ED: Nowadays the term “success” is normally defined in economic terms, related to who has a high status or who has the best prestige and I think it’s all a final product of what being a lawyer means to society. How would you define the concept of “success”?
JCS: Well, that certainty is not a definition for success; in fact it is very interesting that we have learned from research in recent years that the least happy lawyers are frequently the ones from the highest income. We actually have research on this and the research shows that lawyers need to have a certain level of income to have security. Without that security they are not going to have happiness. But once they have reached that level of security and income continues to climb, then, happiness goes down. It’s fascinating! So we know for sure what success is not and it is not making a lot of money. Lawyers however make a serious mistake; they often approach the practice of law as a competitive game, just like sports. And how do they score? They score with dollars. So they think that they will be the most successful lawyer or have the most successful law firm if they have the most money. That is very unfortunate because they are actually becoming less and less happy, and they never have enough. They always want to score more! So in that pursuit, they have completely lost the art of contentment, the art of satisfaction.
So if money is not success, what is success? Well, “success”, I think, most of all, is finding consistency, between ones values and ones personal and professional pursuits. In teaching law students in the U.S, this course preparing lawyers for life, I say to my students, “I’m not going to tell you if you should go to this practice of law or that practice of law, there are many choices, many options.” But this is what I will say, “you must select a path that is consistent with your values, so if your values say ‘I want money, that is the most important value in my life’, ok I don’t agree with that, but that is your choice, but if money is your choice, then of course select a path that will bring the most money”. But if your path relates to working with children or working in a small private practice or in a big corporate one or in legal assistance for the poor, whatever moves your heart that is the path you must take. If you take a career path that is consistent with your values, you will have waved the foundation for happiness. If you don’t, if there really is a big separation between your values and your career path, you have almost guaranteed unhappiness. You will go to work every day and you will have don’ts upon what you are doing, you will have reservations, you will have discomfort, you will feel that heart is not in your work, and that is foundation for professional unhappiness. So the first thing for happiness is to find consistency between your career path and your personal values.
Second, just as important as the first, is finding the right relationship between your professional life and personal life. A lawyer cannot be happy if his marriage is unhappy, if his relationship with children and close friends are unhappy. So, first and foremost, I believe, every good lawyer must focus on the home. Are things ok with my spouse? Are things ok with health? Are things ok with the children? Are things ok with friends and family? If that’s in place, and professional pursuits are in consistency with happiness, we have the two foundations for happiness.
ED: You were talking about generational changes, and you mentioned that the new lawyer’s generation has more issues related with depression, suicide, divorce. What has produced this change between generations?
JCS: As I mentioned, the research shows that if we go back approximately 25 years, lawyers, according to the research were at about the average level in the measures of happiness among all the professions. So they were about in the middle of depression, divorce, and suicide; and, in 25 years they jumped to the first. Well we are not entirely sure, but we think we know some of the key facts. Perhaps the most important was the increase in pressure on lawyers, pressure to make money, and as that pressure grew and grew, lawyers were being forced to more and more hours. The result of working more and more hours was, of course, that they had less time for their own lives, for their families, so they where being pulled away form their homes, which were so very important.
Now there are lawyers who might deny that, but if they can, they will acknowledge that the billable hours in the US are crazy. They cannot be fulfilled in an honest way; they certainly cannot be completed in an honest way that allows time with family. You can simply to the arithmetic, and in big law firms in big cities in the U.S, where so many tens of thousands of lawyers work, they simply cant fulfill the number of hours they are required to bill. Simply chart the number of hours they are required to bill and you will find that they can’t possibly do it. There is not time for family, there is no time for lunch, there is no time to go to bathroom and they are being pushed and pushed to produce more and more hours to the extent that it is virtually impossible to produce at that rate for more than a few days. This, in turn, causes physical exhaustion and mental exhaustion, so the quality of their work suffers; and, it has caused what we believe to be the single worst working crisis that had led the most depression, suicides and drug abuse. A lawyer working under those conditions can no longer be honest.
Forgive me for going on, but after all lawyers are usually very fine people with high ideals that decided to go into law because they have sense of idealism, a sense of justice, a desire to help and serve people, they are usually very fine people of good ethical and moral quality, and suddenly they are being told to work so hard, that they cant have healthy life; work so many hours that they can’t do honest work and ethically they they feel compromised. Morally they feel torn into pieces, and we believe that leads to profound distress. It leads them into crisis, it leads into literally lose sleep and feel they have surrendered their integrity. And we believe that this has lead lawyers to depressions and suicide.