Shocker: Money Can't Buy Happiness in The Legal World

By Jenny Tsay, Esq. on March 18, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A recent study by a Florida State University law professor and University of Missouri psychology professor revealed that lawyers making a lot of money in a "prestigious" job are less happy than those working in public service positions, according to the ABA Journal.

We're shocked.

It's ingrained in our minds during law school that grades, honors, and awards are everything when it comes to achieving that dream job in the legal world -- but what happens when you get that big, fat paycheck, and you still aren't happy?

"Prestige" Jobs v. Public Service Jobs

The study measured the "subjective well-being" of lawyers and looked at life satisfaction and mood. In an industry plagued by alcohol, substance abuse, and depression, the survey revealed that the money one earns doesn't correlate to a higher level of happiness.

In fact, the study found that lawyers in "prestige jobs," who had the best grades in law school and were earning the highest incomes aren't as happy as those working in public service jobs for a significantly lower wage, reports the ABA Journal. Not surprisingly, judges were the happiest of all -- they make bank and help the public.

Overall, the study proved the age-old adage: Money can't buy you happiness. According to the survey results, happy lawyers were ones that had engaging and personally meaningful careers that focused on helping others.

Come On, Get Happy

If you think that you're unhappiness is related to the prestigious job you have, here are some career alternatives to consider:

  • Seek a public interest law fellowship. Fellowships are usually short in duration, but that can be advantageous because it gives you some time to figure out if working in public interest law makes you happier than BigLaw.
  • Become a reality TV host. You get to "help" people AND get your own team of stylists. Win-win.
  • Consider being a mediator or working in ADR. Working in ADR lets you forgo endless piles of motions and research while allowing you to guide litigants in a more personal and intimate way than a courtroom judge would.

Final word of advice: Hit the gym before you decide to hit the bottle when dealing with a less than joyful job. The study also showed that lawyers who exercised regularly reported greater well-being than others.

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