris. Answer me this: why is my boss such a knob and obtuse to ANYTHING (including me)?

    Small (uber-parochial) rural town, middle of [mod deletion] no-where NSW.

    I love my job (family law … + debt collection detritus overfow), and have GREAT rapport with my clients, I DON’T have to wear a suit, I’m a strategic & good lawyer, …. but my boss is a renowned pr*ck.

    …. and I’m still within my 2 years supervision

    I’m ready to walk.

    Mod Note: harsh language is discouraged.

    • Hi Pete,

      Some people are knobs. There’s absolutely nothing you can do about it that will be anything other than a waste of time. Not sure if you’ve seen it but my article on Control might be relevant for you. There’s no need to let your boss control your emotions for you though. My thought is to be the “bigger man” – do your job well and properly, without letting his/her attitude to life rub off on you. If you need to leave after your two years (or earlier) then do so – but don’t become bitter just because somebody else has chosen to hate everyone around them.

      Best of luck to you,
      Chris

  • Hi Chris
    I think you’ve highlighted some important points here.

    You are certainly right about the importance of self-reflection and deliberate planning when it comes to career trajectory. I know that my own career would have probably taken a different course had I done som more focused thinking at various key moments. The problem, when we fail to take a strategic view, is that we tend to make moves that serve a short term purpose or solve an immediate problem, but which may damage our prospects in the long term.

    I also think that when we look to set our long terms career goals it is vital we take account of our key strengths and values and then plan to engage in work that honours these aspects of ourselves. There is plenty of research that highlights the value to our well-being that accrues when we work with our strengths. We are also more likely to reach our goals if they are ‘self-concordant’ i.e. reflecting our values and interests, because those kinds of goals are inherently more motivating for us.

    Pete – it sounds like you’ve got a long career ahead of you and you’ll likely meet a few more like you current boss along the way. Learning to handle these kinds of individuals is an important part of legal practice – they turn up as bosses, clients, oppononents and colleagues. I know it isn’t easy but I think Chris is right when he says that your best approach is to focus on your efforts. Learn as much as you can, build contacts, take satisfaction in rising above your boss’s antics. Fortunately, you’ll meet many, many more people in your career who are the opposite of this. This guy is just center stage at the moment.

    All teh best

    Martin

    • Thanks Martin for your considered and useful comments. I entirely agree about long-term versus short-term thinking. Staying authentic is also key when it comes to deciding your plans – not just what looks good, but what am I actually made for – what are my strengths and how can I use them to best advantage and highest motivation.

      • Hi Chris,

        I graduated law school on 2013. Maybe this sounds absolutely ridiculous but I hate drafting motions and anything remotely close to litigation, although I love client interaction. I’m pretty sure I want do Land Use or at the very least something more advisory or regulatory in nature. The only problem is I lack substantial experience as an attorney and my only offer landed me in a job (uncompensated I must add) where I draft motions all day…… I hate it!! And quite frankly I’m not sure if I’m any good at it. Any advice? What areas do you think I may enjoy? What should I do about my current position? Anything?

  • Very interesting article. I just think there is a lot of disillusion about the reality of the practice of law, arising mainly from the archaic structures and leverage model of the traditional law firm. The rise of some of the ‘NewLaw’ businesses is, I believe, a reaction to the issues raised in this article. As far as I am concerned, the practice of law needs a new, more sensible and structurally efficient path, and this is why I started the dispersed law firm concept in Australia. Nexus Lawyers has been built entirely on the concept of collaborative law in order directly tackle these issues that are far too rife in our profession. Our law firm joins independently contracted lawyers into a unified, collaborative practice platform, where lawyers earn up to 70% of their billings and hard-coded passive profit split for work referred to other specialists in the system, in order to incentivise specialisation. There are no billable targets and lawyers are free to bill their clients as they see fit, including as fixed fees or retainers. This is a fantastic and very fulfilling platform for the practice of modern law. What is surprising is that despite such high level of disillusionment and frustration amongst lawyers, this exciting new practice model has grown sluggishly compared with internationally, where it is well established and very successful. Lawyers in Australia are notoriously conservative, to the point of inertia, even when faced with such serious statistics and a definite need for a cultural shift. There is no need for any senior lawyer to continue working within the strictures of traditional practice – there is already a better solution that allows complete freedom and self determination in a fully supported environment. It just takes a little bit of vision and bravery to make a move into one of the structurally better practice models that are already waiting for good candidates and poised to transform the legal industry for the better.

