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Are lawyers more miserable than general population?

Posted Feb 20, 2013 8:09 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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The conventional wisdom is that lawyers are a cynical, miserable lot.

Now a positive psychology guru who teaches at Duke Law School is seeking to dispel that notion. Writing as a guest blogger for the Careerist, Dan Bowling says lawyers aren’t so miserable after all.

Lawyers are generally satisfied with their lives, reporting rates of well-being that are about the same as the general population, Bowling says. On a bell curve, most lawyers report life satisfaction around the middle. Students entering law school are even happier, reporting well-being that is above average. Does the law school experience change their outlook? Bowling will be studying 3Ls to find the answer.

Bowling has also found that pessimism doesn’t necessarily translate into better grades for 1Ls. He conducted a study of student character strengths at two top 50 law schools and learned that personality traits don’t predict first-year grades. The finding was surprising, Bowling says, since it was previously believed that pessimists got better grades in law school.

Bowling also targets the belief that lawyers are cynical. While lawyers do rank themselves high in critical thinking, so do most Americans with postgraduate degrees, he says.

Bowling acknowledges that law practice and law school can worsen symptoms of depression among some lawyers, but he says there is growing institutional awareness of the problem. Law schools, for example, offer counseling and, in some instances, therapy dogs during exams. Resilience training could help even more, he says.

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