Measuring Lawyer Well-Being Systematically: Evidence from the National Health Interview Survey

Journal of Empirical Legal Studies Forthcoming

Yale Law School, Public Law Research Paper

49 Pages Posted: 5 Aug 2020 Last revised: 9 Sep 2020

Date Written: August 4, 2020

Abstract

Conventional wisdom says that lawyers are uniquely unhappy. Unfortunately, this conventional wisdom rests on a weak empirical foundation. The “unhappy lawyers” narrative relies on nonrandom survey data collected from volunteer respondents. Instead of depending on such data, researchers should study lawyer mental health by relying on large microdata sets of public health data, such as the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) administered by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. The NHIS includes data from 100-200 lawyers per year. By aggregating years, an adequate sample size of lawyers can readily be obtained, with much greater confidence that the lawyers in the sample resemble the true population of U.S. lawyers. When we examine the NHIS data, we find that, contrary to the conventional wisdom, lawyers are not particularly unhappy. Indeed, they suffer rates of mental illness much lower than the general population. Lawyer mental health is not significantly different than the mental health of similarly-educated professionals, such as doctors and dentists. Rates of problematic alcohol use among lawyers, however, are high, even when compared to the general population. Moreover, problematic use of alcohol among lawyers has grown increasingly common over the last fifteen years. These sometimes surprising and nuanced findings demonstrate the value of relying on more reliable data such as the NHIS.

Keywords: legal profession, mental health, NHIS, National Health Interview Survey

JEL Classification: K00, K1, K10, K40, K49

Suggested Citation

Listokin, Yair and Noonan, Ray, Measuring Lawyer Well-Being Systematically: Evidence from the National Health Interview Survey (August 4, 2020). Journal of Empirical Legal Studies Forthcoming, Yale Law School, Public Law Research Paper, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3667322

Yair Listokin (Contact Author)

Yale Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States
203-436-2567 (Phone)

Ray Noonan

Yale Law School

127 Wall Street
New Haven, CT 06510
United States

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