Friday, April 27, 2012

"Are Lawyers Happy?"

This is Professor Richard Delgado's review of the book The Happy Lawyer: Making a Good Life in the Law by Professors Nancy Levit and Douglas O. Linder. It's titled Recent Writing on Law and Happiness and can be found at 97 Iowa L. Rev. 913 (2012).

From the introduction:

Are lawyers happy? If not, what can they do about it? Is unhappiness an inherent risk in the practice of law--at least as carried out today?

Lately, these questions and ones like them have been very much in the public eye. A 2011 Gallup Poll asked Americans if they were happy and ranked the results state-by-state on a numerical scale. Perhaps sensing a scoop, the New York Times displayed Gallup's information in the form of a map of the entire country showing happy states in a cheerful orange, middling-happy states in pale yellow, and glum or miserable ones in gray or black. An accompanying article identified America's happiest man: a five-foot-ten, sixty-nine-year-old, Chinese-American, Kosher-observing Jew, married with children, and living in Honolulu.

Drawing on a different set of studies, another New York Times writer concluded that those who waited longest to have sex and took the smallest number of partners were happier than their precocious or bed-hopping counterparts, while a third analyzed whether Internet searching made one happy or unhappy. (Answer: It depends.) On the other side of the Atlantic, England's Prime Minister David Cameron announced the creation of a national happiness index that would provide quarterly measures of how his countrymen were feeling about their lives.

Not to be outdone, a number of legal writers, including Deborah Rhode, Mary Ann Glendon, and Anthony Kronman, have weighed in with books on happiness and its opposite in the legal profession. Perhaps sobered by some of their findings, students at one top law school took things into their own hands and signed a pledge refusing to work for law firms that overwork associates and make them miserable. As though sensing a trend, the American Bar Association Journal devoted several pages of a recent issue to the “happiness movement,” while two sections of the Association of American Law Schools (“AALS”) weighed in with a joint session at its 2011 annual meeting on this very subject, drawing an overflow crowd.

In short, people are talking about happiness and its opposite. The Happy Lawyer: Making a Good Life in the Law, by Nancy Levit and Douglas O. Linder, thus arrives at a propitious moment when many lawyers, as well as ordinary citizens, are considering the hedonic quality of their work lives and what can be done to improve them.

Part II of this essay outlines the Levit and Linder book, paying particular attention to its treatment of topics that other books on the subject rarely cover, including the social-scientific and neurological foundation of happiness, as well as prescriptions for a happy life in the law. Part III critiques the book, while Part IV puts forward my own analysis of what the debate on lawyers' happiness needs to include in order to secure lasting gains.


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