What makes a happy lawyer? Do they even exist? (Yes…they do). Does the job make the lawyer, or does the lawyer make the job? Are certain types of practices like immigration law or working in a family law court more conducive to producing happy lawyers? Are unhappy lawyers more likely to be found in corporate law and large law firms?
Practice settings certainly play a role in day-to-day stresses—but we all know of colleagues who are both very happy and unhappy in all types of practices (from courthouses, to in house counsel, to law firms). Since happy lawyers get the best law jobs, to set yourself up to land at the best law job possible, it is important to figure out how to be happy with your legal career.
In my experience, the answer is remarkably simple: happy lawyers (1) know who they are and (2) know what to look for.
Knowing who you are as a lawyer and the type of lawyer you are is key to learning how you fit in to the professional ecosystem—and once you know where you fit in the ecosystem, knowing what to look for can help you navigate to where you need to go.
Knowing who you are as a lawyer
Based on my interaction with many law students and lawyers, I boil lawyers into five general personality types:
Litigators. As law school becomes increasingly competitive and the legal profession becomes more results-oriented, we begin to see more than just a litigator—but also many types of litigators. Litigator “types” are logic driven, rely on on expertise and mastery over concepts and industries. It is unsurprising that these personality types make up the vast majority of law schools: INTJ, INTP, ENTJ, and ENTP.
Advocates. Advocates are committed to serving a greater cause. As lawyers they value unity, ethics, authenticity, and social justice. Advocates are value driven lawyers (according to MBTI, they tend to fall into the ENFP, INFJ, INFP, and ENFJ categories).
Workhorses. These are the super dependable lawyers that get things done, unafraid to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty. Workhorses are hardworking, technically skilled, and driven by competency, inclusiveness, and strong relationships. Interestingly, in the legal profession, we tend to find more “workhorses” than litigators (and by the time 3Ls are studied, there is generally a shift where there are fewer litigator types and more workhorse types). These lawyers make steady contributions, require stability, and have no desire to enter the limelight. These are the ISTJ, ISFJ, ESFJ, and ESTJ personality types.
Rainmakers. AKA, a successful legal salesperson—the extravert who thrives on the give-and-take of social interactions. Often, they can be identified in law school and amongst junior lawyers because of their assertive, outgoing, and resilient natures. Rainmakers are goal-driven and persuasive with strong interpersonal skills. They value empathy, and are always quick to pick themselves back up and “pitch” again. These tend to be ESTP, ESFP, ISTP, and ISFP personality types.
I discuss these “types” because it is important for you to evaluate whether you are situated for success. You may be an “Advocate,” driven by a greater cause, feeling stuck in the mud because you are expected to produce “Rainmaker” results. A cactus will not thrive in a tropical forest, and an orchid will not grow in the desert. Understanding yourself is key to figuring out whether you are situated to grow.
Know what to look for
If you review the different generalizations I made above, you will start to connect different themes together. As fun as it is to sort yourself and your colleagues, the truth is that as individuals, we are looking for varying doses of the same few things. There is no one-size-fits-all formula, but I find that the happiest lawyers know exactly how much autonomy, expertise, and networking they need.
Autonomy. At different stages of their careers, different types of lawyers require different degrees of autonomy. Some are highly autonomous at an early stage and want to make their own decisions—and their work becomes a way of expressing themselves. Some will want support and input throughout their entire careers. Evaluate how much autonomy you need to succeed at the current stage of your career.
Expertise. Most lawyers focus on competency (and most confuse competency with expertise). Expertise is obtained when a lawyer develops a high degree of mastery in a practice area or industry. Most lawyers come out of law school with a desire to become competent at difficult tasks—but not all will push themselves past competency to turn a difficult task into an easy one. Getting frequent feedback (especially about what is going right as you develop your practice), Evaluate what degree of expertise you want to obtain in your career at various stages, and determine what areas do you require development, coaching, and mentoring.
Networking. Attorneys work with people, and solve problems that affect people. It is unsurprising that some of the most successful and happy lawyers have strong networks due to their ability relate with others and foster a sense of psychological safety (the best “networkers” give you a sense of feeling that they are not only trusting and respectful, but that you can safely “drop” any worries because they are handling it). Evaluate your professional network and read up on past posts for tips on how to expand your network. Remember—in addition to drawing in clients, networks and connections allow lawyers to leverage their technical and professional skills in new ways, collaborate to solve complex matters, and deliver maximum impact.