Learning from Legal Professionals

Reports and studies examining the satisfaction of legal professionals paint a strikingly different picture of the legal profession than the visions of lawyers’ lives that saturate television nightly. Most reports and studies researching lawyers’ satisfaction, which are supported by anecdotal evidence, have found the same results: markedly dismal statistics and stories that document lawyers’ endemic dissatisfaction with the legal profession.

Why are so many lawyers disillusioned with the legal profession?

Unrealized Expectations
Lawyers’ disillusionment with their profession may have resulted from their unrealized expectations about their work or may have resulted from qualities inherent in the legal profession itself. Even the Chicago Bar Association’s research team for its legal profession satisfaction study, which is a highly publicized and referenced legal satisfaction study, conceded that their results—reporting satisfaction topping over 80%, a percentage far higher than statistics reported for professions in general—may have been skewed. The Chicago Bar Association’s researchers acknowledged, “It is, also, possible, however, that answers to both the satisfaction and the career choice questions are biased toward themselves as successful persons. They may be reluctant to admit, to others or to themselves, that they have made a mess of their lives making bad choices.”

Satisfaction Defined
The positive statistics and stories reported in research studies and supported by anecdotal evidence focus on autonomy, personal control, commitment, hard work, and challenge. In the Chicago Bar Association’s study, Chicago attorneys identified autonomy and personal control as two factors contributing to their satisfaction along with the need to keep up with daily changes in the law. The quality of having to be an expert and having to continually increase knowledge in an area was important to satisfied attorneys.

Valuable Information
The studies demonstrating dissatisfaction in the profession and the studies showing satisfaction amongst attorneys stand in direct opposition to one another. All of the studies though have valuable information to supply to students investigating the legal profession. All of the research—both good news and bad news—is informative and will help a law school candidate make a better, more well-thought-out decision about his or her career choice.

Dissatisfaction with the Profession

The legal profession’s crisis has been widely publicized. “The unhappiness and discontent of lawyers is well documented and much lamented.” Lawyers report being disillusioned with their profession, having a low quality of life despite financial success, and being profoundly unhappy in their profession. Studies reporting dissatisfaction abound:

A RAND Corporation 1998 study “concluded that California attorneys were ‘profoundly pessimistic’ about the law, with only half indicating that they would choose again to be a lawyer.”

“Seven in 10 lawyers responding to a 1992 California Lawyer magazine poll said they would change careers if the opportunity arose.”

“‘[T]hree out of every five lawyers’ responding to a poll by the Michigan Lawyers Weekly said that they would not become lawyers if they had it all to do over again.”

“In a recent poll conducted by the California Bar Journal, only 52 percent of that state’s attorneys said they would still choose to become lawyers. Seventy-five percent did not want their children to become lawyers.”

The Arizona Republic ran the story “Grim Reality Has Lawyers Looking for New Career…One estimate puts the number at 30,000 a year.”

So how can you—a student in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences—be among the 20 percent minority satisfied with your career choice? Or among the 10 percent extremely satisfied with your career choice? By actively taking responsibility for investigating your interests and developing your career. To achieve success in any pursuit, you must anticipate challenges and adequately prepare to meet them successfully.