Satisfaction in the Practice of Law: Findings from a Long-Term Study of Attorneys' Careers

44 Pages Posted: 5 Jun 2013

Date Written: May 1, 2013


For forty years beginning in the late 1960s, the University of Michigan Law School conducted annual surveys of its alumni. The project included fifty successive graduating classes, with all but the most recent classes surveyed more than once. Over thirteen thousand alumni participated. Over the forty years, American legal education and the American legal profession underwent huge changes. When the study began, there were almost no women or minority students at Michigan and very few in the country as a whole. The vast majority of all students and lawyers were white and male. By the end, white men constituted far less than half of the students not only at Michigan but also at the huge majority of other law school in the United States. Similarly at the beginning of the survey, the overwhelming majority of Michigan graduates and law-school graduates in general began their careers in solo practice or in very small law firms. Few firms with more than one hundred lawyers even existed. By the end, more than half of Michigan students started their careers in firms of more than two hundred, and many started in firms of over a thousand.

This article focuses on a theme that runs through all the graduating years – the varied satisfaction of graduates with their careers. Our findings, though necessarily limited to one school’s graduates, seem likely to apply to the experiences of most practitioners regardless of the school from which they graduated. Some findings may be surprising. We have found, for example, that, among Michigan’s graduates five, fifteen and twenty-five years out of law school, for both men and women, overall work satisfaction is much more closely related to perceptions of the social value of their work and the quality of their relations with co-workers than it is to their satisfaction with income or with their prestige in the community. This finding helps make more explicable another of our findings – that, on the whole, women practitioners are somewhat more satisfied than men – since it appears that, in general, women place a higher priority than men finding employment in settings where the work (as they view it) has comparatively high social value and where they are likely to have especially good relations with coworkers.

Keywords: Practice of Law, Career Satisfaction, Survey, Long-Term, Alumni, University of Michigan

JEL Classification: J28, K19

Suggested Citation

Chambers, David L., Satisfaction in the Practice of Law: Findings from a Long-Term Study of Attorneys' Careers (May 1, 2013). U of Michigan Public Law Research Paper No. 330, Available at SSRN: or

David L. Chambers (Contact Author)

University of Michigan Law School ( email )

625 South State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1215
United States
802-295-5824 (Phone)

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics