Multi-Dimensional Well-Being

Well-Being is a recurring thread in Integrative Law, but what about the well-being of the lawyers themselves?

Based on anecdotal evidence, integrative lawyers do seem to be happier than their peers practicing law in more traditional ways. It is hard to be well in a broken system. The predominant culture of the legal profession is dysfunctional and it encourages isolation and unhealthy competition. We can meditate and exercise and get sleep, but if we still get up and go to work in a dysfunctional system, our well being is going to suffer.

In firms that do promote attorney well-being, the challenge is getting people used to operating in high-gear all the time to take a step back, or even leave the office in time for dinner.

Clients aren’t particularly happy with their lawyers, society as a whole isn’t particularly happy with lawyers or the legal system, lawyers themselves are not particularly healthy as a population. Something needs to be fixed.

Susan Daicoff
Susan Daicoff is a professor of law at Florida Coastal School of Law and the author of Lawyer, Know Thyself.

Professors Larry Krieger and Ken Sheldon conducted a study on lawyer happiness, with data from over 6,200 lawyers. The abstract states:

Attorney well-being and depression are topics of ongoing concern, but there has been no theory-driven empirical research to guide lawyers and law students seeking well-being.

The researchers gathered detailed data from several thousand lawyers in four states, to measure a variety of factors considered likely to impact lawyer well-being. These factors included choices and achievements in law school, legal career, and personal life, and psychological needs and motivations established by Self-Determination Theory.

Results are standardized and organized into five tiers of well-being factors. They suggest that the priorities and values of law students, lawyers, law schools, and law firms are often misplaced, with apparent negative impacts on lawyer well-being and, by extension, performance, productivity, and professionalism.

Factors typically afforded most attention and concern, those relating to prestige and finances (income, law school debt, class rank, law review, and USNWR law school ranking), showed zero to small correlations with lawyer well-being. Conversely, factors typically marginalized in law school and seen in previous research to erode in law students (psychological needs, internal motivation and intrinsic values) were the very strongest predictors of lawyer happiness and satisfaction.

Lawyers were grouped by practice type and setting to further test these findings. Despite markedly lower law school grades and current income, public service lawyers had healthier autonomy, purpose, and values and were happier than lawyers in the most prestigious positions (and who had the highest law school grades and incomes).

Additional measures raised concerns: subjects did not broadly agree that judge and lawyer behavior is professional, nor that the legal process reaches fair outcomes. Specific explanations and recommendations for lawyers, law teachers, and legal employers are drawn from the data, and the relationships between well-being, productivity, and professionalism are discussed.

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