Thursday, March 1, 2007

More on Lawyer Happiness (or the Lack Thereof)

John Steele over at Legal Ethics Forum has touched off a very interesting dialogue on the subject of lawyer happiness and unhappiness, and the scholarship of it.  Both John's observations and the comments of other really first-rate thinkers (including John) on ethics are recommended.

John credits the book we have both reviewed as "cultural criticism in the mode of Roland Barthes."  I would also (and did) give it credit as one instance of anthropological or cultural narrative, but, in fact, the author and its publisher market the book as something more: "empirical" and as involving "painstaking analysis."  I suppose in the very broadest sense that might be true, but I leave that to the reader.  I have said about as much as I want about it.

John also referred to an article by Patrick Schiltz published in the Vanderbilt Law Review back in 1999.  My reaction to the Schiltz article was about like Brad Wendel's in the comments over at LEF:  there was certainly more beef and balance to it.  And it stressed personal choice and accountability as a normative recommendation.  Plus, Schiltz had the benefit of a relatively extended stay in a big firm.  But Schiltz had his own bouts with hyperbole - I thought the description of the cocktail party was pretty funny, but it IS hyperbole, and having hors d'oeuvres at a partner's house isn't unethical, which is what it seemed to suggest it helped lead to.  (A couple shrimp wrapped in bacon, and the next thing you know you are a heroin addict!)  I used to go to a party like that just about every Christmas hosted by the head of the litigation group.  He and his wife are still married after forty years or so.  And while he was a fearsome litigator, he was one of the most honorable people I ever met.  (He did like his Dewar's, on the rocks and with a twist.)  Only to say, as law professor-anthropologist John Conley does, you have to be careful what you infer from this kind of data. 

And Schiltz's intro on depression and lawyers is highly suspect.  As my wife, an MPH, advised this morning, there's no way you can tell (as Schiltz admits, but only fleetingly) whether depression-inclined people self-select to be lawyers, or being a lawyer causes or exacerbates depression.  Given depression's biochemical etiology, I'd be inclined to think the seeds are there to begin with, but we may never know.

Finally, Bill Henderson (Indiana) of "Young Associates in Trouble" and Empirical Legal Studies passed on the followingWilkins references.  The Harvard Law Bulletin has an article in the fall 2006 issue on the "After the JD" study being undertaken by David Wilkins (Harvard, right) and the HLS Center on Lawyers and the Professional Services Industry.  This is a ten year longitudinal study tracking nearly 4,000 new lawyers.  Says the Bulletin:  "Job satisfaction is one aspect of the responses that Wilkins finds most interesting.  According to the study, and contrary to what most believe, there is 'no evidence' of 'any pervasive unhappiness in the profession,' he says - at least not among those who began practicing in 2000."  Bill also suggested John P. Heinz, Kathleen E. Hull, and Ava H. Harter, "Lawyers and their Discontents:  Findings from a Survey of the Chicago Bar," 74 Indiana Law Journal 735 (1999), which found that lawyers were no unhappier than any other profession or job.

Again, all 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.

[Jeff Lipshaw]

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Tracked on Mar 3, 2007 11:34:52 AM


[Sorry if this is a double-post.]

Jeff, yes, it's been a fun discussion. Among other things it's led to a useful list of the articles/books painting a dire picture and some that have gone the other way.

One small quibble. I think I said that Litowitz's book *claims* to be cultural critcism in the mode of Roland Barthes -- which is a claim I lifted from the early pages of the book, where Litowitz declared his purpose. We can all decide if he hit the mark. So I wasn't expecting a Hendersonian (is it too early to grant him adjectival status?) compilation of empirical facts. And besides, his factual description struck me as familiar, in light of Schiltz, the Clifford Chance Associates Memorandum, etc.

As for the Schiltz article, which I assign many semesters, I too loved the descriptions of the partners' parties even though I've never attended anything quite like that.

Posted by: John Steele | Mar 1, 2007 4:08:56 PM

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