Lawyers are among the unhappiest workers in the country and nearly half (49%) would consider changing career, according to new research.

The City & Guilds Happiness Index found that only 5% of lawyers are very happy in their job, with stress and feelings of being undervalued, undermined and underpaid cited as the main reasons for their discontent. Some 33% felt they are not suited to the role, while more than a quarter (28%) sometimes regret their choice of career.

Commenting on the findings, Hilary Tilby, chief executive of LawCare, the confidential advisory and support service for lawyers, said: ‘It doesn’t surprise me one iota. The pressures on lawyers can be enormous.’

She continued: ‘The legal personality is obsessive. Lawyers tend to be very driven and impose the highest possible standards on themselves and the work/life balance is ignored.’

Hairdressers came top of the happiness league with the clergy in second place. Chefs, beauticians and plumbers completed the top five places, followed by mechanics, builders and electricians.

Estate agents and civil servants came below lawyers, but architects were found to be the most miserable workers.

Ms Tilby said the happiest workers are in jobs where they have control over their workflow and are appreciated by their clients. ‘Lawyers often lack control over their workflow and it is rare for a firm or client to say thank you – it is taken for granted that they will do a good job,’ she claimed.

The research was carried out in February 2005 based on a sample of 1,249 employees; 617 were in vocational occupations and 632 in academic professions, of which 43 were lawyers.

Ms Tilby said: ‘Many lawyers feel trapped; they have invested so much time and money into getting where they are, they feel guilty about leaving or think they are not fit for anything else, which only adds to their stress.’

LawCare’s Web site advises lawyers to review their situation before taking any drastic action and consider taking time off, working differently, doing further training or changing firm.

For those in need of a change but who lack ideas, the Web site provides a list of ‘101 other things a lawyer could do’, which includes: teaching, the police, or becoming a novelist, a stockbroker, a coroner or a marriage guidance consultant.

Finally, it advises: ‘Try to remember you are a worthwhile human being as well as being a well educated and highly trained professional.’