Law Schools

How Law Schools Can Produce Happier Students and Satisfied Lawyers

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Law schools need to do more than teach the legal basics—they also have a moral obligation to produce healthy and satisfied lawyers, a recent law grad asserts in an opinion column.

Writing in the National Law Journal, Michael Serota says schools should emphasize the importance of students making career decisions based on their own professional values. “By helping them identify their professional values and make individual career decisions that correspond to those values, law schools can help lawyers and law students derive satisfaction from their professional lives,” Serota writes.

Serota cites statistics on lawyer depression from an article by Todd David Peterson and Elizabeth Waters Peterson. Lawyers have higher rates of depression than any other professional, after adjusting for socio-demographic factors, and are more likely to develop heart disease, alcoholism and drug use. The problems also extend to law school. According to one study, 44 percent of law students meet the criteria for clinically significant levels of psychological distress.

The Peterson article (PDF) has another suggestion that could lead to happier law students: Study the students who manage to thrive in law school and find out why some law students are able to remain happy. The answers would help researchers identify what kinds of characteristics can buffer law students against depression.

The researchers’ own “modest empirical study” found that law students who found ways to use their top strengths in daily life were less likely to report depression and more likely to report satisfaction. The finding is consistent with workplace research that found employees who believe they have the opportunity to do what they do best have higher rates of retention, loyalty and productivity.

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