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Attorneys’ career dissatisfaction in the new normal


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The 2008 economic recession had a seismic impact on the legal market. In this article, we empirically assess whether the recession has made law an unsatisfying career. Relying on survey data from over 11,000 active members of the State Bar of Texas, we find that only 13.5 percent of all attorneys and 11.5 percent of full-time attorneys are dissatisfied with their careers. Newer attorneys report greater career dissatisfaction than more experienced attorneys, yet they too are largely satisfied. We also determine using logistic regression that three factors are highly predictive of lawyers’ career dissatisfaction: (1) comparatively low incomes; (2) working in private practice as opposed to in government or non-profit/public interest; and (3) law firm employment in a non-partnership role. Equally important, debt and lower class rank only slightly increase the odds of career dissatisfaction; and race, gender, years of practice experience, and firm size have no effect.
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International Journal of the Legal Profession
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Attorneys’ career dissatisfaction in the new
Milan Markovic & Gabriele Plickert
To cite this article: Milan Markovic & Gabriele Plickert (2018): Attorneys’ career
dissatisfaction in the new normal, International Journal of the Legal Profession, DOI:
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Published online: 12 Apr 2018.
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Attorneyscareer dissatisfaction in the new normal
Milan Markovic
and Gabriele Plickert
School of Law, Texas A&M University, Fort Worth, TX, USA;
Department of Psychology and Sociology,
California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, CA, USA
The 2008 economic recession had a seismic impact on the legal market. In this article,
we empirically assess whether the recession has made law an unsatisfying career.
Relying on survey data from over 11,000 active members of the State Bar of Texas,
we find that only 13.5 percent of all attorneys and 11.5 percent of full-time attorneys
are dissatisfied with their careers. Newer attorneys report greater career
dissatisfaction than more experienced attorneys, yet they too are largely satisfied.
We also determine using logistic regression that three factors are highly predictive of
lawyerscareer dissatisfaction: (1) comparatively low incomes; (2) working in private
practice as opposed to in government or non-profit/public interest; and (3) law firm
employment in a non-partnership role. Equally important, debt and lower class rank
only slightly increase the odds of career dissatisfaction; and race, gender, years of
practice experience, and firm size have no effect.
Legal scholarsand social scientists have long investigated the lives oflawyers.
particular point of focus has been whether lawyers are unhappy in their careers.
Although specific methods vary, with some researchers concerned with attorneys
career and job setting satisfaction and others concerned with broader measures of
fulfillment, empirical research has consistently found that contrary to the
popular conception
law is not an unhappy profession.
Organs 2011 meta-
analysis of the existing empirical research concludes that 7080 percent of attor-
neys are satisfied in their professional lives.
Data from the General Social
Survey also suggest that lawyerssatisfaction is on a par with that of other pro-
fessionals such as accountants.
The 2008 economic recession has given rise to new doubts about the desirabil-
ity of legal careers. In the face of massive layoffs during the recession
and tepid
growth in the demand for legal services since
, commentators have argued that
the recession has permanently altered legal practice such that the legal profession
has entered a dark and depressing new normal.
In this new normal,lawyers
are allegedly struggling to maintain stable employment and to service significant
debt loads.
Structural changes such as increasing commoditization and de-pro-
fessionalization in the legal services market have also purportedly made it
© 2018 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
CONTACT Milan Markovic
difficult for lawyers to enjoy the traditional economic and non-economic
benefits of their professional degrees.
Even researchers whose work has
depicted lawyers as predominately positive about their careers have conceded
that the recession may have reshaped attorneysattitudes.
A significant drop in attorney satisfaction in the post-recession period should
be of concern not only to the legal profession but to society as a whole. Research-
ers have documented that job satisfaction and performance are correlated in a
wide variety of contexts.
