10 min read
Updated: June 24, 2021

How Can Attorneys Be Happy in Their Practice?

I'm imagining myself being an attorney. Here is the journey I had to take to become one. I go to undergrad. Then I go to law school. I accumulate quite a bit in student loans. And then I go bust my ass somewhere and I'm making like 50 grand a year. I just made a huge investment and I'm making 50 grand a year. Then some time passes and I start making 70 grand a year...

Natalie: Hi, everyone. My name is Natalie.

Sasha: Hey, and I’m Sasha Berson.

Natalie: Today I have a question. I read an article recently that attorneys are … a lot of attorneys, 70% of attorneys are not happy. They’re not happy in their practice.

Sasha: Like clinically depressed not happy or just not happy?

Natalie: They are depressed. What’s interesting is that they are even more not happy than surgeons or doctors. They have problems with alcohol, they have depression, so …

Sasha: Are we pointing any fingers or no? So …

Natalie: So how can attorneys be happy in their practice?

Sasha: I’m not a psychologist but I love the field of psychology, and having had the experience of working with many attorneys, and only focusing on the business side of things, but let me talk about some facts before I start rendering my opinions.

Sasha: I’m imagining myself being an attorney. Here is the journey I had to take to become one. I go to undergrad. Then I go to law school. I accumulate quite a bit in student loans. And then I go bust my ass somewhere and I’m making like 50 grand a year. I just made a huge investment and I’m making 50 grand a year. Then some time passes and I start making 70 grand a year. Then some time passes and I’m making 80 grand a year. And when I’m like really well established, I’m making 119.

Sasha: The reason why I say 119 is because according to the stats published by Bureau of Labor Statistics for recent years, a median income for attorneys in the United States is $119,000, which by the way … Huh?

Natalie: No way.

Sasha: Yeah, it is. It is, yeah. Which by the way is less than law school costs nowadays. Most law schools are way more than that. If you add undergrad to law school, you could be in well over $200,000, and then like after many years of practicing law you make like 120. Then you take taxes off of that. If you live in our state, State of Illinois, you’re probably like out of another 30% or so.

Sasha: In other words, I’m only looking at strictly from a business standpoint, attorneys don’t make much money for the effort that they have to put in, and what I’ve seen, most of the attorneys don’t work 40 hours week. They work quite a bit more. So overworked and underpaid for the amount of investment they have to make to get there and the amount of investment in terms of practice that they have to put in to get to that threshold of 119 is quite astounding.

Sasha: By the way, living in many major metropolitan areas, I would say that 119 is not a huge amount of money. You now need, if you have a family of four, you definitely need two incomes to survive.

Sasha: Strictly from a business standpoint I think that many attorneys are not very happy because, one, they’re not making great amount of money, two, they see their peers who are very good at the business of law rather than just practice of law make a ton more money, just a ton more money. Attorneys that are very good at the business of law, we saw stats. They’re at like $500,000 plus to infinity if they’re really good at the business of law.

Sasha: Comparatively, the guys and gals that went through this whole ordeal of going through undergrad, to law school, and then practicing many years, now make 120, they’re underperforming so that can’t feel terribly good, and in addition to that, business is hard because you have to go out there and either get clients or you have to wait for referrals. Those referrals are usually sparse. They don’t come in every day or every week, so business is always up and down, up and down. For most self-employed attorneys that up and down is really mind-boggling because like many other professional service businesses, there’s that feast or famine, and it happens because, first, we’ll look for clients. Then we get clients. Then we’re really busy providing the service and wouldn’t have time to look for clients. Then when we become less busy we start looking for clients and it takes a while to get more new clients, so we go … Like I’d be depressed if I had that.

Sasha: In fact, I had a business where I had that for the first few years. Not a good time. A lot of sleepless nights. Looking at the happiness factor … By the way, 10 or 11 years ago, I walked into Blockbuster. Remember those stores? There was a guy who had a very memorable t-shirt. I don’t remember t-shirts like ever, except for that guy. His t-shirt was yellow and in green letters it said: Happiness is positive cash flow. I really remember that one because as a business owner of many years I’m like, “Hell, yeah, positive cash flow is definitely,” and here’s a quote that I remember from Denzel Washington. I don’t remember any other quotes from Denzel Washington, I promise, but I remember that one. When asked if money equals happiness he said, “Absolutely not, but it’s one hell of a down payment.” I really agree with him. It really helps to have money as a down payment to happiness.

Sasha: I think that to be happier in your practice, whatever aspect of law that you practice in, you got to have a really nice cash flow, positive cash flow. And to do that you have to be at the top 3% of attorneys that really get good at the business of law. I can tell you that to get good at the business of law, just like in any other business, you do not have to be the best attorney out there. Just like McDonald’s doesn’t make the best burger, Franzia doesn’t make the best wine and many other examples in the business world.

Sasha: What you have to get really good at are two things. One is marketing, also known as attracting new clients and bringing back former clients if that is applicable to your practice area, and two, you have to be really good and articulate at talking to them, having that initial discovery conversation before they hire you. This is a sales process or helping process where you help them understand whether you are for them and they are for you.

Sasha: Those that are very good at attracting prospective clients and making more of them than not into their real paying customers, those are the ones at that 3%, the ones that make half a million dollars or more. And that to me as far as the business world goes is the key to happiness because it really is a nice down payment on happiness if you make 500k or more per year.

Sasha: I don’t know if I answered your question. I’m not a psychologist or a psychiatrist, but as far as the business of law goes, this is definitely a big chunk of happiness. Working smart, getting more business, making more money is definitely key to being a happier law practicing attorney.

Natalie: Okay. Thanks.

Sasha: That’s a wrap. Thanks for watching.


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About the Author
Sasha Berson
Sasha serves as Managing Partner and VP of Client Solutions for Comrade Digital Marketing, a Chicago-based marketing agency dedicated to solving client’s most pressing digital challenges.
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