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Sad Lawyer Syndrome and How to Prevail

A docket of solutions for our many unhappy attorneys.

Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain
Source: Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain

A survey by Career Bliss found that being a lawyer associate is the most unhappy job in America.

Indeed, lawyers have good reason to suffer from Sad Lawyer Syndrome. For example:

  • Great rigor. For that jaw-dropping hourly rate, clients expect results even if, as often is the case, you're fighting a darn smart and perhaps even unethical opposing counsel. It's difficult and stressful to prevail consistently.
  • Great detail. Law's devil certainly is its details. Contracts require assiduous care to reduce risk and get the gray areas for your clients. And a single litigated case may require you to slog through bankers boxes full of depositions, documents, and other evidence, plus all the relevant statutes and case law. For fear your opposing attorney will find a nugget, maybe even a dispositive one, you end up having to pore over it all.
  • Heavy pressure to produce. The production pressure can be oppressive, especially with the typical billable-hours requirement. Meeting it can tempt even ethical souls to cut corners. One attorney told me that he charged one client his $500 an hour billing rate for his flying time and, for those same six hours, charged another client $500 for the work he did while flying. Today, the most important words in the legal argot may not be justice and fairness but revenue and rainmaking.

Even the pecuniary compensation isn't what it used to be. The oversupply of lawyers, availability of well-trained paralegals, and use of overseas attorneys and computerized discovery has driven salaries down. While in the last six years, the cost of living is up 15%, the average lawyer's salary is down 13%..

What's a poor lawyer (It's no longer an oxymoron) to do?

Options within the law

  • Stress may be lower in transactional work than in litigation.
  • Another employer may have lower expectations. That may be more likely if you look beyond the pressure-cooker major cities, if you go in-house in a company or non-profit, or work as a government lawyer.
  • A job in law-firm management or marketing.
  • Switch to a less complicated, less contention area of the law. Examples:



Individuals' insurance claims

Estate planning

Writing for a legal publication.

Options outside the law

Lawyers' intelligence, drive, and legal knowledge increases their likelihood of success in all manner of occupations. Former lawyers have often become:

  • Service providers to law firms, for example, software implementations, leadership or rainmaking training,
  • Executives. Companies use lawyers in human resources, contract administration, and even as part of the senior management team.
  • Lobbyists for industry or non-profits.
  • Politicians
  • Key staffers for an elected official: drafting legislation, meeting with key constituents, chief of staff.
  • Entrepreneurs, from cafe owner to skyscraper developer.

Sad Lawyer Syndrome needn't mean a life sentence.

Marty Nemko's bio is in Wikipedia.

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