Lawyers who enjoy what they do make fewer mistakes.
I don’t have any statistics to back that up. No peer-reviewed study. No hard data linking job satisfaction and risk avoidance.
But I think we all know it’s true. We’ve seen it in our own lives. When we love doing something we generally do it well.
Don’t get me wrong. Not every lawyer who is sued for malpractice or hauled before the State Bar is a miserable, self-loathing wretch. Even Atticus Finch, Matlock and Jackie Childs made mistakes – and they all seemed to really like their jobs. Especially Jackie Childs.
But an unhappy lawyer is a walking risk.
I started thinking about all of this a few days ago when I opened my inbox to find a mountain of emails. By mountain I mean one email.
It was from an attorney who asked that I not disclose his identity. So let me just say that the following is not from anyone named Philip who attended law school in South Carolina and now lives in Wilmington with a terrific spouse, two adorable children and a lovingly-restored 1972 El Camino:
“One summer during college I had the world’s worst job cleaning pools at a beachside resort in South Carolina. Not only was the uniform (think UPS man) awful, but the pool was right off the beach where all the college students would hang out. Getting up at five in the morning during summer was every college student’s worst nightmare.
Because I hated this job, I never really cared about maintaining correct chlorine levels or cleaning the sand out of the pool. Since I never received any complaints about the cleanliness of the pool and no one got sick, I thought I was doing a pretty good job.
Of course this all caught up to me during the July 4th weekend. While the hotel had planned a Fourth of July extravaganza, complete with a live band, tiki bars and pool fun, I had planned a birthday celebration for my roommate on July 3rd.
After a night of heavy drinking at the birthday party, I forgot to set my alarm for work the next day. I woke at 11 the next morning with the world’s worst hangover. I arrived at work six hours late to find the resort pool filled with green algae. Of course the hotel still had the live band and tiki bars. But the celebration was pretty much ruined.
The moral of the story is if you hate your job you are probably going to make mistakes, which can lead to bar grievances or malpractice claims.
All of us owe a debt of gratitude for the unflinching honesty of this reader whose first name is definitely not Philip and whose last name most certainly doesn’t begin with “W.”
There is no faking it: you either like your job or you don’t. Either way, the results will reveal the truth.
But here’s the good news: you can grow to like anything, including a career in the law. Following are five ways to do just that:
- Lighten up. Sure, the stakes are sometimes high. But no problem is so serious that a little humor and perspective won’t help.
- Have fun. In a recent post I wrote about a Columbia University psychologist who discovered that the most productive offices were the ones that occasionally took time out for fun.
- Hang with lawyers who enjoy being lawyers. Otherwise your life will become one extended pity party. And you will wake up in the morning to find your pool full of algae.
- Read, listen and learn. Make yourself smarter and better at what you do. Know your niche inside out. Shift to a different practice area if you’re bored. Your work life might suddenly become more pleasurable when you start winning all your cases and people gaze at you with unbridled awe.
- Practice gratitude. Each afternoon before going home, write down three ways in which you made someone’s life better that day. You will start feeling great about what you are doing. Helping others is the best fun ever.
If all else fails, buy a vintage El Camino and let the restoration begin.