Before my recent retirement at the ripe old age of 65, I was a lawyer—a commercial litigator—practicing for almost 40 years. And I’m grateful, on a number of levels, for a number of things. One of the things I learned, however, is that the life of a lawyer is not perfect.
Lately, I’ve come around to thinking that maybe I was asking the wrong question, or using the wrong metric. The practice of law has never been a question of perfection. It is (and was) about happiness.–a big word (9 letters and 3 syllables) that for a lot of us, is not very well defined.
Happiness has been written about by a lot of writers who are more thoughtful and articulate than I am. Like the authors of a report published by the United Nations since 2012, known as the World Happiness Report, from which I’d like to quote a few paragraphs in the Introduction to the original Report, under the sub-heading titled, “Taking Happiness Seriously.”
“Most people agree that societies should foster the happiness of their citizens. The U.S. Founding Fathers recognized the inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness. British philosophers talked about the greatest good for the greatest number. Bhutan has famously adopted the goal of Gross National Happiness (GNH) rather than Gross National Product. China champions a harmonious society,
“Yet most people probably believe that happiness is in the eye of the beholder, an individual’s choice, something to be pursued individually rather than as a matter of national policy. Happiness seems far too subjective, too vague, to serve as a touchstone for a nation’s goals, much less its policy content. That indeed has been the traditional view. Yet the evidence is changing this view rapidly.
“A generation of studies by psychologists, economists, pollsters, sociologists, and others has shown that happiness, though a subjective experience, can be objectively measured, assessed, correlated with observable brain functions, and related to the characteristics of an individual and the society… It can suggest the need for change.
“Such is the idea of the emerging scientific study of happiness, whether of individuals and the choices they make or of entire societies…. The former is sometimes called, “affective happiness”, and the latter “evaluative happiness.”
So I got to thinking: If the UN takes happiness seriously enough to write an annual report that uses it as a measure of various countries in the world, why can’t we lawyers do the same for our profession? Happiness surely has a place in the practice of law, and as the American Bar Association (“ABA”) put it in The Path to Lawyer Wellbeing report (authored by the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being):
“Although the legal profession has known for years that many of its students and practitioners are languishing, far too little has been done to address it…
“We offer three reasons to take action: organizational effectiveness, ethical integrity, and humanitarian concerns…
“The benefits of increased lawyer well-being are compelling and the cost of lawyer impairment are too great to ignore…”
Let’s listen to the ABA’s call for action. And let’s take the UN’s annual happiness reports seriously. Instead of catching up on my reading, or volunteering (both of which I intend to do), I swallowed hard and started The Mindful Law Coaching & Consulting Group to promote mindfulness and meditation in the legal profession.
Neither mindfulness nor meditation is a panacea for everything that ails our profession, but they’re a good place to start, and they are both important components of lawyer well-being, as well as lawyer happiness.
Care to join me?