What Makes Lawyers Happy? Transcending the Anecdotes with Data from 6200 Lawyers
Lawrence S. Krieger
Florida State University College of Law
Kennon M. Sheldon
University of Missouri at Columbia - Department of Psychological Sciences
February 20, 2014
The George Washington University Law Review, Vol. 83 (2015 Forthcoming)
FSU College of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 667
Attorney well-being and depression are topics of ongoing concern, but there has been no theory-driven empirical research to guide lawyers and law students seeking well-being. The researchers gathered detailed data from several thousand lawyers in four states, to measure a variety of factors considered likely to impact lawyer well-being. These factors included choices and achievements in law school, legal career, and personal life, and psychological needs and motivations established by Self-Determination Theory. Results are standardized and organized into five tiers of well-being factors. They suggest that the priorities and values of law students, lawyers, law schools, and law firms are often misplaced, with apparent negative impacts on lawyer well-being and, by extension, performance, productivity, and professionalism. Factors typically afforded most attention and concern, those relating to prestige and finances (income, law school debt, class rank, law review, and USNWR law school ranking) showed zero to small correlations with lawyer well-being. Conversely, factors typically marginalized in law school and seen in previous research to erode in law students (psychological needs, internal motivation and intrinsic values) were the very strongest predictors of lawyer happiness and satisfaction. Lawyers were grouped by practice type and setting to further test these findings. Despite markedly lower law school grades and current income, public service lawyers had healthier autonomy, purpose, and values and were happier than lawyers in the most prestigious positions (and who had the highest law school 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 the relationships between well-being, productivity, and professionalism are discussed.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 56
Date posted: February 22, 2014 ; Last revised: May 30, 2014
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