Ask Not What Your Profession Can Do for You, Ask What You Can Do for Your Profession

In “Of lawyers, law schools, and the keeping of the gates”, Dean Ian Holloway points out the high rate of depression in the profession and asks:

Are we producing lawyers who have the right personalities for the profession they’re joining?… Depression. Alcoholism. Suicide. Together, they are a tremendous plague on our vocation, and a condemnation of how we select our successors. Don’t we owe it to ourselves — and to them — to do better?

The emphasis on numbers (grades and LSAT scores) at the exclusion of testing for “resilience, grit, or mental toughness” means that we are admitting students that may not be suited to the profession. Resilience and the ability to delay gratification are keys to success in the competitive legal market.

However, no test, no personal statement, no interview can truly capture such soft skills like resilience. And no personality is perfect for the profession. There are many types of law, many types of clients, and many types of employers.

Instead of trying to weed out for resilience, law schools should focus on encouraging students to adopt the attitude promoted in the Happy Lawyer by Nancy Levit and Douglas Linder in order to become a happier lawyer. Levit and Douglas encourage readers to:

  1. Make sure your job is one that matters to you. Choose meaningful work over busy work. Try to become a key player in your firm and legal community.
  2. Think about the way your job positively affects other people. Identify how your work bettered lives.
  3. Strive for a comfortable work-life balance. Be willing to sacrifice income if necessary (it won’t matter).
  4. Work to make your job more secure. Know and become friends with those control your fate.
  5. Take control over your work product and work space.
  6. Connect with people… choose face-to-face work when possible.
  7. If happiness seems possible in your job, commit to that job. Don’t always look for greener grass (water your own).
  8. Increase the frequency of your “flow experiences”.
  9. Avoid making upwards comparisons…Find out what experiences have made other lawyers happy.
  10. Know your strengths and what gives you pleasure… do them more often.
  11. Align your work with your values.

Law students can begin adopting this approach while in law school. In particular, they should strive to become key members of the legal community. Law students should be encouraged from day one to ask themselves “what can I do for the profession?”.

One way law students can contribute to the profession is through sharing their fresh perspectives on the law. Newer members of the legal profession are better able to spot the oddities and the absurdities. The longer lawyers are exposed to the system, the more desensitized they become, and the harder it is to see the bizarre.

Instead of trying to weed people out for resilience, we should encourage law students to adopt a healthy attitude. This means re-orienting their thought process from “what can I take away” to “what can I give back”. Hopefully a giver attitude would help inoculate them against the slings and arrows attached to practicing law.


  1. “Align your work with your values…” doesn’t necessarily have a positive effect unless as you suggest “[t]his means re-orienting their thought process from ‘what can I take away’ to ‘what can I give back’.”

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