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Happy Law Students, Happy Lawyers


Nancy Levit


University of Missouri at Kansas City - School of Law

Douglas Linder


University of Missouri at Kansas City - School of Law


Syracuse Law Review, Vol. 58, 2008

Abstract:     
This article draws on research into the science of happiness and asks a series of interrelated questions: Whether law schools can make law students happier? Whether making happier law students will translate into making them happier lawyers, and the accompanying question of whether making law students happier would create better lawyers? After covering the limitations of genetic determinants of happiness and happiness set-points, the article addresses those qualities that happiness research indicates are paramount in creating satisfaction: control, connections, creative challenge (or flow), and comparisons (preferably downward). Those qualities are then applied to legal education, while addressing the larger philosophical question, What if happiness were a goal of law schools?

The authors believe that making law students happier does translate, at least in part, into making them both happier and better lawyers because there is an interplay among happiness, collaboration and professionalism. As just one example: The people who are happier in life are those who give back. There is a distinction between feeling good, the pursuit of pleasure, and doing good, which can lead to more lasting happiness, and a life with meaning. People who have a richer sense of happiness aren't those who work on their narcissistic personal needs, but those who embrace a larger sense of civic engagement. Happily, that dovetails with pro bono obligations in law. A recent ABA survey reported that only 46% of lawyers met the ABA's goal of 50 hours of free pro bono services. Those who did meet the aspirational goal reported a direct correlation between that form of giving back and their own satisfaction.

The article concludes with some concrete suggestions about maximizing student happiness, through addressing some of the career reasons why law students become unhappy lawyers. One of these is, as Daniel Gilbert observed in his book Stumbling on Happiness, that people are bad at forecasting what will make their future selves happy. If law schools address this phenomenon of poor prediction by offering better information on not only paths of career decision-making, salary expectations, and non-practice options but also decision theory and psychological constraints on decision making, this will increase the likelihood that students will more accurately choose how to make their future selves happy.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 27

Keywords: science of happiness, happy lawyers, attorneys, law students, positive psychology, career decisions, professionalism, pro bono, attrition, optimism, control, humanizing legal education, legal education.

JEL Classification: D81, D83, D84, I20, I21, J17, K00, K40

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Date posted: February 21, 2008  

Suggested Citation

Levit, Nancy and Linder, Douglas, Happy Law Students, Happy Lawyers. Syracuse Law Review, Vol. 58, 2008. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1095271

Contact Information

Nancy Levit (Contact Author)
University of Missouri at Kansas City - School of Law ( email )
5100 Rockhill Road
Kansas City, MO 64110-2499
United States
Douglas Linder
University of Missouri at Kansas City - School of Law ( email )
5100 Rockhill Road
Kansas City, MO 64110-2499
United States
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