Unhappy lawyers are unlikely to deliver the same
level of service to their clients as happy ones are. In addition, if law is indeed
now an unhappy profession, many talented individuals will eschew or
abandon legal careers, rendering it more difficult for the public to obtain high
quality legal assistance in the future.
Post-recession empirical research provides an incomplete picture of lawyers
career satisfaction. The third wave of the longitudinal After the JD Study finds
that 76 percentof lawyersare moderately or extremely satisfied with their decisions
to become lawyers, virtually unchanged from previous waves.
However, the After
the JD Study focuses only on individuals who passed a state bar exam in2000, and it
is possible that other attorneys, especially those who began their careers after the
recession, are much less satisfied. A 2012 study commissioned by the Oregon State
Bar similarly finds little change in the mean career satisfaction of lawyers from
2007 (3.8 v. 3.9 on a five-point scale), but Oregon has relatively few lawyers, and
the study does not specifically track lawyersdissatisfaction.
Moreover, even if
these two studiesfindings are broadly applicable, and lawyers on the whole
remain largely positive about their careers, it is certainly possible that the recession
has made specific groups of attorneys such as those who had not established their
careers prior to the recession far less satisfied.
In this study, we empirically assess lawyerscareer dissatisfaction in the after-
math of the recession, drawing on 2016 survey data from members of the State
Bar. This is also the first research to use data from a large cross-sectional sample
of lawyers to specifically examine the determinants of attorneyscareer dissatis-
faction.By identifying and quantifying the factors that increase the likelihood
that attorneys will be dissatisfied with their careers, we seek to ascertain
trends that may be problematic for the future of the legal profession.
In the context of previous research on satisfaction among legal professionals,
our data are consistent with research that reports low career dissatisfaction
among practicing lawyers.
However, we ascertain key differences between
lawyers who began practicing before and after the recession. In addition, pre-
vious research may have over-emphasized differences in career satisfaction
between private practitioners and other attorneys by not accounting for tradeoffs
between higher incomes and more satisfying workplace settings and that private
practitioners occupy roles of varying levels of autonomy within law firms.
Overall, our findings from Texass large and diverse legal market should
assuage some of the concerns regarding the recessions effect on career
satisfaction of lawyers.
Nevertheless, career dissatisfaction could rise in the
future if newer attorneys do not see the income gains of their predecessors
and do not obtain equivalent opportunities to ascend to partnership and man-
agerial roles. These trends bear particular scrutiny as the legal market continues
to reorganize itself after the recession.
Much of the previous research on attorneyscareers has focused on relatively
small groups such as graduates of specific law schools or lawyers practicing in
major urban centers such as Chicago and Toronto.
Other studies such as
After the JD and that of Krieger and Sheldon
rely on multi-state surveys
that aggregate data from lawyers located in different jurisdictions. Studying
the State Bar membership allows for the examination of a wide variety of legal
careers in a single jurisdiction while minimizing the likelihood that variances
in dissatisfaction can be attributed to regional differences in legal practice.
Post-recession lawyers
The 2008 economic downturn was the most significant recession since the Great
and led to rising unemployment and significant changes across a
wide range of industries, with the legal sector no exception.
According to
the Bureau of Labor Statistics, overall employment in the legal sector declined
by 71,000 from May 2007 to December 2009.
A 2009 LexisNexis survey
found that 43% of law firms had conducted layoffs during the recession, 33%
had implemented hiring freezes, and 26% have reduced salaries.
measures clearly designed to weather the recession took a significant toll
on the legal profession as a whole.
Newer attorneys appear to have been disproportionately affected by the
recession. For example, a study by Merritt compared lawyers admitted to
the Ohio state bar in 2010 with those in the class of 2000.
The authors
findings indicate that the class of 2010 had far more difficulty securing and
maintaining jobs that utilized their law degrees in the years following their
admission to the bar.
Merritt also found that members of the 2010 class
who secured law firm positions more often worked as staff attorneys and
earned lower salaries.
