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Are you a happy lawyer?

Kelly Lucas
July 6, 2011
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HappyMyths.gifAre they unhappy as lawyers, or are they just unhappy with the direction their legal careers have taken?

A recent poll by the Indiana Lawyer asked the question, “If you had it all to do over again, would you still become a lawyer?” Results revealed that less than half could affirmatively say they were happy in their chosen profession. While 43 percent answered “yes” to the poll question, 37 percent said “no” and 21 percent were unsure what they would do.
 

levit-nancy-mug Levit

The opinions expressed are in the ballpark with national lawyer satisfaction surveys done in recent years. A 2007 survey commissioned by the American Bar Association showed that career satisfaction among lawyers nationwide hovered around 55 percent. The ABA survey revealed that satisfaction comes with age: 60 percent of experienced attorneys – those having over 10 years of experience – said they were satisfied with their careers, compared to 41 percent with six to nine years, 50 percent with three to five years, and 49 percent with less than three years in practice.

Individuals who study career satisfaction are not surprised by these findings. They say that by the 10-year mark, many who had come to the conclusion that law was not to be their life’s work had changed careers, and those who stayed had, perhaps, found their practice niche, become comfortable with their clients, and made partner. The gap between satisfaction levels among the six-to-nine-year group and the over-10-year group indicates those may be pivotal years for lawyers.

Making lemonade

So what can lawyers wondering if their law school investment was worth it do to reignite the passion felt as a 1L?

The good news is that while just over half say they are satisfied with their careers, 80 percent say they are proud to be lawyers.

“Proud and happy are different emotions,” said Nancy Levit, University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law professor and co-author of “The Happy Lawyer: Making a Good Life in the Law.” “Pride is a feeling of self satisfaction or a belief in the worth of your career. Happiness has much more to do with the state of contentment and satisfaction in daily activities. Even if lawyers think the job has worth and prestige, they may be light years away from being happy.”

Levit and her co-author, Douglas O. Linder, point out that it is important to differentiate between happiness at this very moment and happiness overall.HappyChar.gif

Studying happiness is a science, and those who do it say we must understand where personal and professional happiness comes from to know how to sustain it. Researchers Sonja Lyubomirsky, Kennon Sheldon, and David Schkade have reported that genetics account for about 50 percent of an individual’s happiness level – about half of an individual’s predisposition to seeing the cup half full or half empty is hard wired. Another 10 percent comes from life circumstances – education level, marital status, age, etc. Most life circumstances are more controllable than the genes a person is born with, but many represent long-term commitments.

The third group – voluntarily controlled activities – represents 40 percent of a person’s happiness quotient and seems to be where the answer lies in the quest to boost happiness.

Managing expectations and maintaining a sense of control are necessary ingredients to career satisfaction and happiness, according to Levit.

Control has multiple dimensions, Levit said. It involves an individual’s ability to have a say in client and work assignments, their physical work environment, and the people who surround them and relationships that exist. “Another big part of workplace control is believing that your contribution matters,” she said.

It is no surprise that a sense of control over work-life balance is another key element in the quest for professional satisfaction. Although 98 percent of law firms, mostly larger firms, reported in a recent survey that they permit part-time work schedules, fewer than 6 percent of all lawyers work part-time, Levit reports. But those who do, she added, are happy with their part-time or flexible schedules.

proffitt-reese-melissa-mug.jpg Proffitt-Reese

Ice Miller is among the Indiana law firms that offer flexible work arrangements, and the firm recognizes it can be “fundamentally important for the success of a person long term,” explained partner Melissa Proffitt Reese.

When structuring part-time arrangements, Reese, a former managing partner, said the firm looks at requests on a case-by-case basis and tries to find the arrangement that will work best for the individual and the practice group. Whether that is working five days with fewer hours or three extended days depends on the needs of the clients, the practice group, and the lawyer. Part-time arrangements don’t typically work well for new lawyers, she cautioned, because they need time to be mentored and learn the fundamentals of how to be a lawyer.

Most concede there is still a stigma attached to requesting a part-time work arrangement.HappySat.gif

“The practice of law is two things,” Reese said. “It is wonderful in that it truly provides the ultimate professional flexibility long term for an individual. … The flip side is that it requires a tremendous amount of time, devotion, and attention.”

If someone is a really good lawyer, Reese added, a firm should want to work with them. Retention of good lawyers is as important for the firm as flexibility is for the individual.

Work-life balance 101

Is the expectation versus the reality of practicing law really that different?

Through the course of their study, Levit said she and Linder began to wonder if law schools were addressing the emotional needs of students – “Do we talk about career satisfaction, happiness, and the ability to achieve work-life balance?” They discovered that 95 percent of law schools have no courses about career satisfaction.

