We are excited to welcome Mike Stetz, to Legal Marketing Blog; he is the managing editor at Cypress Magazines, which publishes The National Jurist magazine, the nation’s leading publication for law school students.

Mike has written an eye-opening article that outlines the state of happiness in the legal field. His findings are not just for law students. It’s for every lawyer who is unhappy and looking for a change. I caught up with Mike to get a behind-the-curtain understanding of his research. 

For those who haven’t read your article could you give us a quick overview?

Stetz: Sure, we wanted to see what makes lawyers happy. A number of studies show that lawyers suffer from higher rates of depression, anxiety and substance abuse than people in other professions. So we wanted to see why that might be and to hopefully bring awareness to law school students about that. Our publication, The National Jurist, is aimed at law students.

When doing your research, what was most surprising to you?

Stetz:I was mostly surprised to find that money plays a very small role in happiness. A good number of lawyers make a good amount of money. It’s one of the reasons the field is attractive. It’s kind of funny because I’m a journalist, and one of the biggest complaints in our profession is that the pay is too low. But the experts I spoke with for the story noted how happiness and earnings aren’t highly related. Happiness comes from personal connections and a sense of worth. That’s why a number of researches have found that public interest lawyers report the most happiness. They feel they are making a difference in people’s lives. That’s not to say you can’t be happy in Big Law or private practice. The research didn’t show that. You can be happy in those jobs if you have a sense of autonomy and feel you are contributing to a greater cause. It’s these internal factors — not externals ones, including prestige — that bring a greater sense of self-worth and happiness.

What did you expect you would find?

Stetz:I did think I would find ample evidence that lawyers are unhappy. It’s a tough job. It’s combative. You’re constantly dealing with other peoples’ problems. The justice system grinds slowly. It can take years to settle one case. And then it might be appealed! In Big Law, you work a lot of demanding hours. You face a constant assault of emails, texts, phone calls — at all times of the day and night. I’ve interviewed enough lawyers over the years to know how taxing the job can be.

You interviewed Maia Aron, one of the lawyers I featured in my book: A Lawyer’s Guide to Creating a Life, Not Just a Living. What did you think of her insight?

Stetz: It was spot-on. She was a great example of how a lawyer can so easily become overwhelmed and unhappy. It’s amazing how it seems to occur. These are bright, hard-charging people who apparently lose sight of what makes them happy. Maia was such a person. She was super-successful. Indeed, you might wonder why should would be unhappy, given her accomplishments. But, as she told me, she felt empty. She needed to be a part of something bigger outside of her work. She was so focused on work that it was draining her self-worth. She wanted to give back. She wanted to be part of something bigger. So she started volunteering for a local Jewish organization and found a path back to happiness. It was inspiring to hear.

What advise would you give lawyers of all ages?

Stetz: Well, I feel kind of sheepish giving advice because happiness can be so elusive. I think the biggest thing — and it’s sometimes the toughest thing — is to reach out for help if you’re feeling unhappy or unfulfilled. I’m not talking about clinical depression or anything that severe. Rush, rush, rush to get help if you’re in that boat. I’m just talking about people who may feel that there may be more to life than what they’re currently experiencing. Don’t let it fester. You can’t be the best lawyer you can be if you’re not feeling good about your life’s work.

Mike’s findings may not be surprising to many of you, because you’re living it! I would tell you that if you are unhappy do something about it! You owe it to YOURSELF and your family.

(Here is the full article: National Jurist – Where the Happiest Lawyers Work)

Mike Stetz is managing editor at Cypress Magazines, which produces a number of titles, including The National Jurist magazine, the nation’s leading publication for law school students. Before this, he worked at the San Diego Union-Tribune, where he served in a number of high-profile writing positions, including metro columnist. Born and raised in Baltimore, he now calls San Diego home, for which he is very thankful.