Are We Having Fun Yet?

I used to think having fun was a luxury I could not afford. After all, a lawyer’s preferred career path was to spend three years and more than $100,000 to go to an Ivy League law school, bill 2,600+ hours a year at a top firm for eight years and make partner.

Maybe.

It was deferred gratification on steroids. If you weren’t quite so fortunate, if you didn’t go to a top law school or bill 70 hours a week at a Wall Street firm, if you had a few hours free on the weekends to date or work out, what gave you the right to complain that you weren’t really enjoying the 60 hours you spent each week in the office?

So, do we lawyers deserve better? Is the pursuit of happiness a right inalienable even to us? And is it too much for us to ask that we enjoy what we do when we practice law?

As I get closer to my retirement than my law school graduation, I often think that life might have been more fulfilling if I made having fun a priority—a necessary, if not sufficient, requirement for any job I would consider.

You see, I am a lucky guy. I was not burdened with thousands of dollars of student loans. I had good health, supportive parents and a small but tight circle of friends. I knew myself well enough to know that I didn’t want to bust my butt making the grade at a prestigious Wall Street firm, so I opted instead to work at a couple of respected but not as highly esteemed medium-sized establishments.  Then I enjoyed a pretty successful career as an in-house counsel. I have a great family and we are comfortable, if not wealthy.  

Now it’s time to enjoy my job. I think I deserve it. I’m also afraid that, if I don’t, I won’t want to go to work anymore or I won’t be as productive as I need to be. Even if I could get by for a while, is all work and no play a sustainable equilibrium?

My son works at a start-up in San Francisco. He works hard but he enjoys it. It’s not just that they do fun things to spice up the work day, like happy hours and ping pong and arm-wrestling on Friday afternoons. It’s that they recognize that work has to be fun to attract millennials in a very competitive job market. Great leadership, good products and tons of enthusiasm. Unlimited vacation days and people come to work anyway because they believe in what they are doing and they enjoy doing it.

So how does this translate to the legal job market?

Let’s start with the fact that law school enrollment is dwindling. It seems that some prospective students believe that three more years of schooling topped with several years paying off student loans is not the best investment. It doesn’t help that law firms have been taking on fewer recruits. Does one take on a six-figure debt without the guarantee of a six-figure salary?

In this market, if you do decide to attend law school notwithstanding, and you make it through, you may be lucky to get a job, let alone a fun one.

Does that mean you don’t deserve to have fun on the job?  Not at all.  It just means that it may be more of a challenge. You may have to suck it up for a while, deferring gratification until your debts are paid. However, I would argue, if you don’t believe you are entitled to have fun—indeed, that it is necessary for long-term sustainability—then you will not achieve, or succeed, or ascend.

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