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Scholars Debate: Is Law a Picnic?

Are lawyers unhappy? From a scholarly perspective, one might think the question is right up there with, "Do dogs bite?" and "Is grass green?" But thanks to Jeffrey M. Lipshaw at Legal Profession Blog, we learn that legal scholars are examining the evidence -- and coming to different conclusions.

One recent paper, Young Associates in Trouble, by David T. Zaring of Washington and Lee University School of Law and William D. Henderson of Indiana University School of Law at Bloomington, considers two recent novels about unhappy associates at large law firms in light of available data and empirical studies. They conclude that "firm life is no picnic, and that it can be even less picnic-like the more prestigious and profitable the outfit."

But compare that against the findings of an ongoing study being conducted by Harvard Law School professor David B. Wilkins and the HLS Center on Lawyers and the Professional Services Industry. Called "After the JD," the study is tracking 4,000 lawyers in the first decade of their careers. As reported in the Harvard Law Bulletin, it is discovering that law can be picnic-like, at least in terms of career satisfaction.

"Job satisfaction is one aspect of the responses that Wilkins finds most interesting. According to the study, and contrary to what many believe, there is 'no evidence' of 'any pervasive unhappiness in the profession,' he says—at least not among those who began practicing in 2000. To the contrary, in that group, nearly three-quarters reported being 'satisfied' or 'very satisfied' with their jobs."

Lipshaw references several other sources who contribute further material to the debate, including his wife, an MPH, who advises him with regard to depression among lawyers, "[T]here's no way you can tell ... whether depression-inclined people self-select to be lawyers, or being a lawyer causes or exacerbates depression."

The bottom line, perhaps, is that the evidence as to lawyers' happiness vel non is inconclusive. Which leads Lipshaw to a conclusion of a different sort:

"[A]ll of this to say that we need to be very careful, particularly as law professors, in describing the world as we think it is, and in figuring out how our view of the 'ought' affects it, if that is at all possible."

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on March 2, 2007 at 05:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

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