White collar tops the 2016 happiness survey

White Collar

Happier lawyers are found in niche practice areas, says our 2016 survey, which puts White Collar Crime at the top.

June 2016

This year we asked every associate interviewee how happy they are. They gave us a response out of ten. They also gave us a rating for how happy they expected to be before they arrived, which improved comparison, giving the ratings a little more relativity. 

We arranged every response by the practice area the associate worked in. Here are the results:

The happiest practice areas

Pursuing shady businessmen – or women – turns out to be a real hoot, says our survey. After sorting each associate into 15 broad practice groups, white-collar crime came out as the clear winner. 

 

Happiest associates by practice area

Rating out of 10

1

White-collar crime

8.28

2

Real estate

8.19

3

Government & regulatory

8.00

4

Healthcare

7.94

5

Tech, media & telecoms

7.94

6

Labor & Employment

7.93

7

Intellectual Property

7.86

8

Banking & finance

7.84

9

Projects & Energy

7.76

10

Tax

7.74

11

Corporate

7.72

12

Insurance

7.63

13

Bankruptcy

7.62

14

Litigation

7.61

15

Antitrust

7.54

Tech, media and telecoms lawyers are also a remarkable 22% happier than they expected to be. Both these areas and a few others at the top of the tables represent the more specialized areas populated by smaller numbers of lawyers. Lower down we find the areas that swallow up JDs in their thousands: corporate; litigation; finance. But let’s not rush to conclude that the masses of litigators and corporate lawyers are less happy; rather, being on a smaller team with greater responsibility, autonomy, and likelihood of making partner are deciding factors here – and less so the subject matter, we would argue.  In fact our advice before you start shortlisting firms is to pick a practice area that inspires you: a lawyer should always choose their subject matter because it’s one of the few things they have control over. Do this early on, and natural enthusiasm will get you through interviews and guarantee you a more rewarding career.

 

Most pleasantly surprised associates, by practice area

Happier than expected %

1

Tech, media & telecoms

21.9%

2

White-collar crime

17.8%

3

Labor & Employment

16.8%

4

Insurance

16.3%

5

Government & regulatory

14.8%

6

Healthcare

13.6%

7

Banking & finance

12.5%

8

Tax

12.4%

9

Real estate

12.2%

10

Litigation

11.5%

11

Corporate

10.7%

12

Intellectual Property

8.1%

13

Bankruptcy

5.7%

14

Projects & Energy

4.5%

15

Antitrust

4.1%

The most stressed practice areas

Note that in many cases the most stressful practices are some of the least happy, as we’d expect. But there are a few exceptions: in particular tech, media, telecoms and healthcare, where associates are both stressed and happy. This isn’t uncommon in the law: stress doesn’t necessarily trample on happiness. The hundreds of self-defined ‘type A’ characters we speak to tell us that stress motivates them to achieve. The law firms that apply pressure in the right way get some of the best results from their associates; the firms that manage its effects well are some of the most successful in the market.

 

Most stressed associates, by practice area

Rating out of 10

1

Healthcare

6.17

2

Tech, media & telecoms

6.14

3

Bankruptcy

6.14

4

Banking & finance

6.08

5

Corporate

5.83

6

Tax

5.76

7

Labor & Employment

5.61

8

Antitrust

5.61

9

Litigation

5.57

10

Projects & Energy

5.48

11

Intellectual Property

5.38

12

Insurance

5.31

13

Government & regulatory

5.18

14

Real estate

5.03

15

White-collar crime

5.00

The Happiest Law Firms

What other factors determine happiness as a lawyer?