Vol. 42 No. 6
Mark Harris is the Founder and CEO of Axiom, a 1,000-person new-model legal services firm serving nearly half of the Fortune 100 across eleven offices and four delivery centers globally. Axiom is the world’s largest non-traditional provider of legal services and is the recognized leader in legal industry innovation. Prior to founding Axiom, Mark practiced law at Davis Polk & Wardwell and clerked on the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. He received both his BA and JD from the University of Texas.
I got out of law school in 1996. Research into what makes people happy was then, believe it or not, in its infancy. There has been a lot of study on the topic since. I found my way to happiness as I wandered through my life and career, but it would have been a lot more efficient if someone had handed me the road map. Some of the elements that are clear to me now but nobody told me are:
Work with people who believe what you believe.
Work with people who can make you laugh, and who you love being around. If they seem like space aliens in the interview process, don’t take the job, even if it’s the most sought after one in the marketplace.
Work at something you think you’re good at and that makes time fly. Even if it’s not immediately clear how that will lead to success, it’s far more likely to lead to success than trudging away at something that doesn’t fit you.
Be generous. Because you’ll end up happier if you give more—every study confirms that.
Practice gratitude like it’s an important life project.
I recognize that this might seem like easy advice for me to give, now that I’m on the other side of what seem to be larger-than-life life choices. But I’ve been where you are. I’ve faced graduation and the thousands of dollars in debt from law school, etc. And I made the easy, Big Law choice in order to pay down that debt. That was fine and serviceable for what it was but . . . it was, in the end, the wrong choice for me. If your career choice isn’t ultimately about something more than money (though I recognize its importance) and if your choice doesn’t create a greater sense of fulfillment, then it will be the wrong choice for you as well.
This advice might sound like a series of hoary clichés! But most law grads I speak with are determined to do all the “right” things and are on, I fear, a collision course with unhappiness. That might sound overly dramatic but the evidence is there. According to a recent study by John Hopkins University on the correlation between one’s choice of profession and major cases of depression, the legal industry ranked—yep, you guessed it—number one.
Maybe it seems risky to stare down convention to pursue a path that makes you happy. But what I wish I’d known then . . . is that it’s just the opposite.