Happy Law Students and Happier Lawyers?!?

♫ Baby no need for false pretenses
Baby just shock me to my senses
Everything that you do feels right…♫

Lyrics and Music by Ryan Tedder, recorded by Jennifer Lopez “Do it Well”.

In an article entitled: How Law Schools Can Produce Happier Students and Satisfied Lawyers, posted by the ABA Journal on Jun 22, 2010 and written by Debra Cassens Weiss, it is stated that:

Law schools need to do more than teach the legal basics—they also have a moral obligation to produce healthy and satisfied lawyers, a recent law grad asserts in an opinion column.

While many lawyers have felt that perhaps law schools didn’t quite prepare them for the onslaught of the practice of law, asserting that law schools have a moral obligation to produce happy lawyers is perhaps just a bit novel to the rest of us.

Writing in the National Law Journal, Michael Serota says schools should emphasize the importance of students making career decisions based on their own professional values. “By helping them identify their professional values and make individual career decisions that correspond to those values, law schools can help lawyers and law students derive satisfaction from their professional lives,” Serota writes.

Citing statistics on lawyer depression from an article by Todd David Peterson and Elizabeth Waters Peterson, Serota says Lawyers have higher rates of depression than any other professional, after adjusting for socio-demographic factors, and are more likely to develop heart disease, alcoholism and drug use.

Apparently the problems also extend to law school. It is stated that, according to one study, 44 percent of law students meet the criteria for clinically significant levels of psychological distress. I wonder what the statistics for lawyers would be, based on these criteria?

The Peterson article (PDF) has another suggestion that could lead to happier law students: Study the students who manage to thrive in law school and find out why some law students are able to remain happy. The answers would help researchers identify what kinds of characteristics can buffer law students against depression.

Not utterly surprisingly:

The researchers’ own “modest empirical study” found that law students who found ways to use their top strengths in daily life were less likely to report depression and more likely to report satisfaction. The finding is consistent with workplace research that found employees who believe they have the opportunity to do what they do best have higher rates of retention, loyalty and productivity.

Of course our own renown Canadian researcher, Dr. Hans Selye, who did much of the ground-breaking work on stress, stated as follows:

What are the ingredients of a code of ethics that accepts egoism and working to hoard personal capital as morally correct? After four decades of clinical and laboratory research, I would summarize the most important principles briefly as follows:

1. Find you own stress level – the speed at which you can run toward your own goal. Make sure that both the stress level and the goal are really your own, an not imposed upon you by society, for only you yourself can know what you want and how fast you can accomplish it. There is no point in forcing a turtle to run like a racehorse or in preventing a racehorse from running faster than a turtle because of some “moral obligation.” The same is true of people.

2. Be an altruistic egoist. Do not try to suppress the natural instinct of all living beings to look after themselves first. Yet the wish to be of some use, to do some good to others, is also natural. We are social beings, and everybody wants somehow to earn respect and gratitude. You must be useful to others. This gives you the greatest degree of safety, because no one wishes to destroy a person who is useful.

3. Earn thy neighbor’s love. This is a contemporary modification of the maxim “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” It recognizes that not all neighbors are lovable and that it is impossible to love on command.

Perhaps two short lines can encapsulate what I have discovered from all my thought and research:

Fight for your highest attainable aim,
But do not put up resistance in vain.

Could it be that law students and lawyers, to find happiness, just need to align their professional goals to do what feels right?

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