What Makes Lawyers Happy?

I came across a new research paper today via SSRN titled, “What Makes Lawyers Happy? Transcending the Anecdotes with Data from 6200 Lawyers“.

The legal profession has done a much better job of addressing (or at least discussing) the issue of lawyer well-being in recent years. And thank-goodness for that! We are all very aware of the unfavourable statistics regarding mental health, substance abuse, and the general unhappiness that can show on some faces. So the idea of quantifying these factors — both positive and negative — cited by practitioners seems like a practical piece of work.

The paper is a worthy skim for most (and a detailed review for others). Though I’m not sure the findings will surprise many:

  • Making more money, which law school you went to, the corresponding debt load, making law review, or the ranking of your law school itself — all of them — “showed zero to small correlations with lawyer well-being.”
  • Having work that was enjoyable, interesting, or that connects with one’s core values — factored very highly.
  • Psychological factors related to self, others, and meaningful, personally engaging work were far more predictive of well-being than external factors relating to competitive standing, honors, or financial rewards.
  • Every external factor measured in the study scored lower than every internal or psychological factor measured (autonomy, competence, relating to others, internal motivation)
  • Public service lawyers were happier and more satisfied than other lawyers, including those in the most prestigious, highly paid positions.
  • The authors also point out that it’s these external factors that law schools (and some firms) hold so highly; and which form the basis of culture and recruitment efforts.

Lots to points for further discussion here, but I thought the paper is worth noting for anyone looking to substantiate their work or ideas in this area with actual numbers. It’s a reasonably good sample size.

[HT to Stephanie West Allen who tweeted the link out earlier today.]

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