Practice Tips from Happy Public Lawyers

Katherine Mikkelson

Lawyer discontent is common. Many of us know colleagues and law school classmates who are generally dissatisfied practicing law. What is particularly interesting, however, is that public-sector lawyers are happier than their private-sector counterpoints, according to a 2015 survey by Florida State University law professor Lawrence Krieger and University of Missouri psychology professor Kennon Sheldon. More than 7,800 bar members in four states responded to the survey, and the authors obtained 6,200 complete responses. The survey found that lawyers in “prestige” jobs (those working in firms of more than 100 lawyers and those working in areas such as corporate, tax, patent, securities, estate-planning and plaintiff’s tort law) were less satisfied than lawyers working in public-service jobs (defined as legal-aid lawyers, prosecutors, public defenders, government lawyers and in-house lawyers for nonprofits) despite significantly higher salaries.

Intrigued, we asked our members for practical tips that lead to job satisfaction. All of the public lawyers with whom we spoke have been in practice for 10 years or more. Read on to glean some wisdom from these savvy veterans. 

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