Recent findings from a long-term survey of attorneys' careers finds that "[m]oney and prestige aren’t key to career satisfaction. Instead, work satisfaction is more closely related to the law grads’ perceptions of the social value of their work and the quality of their relations with co-workers and superiors, according to the study author, University of Michigan law professor David Chambers."
From the abstract of the paper, the authors note that "on the whole, women practitioners are somewhat more satisfied than men – since it appears that, in general, women place a higher priority than men finding employment in settings where the work (as they view it) has comparatively high social value and where they are likely to have especially good relations with coworkers."
It also appears that the longer attorneys practice, the more satisfied they are with their careers. "With just a few exceptions, the longer lawyers had been out of law school, the more satisfied they were overall with their careers. At the extremes, 83 percent of those who graduated 45 years before, but only 46 percent of five-year grads, reported themselves quite positive overall. The finding is consistent with research finding that older workers in general, and older lawyers in particular, are more satisfied than younger workers and lawyers."
So the secrets of a happy legal career are 1) find social value in your work, 2) get along with your coworkers and superiors, 3) be a woman, and 4) practice for a long period of time.
In all seriousness, these are good things for new attorneys to consider. Try to find work that has social value (even if you make less money). It may be rough in the early years, but the longer you keep at it, the happier you'll be. And be pleasant at work and get along with the people that you have to spend a large majority of your life with.
ABAJournal -- Want career satisfaction? Don't chase money and prestige, lawyer survey suggests