Recognizing that a necessary ingredient to professional happiness is alignment with an individual’s values, strengths, and interests, the UMKC law professors created a course called “Quest for a Satisfying Legal Career.” Topics they explore include the science of happiness, causes of stress, how to use individual strengths, and what lawyers and law firms can do to create thriving, happy lawyers.
 

kane-mcdougall-jonna-mug Kane McDougal

“Lawyers, by and large, are a driven group,” said Jonna Kane MacDougall, Indiana University School of Law – Indianapolis assistant dean for external affairs and alumni relations. “For many of the helping professions, part of the training involves self-care, but attorneys don’t get that.”

MacDougall, who is also a professional career/life coach, said the source of disillusionment for some lawyers may not be the practice of law, but that they aren’t doing anything aside from practicing law. She advises doing a little excavation to let the interests that existed pre-law resurface.

Mental cross-training

The specialization of the law may also be contributing to disillusionment. Ingrid Cummings, life coach and author of “The Vigorous Mind,” recommends cross training the brain in much the same way people cross train their bodies.

“The individuals who are most specialized in our society are often the most unhappy. They are bright and have these powerful brains, but they feel something is out of whack,” Cummings said. “Specialization is turning them into one-trick ponies.”
 

cummings-ingrid-mug.jpg Cummings

Cummings does not advocate returning to a society of general practitioners. But striving to become a renaissance person and engaging the mind in diverse learning experiences, she says, will motivate the discovery of new interests. Her “triumph in twenty” exercise challenges individuals to spend 20 minutes per day in bursts of learning, and that learning can focus on anything from cooking to foreign language or the arts.

“Much of this has to do with how you position yourself, how you see yourself,” Cummings said. The law is what you do, not who you are. Doing these cognitive exercises will create more well-rounded people and, ironically, better lawyers, she said.•

