Study: Poor lawyers less miserable than rich ones

By Mike Mosedale
The Daily Record Newswire
Money can’t buy you happiness but it sure helps with the down payment, right?

Not necessarily. On the contrary — for lawyers — less money seems to equate to more happiness.

At least, that’s the conclusion of a new study published in the Georgetown Law Review, which finds that lawyers working in relatively low paying public-service fields, like public defense or Legal Aid, are more likely to report being happy (and drink less alcohol) than their partner-track counterparts at white shoe firms.

The survey of 6,200 attorneys also found that making partner does not appear to pay off in anything but the literal sense: despite earning 62 percent less money, for instance, junior partners reported identical levels of happiness as senior associates.

What explains the differences?

Lawrence S. Krieger, a law professor at Florida State University who is co-author of the study, tells the New York Times that more prestigious jobs “do not provide feelings of competence, autonomy or connection to others — three pillars of self-determination theory, the psychological model of human happiness on which the study was based.”

The Times story also points to an ever-growing body of research documenting the overall misery of the bar, including studies that have found lawyers suffer from a higher rate of depression than all other surveyed occupations and are 54 percent more likely to commit suicide than non-lawyers.

Patricia Spataro, director of the New York State Lawyer Assistance Program, tells the Times the woes of attorneys may well be rooted less in such oft-cited causes as work-life balance or job stress than something even more inherent to good lawyering: natural pessimism.

“Research shows that an optimistic outlook is good for your mental health,” Spataro is quoted as saying. “But lawyers are trained to always look for the worst-case scenario. They benefit more from being pessimistic, and that takes a toll.”

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