Vanderbilt Law Review

Article Title

Cross-Examining the Myth of Lawyers' Misery


This comment will address one important aspect of Professor Schiltz's broader argument, namely his contention that the legal profession is afflicted with widespread job dissatisfaction. More specifically, Schiltz makes the following assertions about lawyers' unhappiness with their professional lives: (1) dissatisfaction is high; (2) dissatisfaction is increasing; and (3) dissatisfaction is highest among lawyers in private practice in large firms.' Using data from a recent survey of Chicago attorneys as well as other studies of lawyers' job satisfaction, including those cited by Schiltz, I will address each of these points in turn.

At first glance, the evidence on job satisfaction among lawyers may appear mixed, but upon closer inspection it becomes clear that the most valid, well-designed research has produced little if any sup- port for the notion that lawyers are unhappy in their work. The studies cited by Schiltz range from trade journal surveys to more serious scholarly enterprises, and the significance we attach to their findings should be in direct proportion to the validity and reliability of the research techniques employed. For example, we have no way to assess the quality of the data produced by the fax poll conducted by California Lawyer magazines which finds over half of all lawyers in that state dissatisfied with their careers. Because this survey does not use a random sample of lawyers, but instead relies on the voluntary participation of the magazine's readership, it is highly unlikely to provide a representative picture of the target population. Selection bias occurs in at least two ways: first, the readers of this magazine may not be representative of all California lawyers, and second (and more important), lawyers with an ax to grind may be much more likely to participate in a poll about job satisfaction. The magazine does not even report the total number of respondents to the poll, further diminishing its value as a measure of the attitudes of its target population.