Are Finnish Lawyers the Happiest in the World?

Thinking Ahead

Posted on

4 Apr


Dittmar & Indrenius > Insight > Are Finnish Lawyers the Happiest in the World?

We Finns are the happiest people on the planet! For the seventh consecutive year the World Happiness Report concludes that people in Finland are happier than in any other country.

We have an open and transparent society, a democracy that works reasonably well, and our society seeks to provide equal opportunities for all when it comes to e.g. education and healthcare. We have hardly any corruption and we have a Nordic welfare model which is financed through a level of taxation that leads to relatively small differences between the ”haves” and the ”have-nots”.

Everyone in our scarcely populated country lives close to nature. We are all children of the forests and lakes, used to rough conditions, dark and cold at times, requiring us to work hard and smart and forcing us to trust each other. No-one can survive our long winter alone, without the help of neighbours and friends.

What may also contribute to our happiness is that we don’t carry the burden of an old civilisation that through old traditions would set strict expectations and rules on our behaviour. We are free to do things in new ways and be creative.

So how about lawyers in the happiest country on earth – are they the happiest lawyers on the planet?

According to an article headed “Want to be happy? Then don’t be a lawyer” in the Washington Post last year, lawyers are the unhappiest people on the planet, at least when it comes to their jobs. The article was based on an analysis of data on the happiest and unhappiest workers in the US. There are other studies suggesting that the choice of career doesn’t really affect your prospects for happiness, but that going into law decreases your chances of happiness.

The reason may be that we lawyers always play the role of devil’s advocate: Constantly focused on the risks, the downside and on everything that could go wrong. Our role is to allow our clients to focus on and be excited about the upside and the positives in life. It is true, our clients turn to us to mitigate risks, so we really do need to focus on the downside. At the same time we need to be creative in finding safe solutions to avoid all the potential pitfalls.

Today I think that many lawyers would say that they focus equally on opportunities as they do on risks, but I do believe that it will always be our role to think ahead – to avoid negative surprises.

When you look at the Finnish legal market compared to any larger market, it may look idyllic. In comparison to London or New York, Helsinki can seem like a peaceful town and Finnish lawyers may appear to work less and with more focus on work-life-balance. Our legal community is small, people know each other and there is a high level of loyalty and trust between most lawyers. This makes things smoother and less complicated.

Nevertheless, our legal market is quite competitive, and I believe that we have a number of firms whose quality of work is comparable to the best firms in many larger jurisdictions. We do struggle with some of the same challenges that our colleagues face in other jurisdictions. Stress, mental health and work-life-balance are all common themes in the leading Helsinki law firms.

One aspect of our Nordic societies is that it is not so common to pay for support running our family lives. The Nordic ideal is that no-one should have to take care of anyone else’s household and that we all should take care of our own kids outside the public day cares and schools. Paying for support and even cleaning services can by some be looked upon as a failure. Everyone should be able to run their own households, a view that ensures a certain focus on work-life balance, but does not necessarily improve happiness.

So what is the secret behind our happiness?

Some say that a true pessimist is often positively surprised.

I guess we Finns do not typically have very high expectations, when it comes to acquiring riches, for example. Rather, we do appreciate the small and simple things in life. I believe that this goes for most Finns, including most lawyers.

So yes, I do think that we Finnish lawyers are the happiest lawyers on the planet!

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