The Social Implications of Unhappy Lawyers

Citing Heidi Golledge, CEO of CareerBliss, a recent article in the American Bar Association Journal, by Debra Cassens Weiss, indicates that associate attorney is the number one unhappiest job in America, and that legal assistant follows closely in the list, landing as the number seven unhappiest job.Crying baby

As a part of our portfolio of services, we’ve done quite a bit of training for lawyers (mostly in large federal agency solicitor’s offices) focusing on reasons for settlement error. Some of the fascinating research reveals that, indeed, lawyers differ from the general population in key areas. The lawyer population has a higher proportion of “excitable profiles,” meaning they have higher proportions of people who are overly self-critical, higher incidents of obsessive-compulsive disorder, more overly cautious profiles, and lower self-awareness combined with greater task-focus/lower interpersonal focus.

Happy-Sad StudentWhile studies show that the entry level baseline for law students is no different than the general population, by the end of their third year in law school when compared to the general population, law students underperform in reasoning and judgment when compared to other professionals, such as medical or psychology students.

When compared to the general population, as a group, lawyers have significantly higher incidents of depression (19% compared to 7%), alcoholism (20% compared to 11%), hostility disorders (30% for male attorneys and 20% for female attorneys compared to 4% in the general population), and much higher suicidal ideation (11% compared to 1.8% in the general population).

One must ponder the implications of these data.

  • What does our legal education process do to actually impair judgment of our legal professionals? What is it about the work that has such an impact?
  • What are the implications for others, such as mediators, who are chronically exposed to conflict and issues similar to those handled by attorneys?
  • Given the high proportions of lawyers who gravitate to public service in the political arenas of our country, what are the implications to our political system?

For anyone who is interested, I heartily recommend a read of Beyond Right and Wrong, and also of How Leading Lawyers Think, both written by Randall Kiser, a leading researcher in the field of settlement error in the legal profession. Kiser’s work is perhaps the most comprehensive research to date in key areas of what distinguishes successful attorneys from the rest and what attorneys find useful and look for in the  mediation process and as well as in their mediators.

Many thanks to John Zinsser, Managing Principal of Pacifica Communications, for his post in Linkedin about this topic! His post prompted this article.

About Bruce MacAllister

Bruce MacAllister is the founder and Executive Director of Business Excellence Solutions. He holds a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Chemistry and Biology and a Juris Doctorate degree. He has over thirty years of experience working with people in conflict, and training and coaching people through conflict situations. He works nationally and internationally with a wide variety of clients, including national departments, research and development organizations, institutions of higher education, non-profits, and individual businesspeople. He has been an ombudsman, executive level manager, project and program manager, trainer, and attorney. Click the "About Us" page to see his full biography. (http://bizexteam.com/index.php/about-us/.)
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