  • Hi,
    This article has been useful for me as a law student.
    I have been at a loss lately and trying to decide if I really want to be a lawyer or a barrister.
    I feel that deeper thinking, intuition and social justice is becoming missing in law degrees and PLT because the focus is swinging more to business and government practices.
    I have no inclination to work in the areas of taxation, commercial, corporate and definetly not planning mixed with environment.
    Administrative, Environment, Statutory Interpretation, Criminal and Family RRR Law is my focus.
    It is also my passion.
    Two years working for a law firm, I understand they can’t just let us out in the community without two year experience under our belt before we can go through the process of opening our own law practice but….
    I do not want to work in the cities, it is a different situation and client base out here compared to the city.
    I am thinking of becoming a manager of a new CLC rather than a lawyer because Criminal Law and Family Law are electives for PLT and only go for a couple of weeks compared to Commercial/Corporate etc.
    I know it is no good wishing but I do wish there was some way that there could be seperate Law degrees and PLT.
    One for people who want to study the ‘Business’ Law degree and one that covers only the ‘Social Justice’ Law degree.
    Why am I forced to study a business perspective of Family, Criminal, Environmental and other areas when law is a balance (the scales of justice) and the scales are heavy on the business side to the detriment of the social justice side.
    How can we be balanced as future lawyers when the scales of the degree are heavier on one side and not the other.
    I am having to change to a different University that hopefully is balanced but I will not know until after I start if what they advertise is true!
    Plus when you are a law student I feel you should have the same respect, integrity, politeness with a fellow student as what is expected of you when you get your practicing certificate.
    If you are arrogant, rude or racist when you are a student and allowed to get away with it while studying your degree….you will continue this manner as a lawyer.
    Where has the balance and respect gone?
    The higher order thinking that you use as a lawyer and should be using when you are a student.
    Respectfully
    Liz

  • Hello Chris,

    Thank you so much for this article. It is very helpful.

    Also I picked up a lot of important points from the comments contributed to this article. Thank you so much everyone.

    Cheers,
    Lubia

  • I’m a junior lawyer in litigation and although I do like it from time to time, I think it’s still a very sexist profession. I go to Court, meet lawyers and barristers acting for the other side who look down on me because I’m young, and cop a lot of sexist remarks (I’m a female). I’d enjoy it very much if it wasn’t for such verbal abuse because it really does make me think as to why I even chose this career. We all learnt at uni to treat other lawyers with respect but some old school folks seem to have forgotten about that. Now I always have to go to Court with a resting b*tch face because I’m so sick of it. It makes me really depressed and I feel like I have no hope after copping those remarks. I know I should just ignore them and do my own thing (litigate) but I can’t help but think about it afterwards which encourages me to look into a different field of law. Is it just in litigation or is it EVERYWHERE?? I know I need to toughen up but it’s really hard.

    • Hey there Justina – sorry to hear that you’re experiencing this kind of boys club behaviour in your practice. “Old school folks” haven’t forgotten it – they never learned it in the first place. These dinosaurs need to pull their heads in and behave like officers of the Court should, rather than like boys in a schoolyard.

  • Chris

    Excellent article. Before being called to the Bar I worked for about 15 years as a lawyer’s clerk. For me becoming a lawyer was a personal accomplishment. It would not have bothered me for a moment if I did not practice law for a day after being called. However, I was able to start my practice immediately without having to do internship with a firm or another lawyer because of my experience in the profession.

    I chose not to do much litigation although I find it exciting. It is burdensome for a sole practitioner who does not have support staff. So I am realistic. I do more non contentious work. I give back to society as much as I can. This is much more fulfilling than becoming a millionaire.

    I also appreciated the other comments here.

    Sunil

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