Are high-paid lawyers happier?

by Samantha Woodhill18 May 2015
A new study of lawyers in the US has proven the old adage that money does not buy happiness.

Making partner at a prestigious firm has no effect on lawyers’ happiness – in fact, junior partners who on average were paid 62 percent more than their senior associate colleagues, reported identical levels of happiness.

The study of 6,200 lawyers in four different states by The George Washington Law Review, also found that lawyers working in public interest roles with community legal centres earned the least but were the happiest.  

Lawrence S. Krieger, one of the authors of the report, said that often prestigious jobs do not provide feelings of competence, autonomy or connection to others, which are the contributing factors to the model of human happiness the study was based on.  In contrast, practitioners working in the legal assistance sector tended to experience these feelings.

“Law students are famous for busting their buns to make high grades, sometimes at the expense of health and relationships, thinking, ‘Later I’ll be happy, because the American dream will be mine,’ ” he said. “Nice, except it doesn’t work,” he told the New York Times.

Of course, the source of unhappiness in the legal profession has been long debated, with some theories suggesting that jobs require an unhealthy degree of cynicism; others hypothesising that the taxing hours, demanding clients or public hostility towards lawyers were the cause of higher rates of depression and anxiety in the profession.