These past few years I have spent many hours reading, learning and researching happiness. At first this was to better understand my own wellbeing but later all that work led to me writing the book ‘Happy Lawyer Happy Life’. Unhappiness in my profession is rife. The incidence of mental health problems within the legal profession is two to three times that within the general population.
Happiness as a concept is something that many of us strive for in life (lawyers or not!) There are days where we can be really happy and there are days where for whatever reason we won’t be. Arguably you cannot experience happiness without sadness. But I like to think that for my friends, colleagues and the many lawyers around the world that I don’t even know, there is a way that we can largely be happy in law and of course in our lives.
In writing my book I have spoken with many lawyers and read broadly and I have come to conclude that there are five attributes of those lawyers that tell me that they are happy or that I consider have found happiness, both in their careers and in their lives and to make it easy I have turned them into the ‘H.A.P.P.Y.’ acronym! So here you have it-
The 5 habits of a ‘Happy lawyer’
1. ‘H’ is for Health
When it comes to happy lawyers, they are healthy. They may not be able to run a marathon (although some of them can!) but they are healthy and looking after their health is one of their top priorities. Without our health it is so hard to find happiness. Many of us take our health for granted, but as the years go on we discover quickly that in order to do much in life well, we need our bodies to be functioning in the best possible way.
To be healthy we need to eat well, exercise and of course sleep and I may sound like one of those annoying TV commercials, but so many of us forget these basics when it comes to leading our busy legal lives.
The traditional practice of law does not sit well with a healthy life style. Working 16 hour days tied to a desk and computer does not leave much room for healthy eating, regular movement or the necessary sleep that our brains need to function at their best. And yet we work in a ‘thinking’ career where a high performing brain is key and so unless we can get our health right, we really can’t be operating at our best and of course will struggle to find happiness.
2. ‘A’ is for Attitude
A happy lawyer has a positive, mindful and ‘glass half full’ attitude (most of the time!). They have the capacity to see the good in most situations, are grateful for the opportunities their career has given them and are mindful- living in the moment and enjoying life for what it is. Even in the difficult times, they see the good in the bad, practice kindness, empathy and gratitude, all of which neuroscience has shown has a significant and positive impact on our happiness.
3. ‘P’ is for Passion
The 3rd ‘habit’ of those Happy Lawyers is passion! Most are passionate about law or their legal career in some way shape or form but perhaps more importantly they have passions that sit outside of their work and they pursue those passions, daily! Whether it is running, swimming, music, art, reading, walking or just being in nature, all of the happy lawyers I know have passions that they pursue every single day, whether it be inside or outside of their law career.
4. ‘P’ is for Purpose
A happy lawyer is clear on their purpose. Many of the lawyers I have heard from find their purpose in the ability to make a difference or to have a positive impact on the lives of those around them. Their purpose is bigger than the mere practice of law. Chances are those happy lawyers could have pursued many different career paths but law is the tool that they have chosen to use to pursue their purpose. Those happy lawyers around me who are clear on that purpose have found a way to explore it in every aspect of their career. They keep things in perspective and are able to recognise the difference they are making, even when it seems to be buried under a 20 volume brief. The difference might be small, sometimes it might be huge, but either way these happy lawyers are clear that they are making a difference in the lives of others.
5. Y is for ‘You’
I have come to conclude the happy lawyers around me have found a way to be authentically themselves in their practice of law. Whether it is a love of sequin-covered shoes, music, family, kindness, empathy, mindfulness or deep intellectual challenge- those happy lawyers bring the whole of themselves to all that they do in life and in law. They are one whole person whether they are at work, at home, with their family, friends or colleagues- they are just tapping into different parts of themselves in different amounts depending on their day.
The happy lawyers around me are not happy all the time. There are days where they struggle like all of us, but they are clear on who they are, they are clear on why they are in this profession and they are grateful for the opportunities (and the challenges!) it has brought them. They may not always have been that way, but they have carved out a path that enables them to be the sort of person they want to be and lead a life that they are proud of.
Being a lawyer, working in law and loving the many lawyers that are my friends I have come to accept that this career comes with ups and downs, highs and lows, successes and lessons. But find me a career that doesn’t. I think we put too much pressure on ourselves, our jobs, our employers and sometimes even our relationships to make us happy when really it is up to us.
I think we lawyers often expect too much of our careers when it comes to our own happiness. Work as a lawyer will be hard- it is a profession where we spend our days getting people out of chaos, conflict and sometimes life changing situations. We are a ‘helping profession’ but sadly the people we help are rarely ‘happy’ at the time we are working with them. We are often a part of them finding happiness again, but we often will never see the actual impact or result of our hard work.
I like to think I am a ‘happy’ lawyer most of the time. I can be happy without being a lawyer. But at the same time, being a lawyer delivers me the opportunity to find, experience and live so much happiness. Whether it be through the people I meet- my friends, colleagues and clients- through the type of work I get to do- helping people at a time that is so difficult for them- or expressing my creativity, passions and purpose, through writing, teaching and sharing- being a lawyer enables me to tap into and live on a daily basis the things that at the end of the day matter to me. The things, that when they all come together, make me happy.
Imagine if all lawyers were happy, what a world that would be!
Clarissa Rayward is a Divorce Lawyer and the Owner of Brisbane Family Law Centre. Over the past 14 years, Clarissa has worked with over 2000 families during separation and divorce. She specialises in assisting her clients to experience a dignified divorce- staying away from the Court process and finding sustainable agreements for the future. This past year Clarissa has begun to tackle the challenging issue of unhappiness in the legal profession through her writing and weekly Podcast ‘Happy Lawyer Happy Life’ where once a week she interviews lawyers who have found a way to maintain a successful career in the law while not giving up their life outside of their career.
In January 2017 Clarissa published her second book, ‘Happy Lawyer Happy Life- How to the be Happy in Law and Life’ and launched the first ‘Happy Lawyer Happy Life’ online course, helping lawyers nationwide to better understand how they can drive happiness in their careers.
You can order a copy of Clarissa’s Book or find out more about her Online Course and Podcast below.
In 2017 Clarissa Rayward launched ‘The Club’ an online mastermind for entrepreneurial lawyers worldwide. If you are a lawyer, running a practice and looking to make the best of your life in and outside of law the Club might be just what you need!