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Thursday, March 13, 2014

What Makes Lawyers Happy? A Study

My colleague and guru, Larry Krieger, has this very cool new paper up on SSRN (co-written with K. Sheldon), and in the space of a couple weeks, it's already received an avalanche of downloads. Here's the abstract. Smart law review editors should want to get their paws on this since it will be cited a zillion times.

"Attorney well-being and depression are topics of great concern, but there has been no theory-driven empirical research to guide lawyers and law students seeking well-being. This article reports a unique study establishing a hierarchy of five tiers of factors for lawyer well-being, including choices in law school, legal career, and personal life, and psychological needs and motivations established by Self-Determination Theory. Data from several thousand lawyers in four states show striking patterns, repeatedly indicating that common priorities on law school campuses and among lawyers are confused or misplaced. Factors typically afforded most attention and concern, those relating to prestige and money (income, law school debt, class rank, law review, and USNWR law school ranking) showed zero to small correlations with lawyer well-being. Conversely, factors marginalized in law school and seen in previous research to erode in law students (psychological needs and motivation) were the very strongest predictors of lawyer happiness and satisfaction. Lawyers were grouped by practice type and setting to further test these findings. The group with the lowest incomes and grades in law school, public service lawyers, had stronger autonomy and purpose and were happier than those in the most prestigious positions and with the highest grades and incomes. Additional measures raised concerns: subjects did not broadly agree that judge and lawyer behavior is professional, nor that the legal process reaches fair outcomes. Specific explanations and recommendations for lawyers, law teachers, and legal employers are drawn from the data, and direct implications for attorney productivity and professionalism are explained."

Posted by Administrators on March 13, 2014 at 11:15 AM in Article Spotlight, Funky FSU | Permalink


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I may be an aberration, but what made me happy about my work when I was practicing law was being liked by my bosses and being told I was on the right track and had a long-term future wherever I was. That was more important than income or anything else.

Posted by: ML | Mar 14, 2014 11:53:40 AM

"Since income can provide comfort and reduce financial stress, we expected increasing income (and decreasing law school debt, as an inverse wealth factor) in the current sample to modestly predict well-being. The data were supportive, showing almost identical, small-to-moderate correlations with WB for both factors (income, r = .192; debt, -.189, both round to .19; p < .001). ***Further analysis showed that the negative association of debt with WB was stronger for younger lawyers.*** This would certainly be expected, since law school costs and incurred debt would be less for older lawyers, and those lawyers would also have higher incomes as a result of more years in practice."

The abstract would lead you to believe that money and debt are unimportant in the minds of the 6800 lawyers they sampled, but the correlation between happiness and the money to live while servicing one's debt is fairly strong. They indicate that the negative association of debt with well-being is stronger for younger attorneys, i.e., what today's prospective students will become, probably because their debt is so much higher with salaries remaining stagnant.

This paper, of course, says nothing about the negative effects of well-being experienced by those JDs who wanted to be practicing attorneys and had no real chance of becoming one.

Posted by: Morse Code for J | Mar 14, 2014 10:08:10 AM

This lawyer happiness thing is relevant to my interests.

Posted by: Bobbo McBobertsonton | Mar 13, 2014 8:40:02 PM

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