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  1. California Sex Offender Management Board (CASOMB) End of Year Report 2014. (page 13) Under the current system many local registering agencies are challenged just keeping up with registration paperwork. It takes an hour or more to process each registrant, the majority of whom are low risk offenders. As a result law enforcement cannot monitor higher risk offenders more intensively in the community due to the sheer numbers on the registry. Some of the consequences of lengthy and unnecessary registration requirements actually destabilize the life’s of registrants and those -such as families- whose lives are often substantially impacted. Such consequences are thought to raise levels of known risk factors while providing no discernible benefit in terms of community safety. The full report is available online at. http://www.casomb.org/index.cfm?pid=231 National Institute of Justice (NIJ) US Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs United States of America. The overall conclusion is that Megan’s law has had no demonstrated effect on sexual offenses in New Jersey, calling into question the justification for start-up and operational costs. Megan’s Law has had no effect on time to first rearrest for known sex offenders and has not reduced sexual reoffending. Neither has it had an impact on the type of sexual reoffense or first-time sexual offense. The study also found that the law had not reduced the number of victims of sexual offenses. The full report is available online at. https://www.ncjrs.gov/app/publications/abstract.aspx? ID=247350 The University of Chicago Press for The Booth School of Business of the University of Chicago and The University of Chicago Law School Article DOI: 10.1086/658483 Conclusion. The data in these three data sets do not strongly support the effectiveness of sex offender registries. The national panel data do not show a significant decrease in the rate of rape or the arrest rate for sexual abuse after implementation of a registry via the Internet. The BJS data that tracked individual sex offenders after their release in 1994 did not show that registration had a significantly negative effect on recidivism. And the D.C. crime data do not show that knowing the location of sex offenders by census block can help protect the locations of sexual abuse. This pattern of noneffectiveness across the data sets does not support the conclusion that sex offender registries are successful in meeting their objectives of increasing public safety and lowering recidivism rates. The full report is available online at. http://www.jstor.org/stable/full/10.1086/658483 These are not isolated conclusions but are the same outcomes in the majority of conclusions and reports on this subject from multiple government agencies and throughout the academic community. People, including the media and other organizations should not rely on and reiterate the statements and opinions of the legislators or other people as to the need for these laws because of the high recidivism rates and the high risk offenders pose to the public which simply is not true and is pure hyperbole and fiction. They should rely on facts and data collected and submitted in reports from the leading authorities and credible experts in the fields such as the following. California Sex Offender Management Board (CASOMB) Sex offender recidivism rate for a new sex offense is 0.8% (page 30) The full report is available online at http://www.cdcr.ca.gov/Adult_Research_Branch/Research_Documents/2014_Outcome_Evaluation_Report_7-6-2015.pdf California Sex Offender Management Board (CASOMB) (page 38) Sex offender recidivism rate for a new sex offense is 1.8% The full report is available online at. http://www.google.com/url?sa= t&source=web&cd=1&ved= 0CCEQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F% 2Fwww.cdcr.ca.gov%2FAdult_ Research_Branch%2FResearch_ documents%2FOutcome_ evaluation_Report_2013.pdf&ei= C9dSVePNF8HfoATX-IBo&usg=AFQjCNE9I6ueHz-o2mZUnuxLPTyiRdjDsQ Bureau of Justice Statistics 5 PERCENT OF SEX OFFENDERS REARRESTED FOR ANOTHER SEX CRIME WITHIN 3 YEARS OF PRISON RELEASE WASHINGTON, D.C. Within 3 years following their 1994 state prison release, 5.3 percent of sex offenders (men who had committed rape or sexual assault) were rearrested for another sex crime, the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) announced today. The full report is available online at. http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/press/rsorp94pr.cfm Document title; A Model of Static and Dynamic Sex Offender Risk Assessment Author: Robert J. McGrath, Michael P. Lasher, Georgia F. Cumming Document No.: 236217 Date Received: October 2011 Award Number: 2008-DD-BX-0013 Findings: Study of 759 adult male offenders under community supervision Re-arrest rate: 4.6% after 3-year follow-up The sexual re-offense rates for the 746 released in 2005 are much lower than what many in the public have been led to expect or believe. These low re-offense rates appear to contradict a conventional wisdom that sex offenders have very high sexual re-offense rates. The full report is available online at. https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/236217.pdf Document Title: SEX OFFENDER SENTENCING IN WASHINGTON STATE: RECIDIVISM RATES BY: Washington State Institute For Public Policy. A study of 4,091 sex offenders either released from prison or community supervision form 1994 to 1998 and examined for 5 years Findings: Sex Crime Recidivism Rate: 2.7% Link to Report: http://www.oncefallen.com/files/Washington_SO_Recid_2005.pdf Document Title: Indiana’s Recidivism Rates Decline for Third Consecutive Year BY: Indiana Department of Correction 2009. The recidivism rate for sex offenders returning on a new sex offense was 1.05%, one of the lowest in the nation. In a time when sex offenders continue to face additional post-release requirements that often result in their return to prison for violating technical rules such as registration and residency restrictions, the instances of sex offenders returning to prison due to the commitment of a new sex crime is extremely low. Findings: sex offenders returning on a new sex offense was 1.05% Link to Report: http://www.in.gov/idoc/files/RecidivismRelease.pdf Once again, These are not isolated conclusions but are the same outcomes in the majority of reports on this subject from multiple government agencies and throughout the academic community. No one can doubt that child sexual abuse is traumatic and devastating. The question is not whether the state has an interest in preventing such harm, but whether current laws are effective in doing so. Megan’s law is a failure and is destroying families and their children’s lives and is costing tax payers millions upon millions of dollars. The following is just one example of the estimated cost just to implement SORNA which many states refused to do. From Justice Policy Institute. Estimated cost to implement SORNA Here are some of the estimates made in 2009 expressed in 2014 current dollars: California, $66M; Florida, $34M; Illinois, $24M; New York, $35M; Pennsylvania, $22M; Texas, $44M. In 2014 dollars, Virginia’s estimate for implementation was $14M, and the annual operating cost after that would be $10M. For the US, the total is $547M. That’s over half a billion dollars – every year – for something that doesn’t work. http://www.justicepolicy.org/images/upload/08-08_FAC_SORNACosts_JJ.pdf. Attempting to use under-reporting to justify the existence of the registry is another myth, or a lie. This is another form of misinformation perpetrated by those who either have a fiduciary interest in continuing the unconstitutional treatment of a disfavored group or are seeking to justify their need for punishment for people who have already paid for their crime by loss of their freedom through incarceration and are now attempting to reenter society as honest citizens. When this information is placed into the public’s attention by naive media then you have to wonder if the media also falls into one of these two groups that are not truly interested in reporting the truth. Both of these groups of people that have that type of mentality can be classified as vigilantes, bullies, or sociopaths, and are responsible for the destruction of our constitutional values and the erosion of personal freedoms in this country. I think the media or other organizations need to do a in depth investigation into the false assumptions and false data that has been used to further these laws and to research all the collateral damages being caused by these laws and the unconstitutional injustices that are occurring across the country. They should include these injustices in their report so the public can be better informed on what is truly happening in this country on this subject. Thank you for your time.

  2. Freedom as granted in the Constitution cannot be summarily disallowed without Due Process. Unable to to to the gym, church, bowling alley? What is this 1984 level nonsense? Congrats to Brian for having the courage to say that this was enough! and Congrats to the ACLU on the win!

  3. America's hyper-phobia about convicted sex offenders must end! Politicians must stop pandering to knee-jerk public hysteria. And the public needs to learn the facts. Research by the California Sex Offender Management Board as shown a recidivism rate for convicted sex offenders of less than 1%. Less than 1%! Furthermore, research shows that by year 17 after their conviction, a convicted sex offender is no more likely to commit a new sex offense than any other member of the public. Put away your torches and pitchforks. Get the facts. Stop hysteria.

  4. He was convicted 23 years ago. How old was he then? He probably was a juvenile. People do stupid things, especially before their brain is fully developed. Why are we continuing to punish him in 2016? If he hasn't re-offended by now, it's very, very unlikely he ever will. He paid for his mistake sufficiently. Let him live his life in peace.

  5. This year, Notre Dame actually enrolled an equal amount of male and female students.

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