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Survey: Young Lawyers Glad They’re Attorneys

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Contrary to media reports suggesting widespread lawyer dissat­isfaction, a new study of 4,160 individuals who became lawyers in 2000 has found that three out of four say they are either extremely or moderately satisfied with their decision to become an attorney.

The surprising result is part of the second phase of the American Bar Foundation’s After the J.D. study, presented at the midyear meeting.

The $1.8 million cohort study is tracking the careers of lawyers over the course of 12 years. The attorneys were first interviewed in 2002, two years after they began practicing. The latest set of data comes from interviews conducted in 2007.

The high satisfaction rating “is a startling number,” said panelist Kay H. Hodge, a partner with Boston’s Stoneman, Chandler & Miller and a former president of the Massachusetts Bar Association.

“I think to some extent, the [legal] profession is its own worst enemy,” she said. “We don’t walk with the pride we must to encourage young people to become lawyers.”

Among the study’s major findings was that, as lawyers move deeper into their careers, fewer and fewer work in private practice. It also found that women continue to have difficulty becoming equity partners in law firms and are still not paid as much as men.

Between their second and seventh year of practice, 58 percent of the lawyers changed jobs, the study found. “It’s like musical chairs,” said law professor Joyce Sterling of the University of Denver. Sterling is one of the academics conducting the study.

“The thing that surprised us most,” Sterling said, “was the increase in the number of lawyers working in business.”

The number serving as in-house counsel jumped from 4 percent in 2002 to 11 percent in 2007, while the number working as nonlawyers for corporations increased from 4 percent to almost 8 percent.

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