Although a wide range of social science research has explored the job or career
satisfaction of lawyers and other professionals,
research that examines and
compares career dissatisfaction among pre- and post recession attorneys
remains limited.
Further, it is particularly critical that legal profession research
take into account diverse aspects of work factors such as lawyersroles within
firms and employment in non-law related fields to better understand potential
disparities between pre- and post-recession attorneys. Our large single-state
sample of Texas attorneys is ideal for examining determinants of career
satisfaction and dissatisfaction after the recession across different occupations,
practice settings, and roles.
Data and methods
This study utilizes survey data of the State Bar, the second-largest active-member
bar association in the United States.
All lawyers who are currently practicing
law in Texas must be active members of the State Bar.
The State Bar,
through its Department of Research and Analysis, periodically conducts an
anonymous survey of its active membersearnings from law practice and pro-
duces a report detailing median income for all full-time lawyers by occupation,
gender, race/ethnicity, age, years of practice experience, and region. Private prac-
titioners receive additional questions concerning their firmssize, roles within
their firms, and practice areas. The survey is sent via email to all active State
Bar members who have not opted out of receiving surveys. The Department
of Research does not solicit information about its memberslaw schools as
part of this survey but separately reports that 71% of its total membership gradu-
ated from law schools in Texas.
The authors collaborated with the Department of Research on the most recent
version of the survey. Questions pertaining to law school debt (both debt incurred
from law school as well as remaining debt), education (college major, college and
law school rank), and satisfaction (both satisfaction with the decision to attend
law school and career satisfaction) were added to the initial State Bar survey.
From March 21 to 18 April 2016, the Department of Research disseminated a
link to the survey to 94,150 active State Bar members. Recipients were incentivized
to complete the survey by the possibility of winning tickets to high profile sporting
events as well as gift cards. A total of 11,793 lawyers completed the survey during
the one-month time period, which resulted in a response rate of 12.5%. This
response rate compares favorably to other recent large-scale surveys of
Additional analysis was conducted to ensure that survey respondents
and non-respondents would be unlikely to differ in their career satisfaction.
Career Dissatisfaction. Active State Bar members were asked to determine how
satisfied they are with their career on a five-point scale, with 1 being very dissa-
tisfied and 5 being very satisfied. For purposes of analyzing career dissatisfaction,
this was converted to a dichotomous measure, distinguishing only between
respondents who are very dissatisfied or dissatisfied (coded 1) and respondents
who are very satisfied or satisfied (coded 0).
Occupation. We created five dummy codes for occupation: in-house counsel,
government, non-profit/public interest, and non-law-related, with private prac-
tice as the reference group.
Practice Area. Similarly, we created a series of five dummy codes for the most
common areas of law practice in our sample: family law, criminal law, personal
litigation, commercial litigation, and business. In the logistic regression analysis,
business is used as the omitted practice area.
Role. The final work aspect of role is composed of seven dummy codes: associ-
ate, equity partner, non-equity partner, managing partner, of-counsel, other, and
solo practitioner. For the purpose of our analysis, solo practitioners served as the
reference group. Existing studies on satisfaction among lawyers often associate
satisfaction with income and some structural aspects of work, and our research
extends this work by investigating the role of attorneys within their firms. We
predict that, independent of income, attorneysassignment to a particular role
significantly affects their career satisfaction.
Key control variables. Gender is coded 1 for women and 0 for men. For
respondentsrace and ethnicity, we contrast Minority,coded 1 with White,
coded 0. We created a series of four dummy codes for law school class rank per-
centiles: 10th, 25th, 50th, and 75th percentile. In the statistical analysis, the 50th
percentile is used as the omitted class rank category. Law practice experience is
measured in years ranging from two or less years of experience to more than 25
years of experience. Higher values refer to more years of experience. Law school
debt remaining is measured in dollar amounts. Respondents with no debt
remaining are the comparison group. Income refers to respondentsgross
income for the complete year of 2015, inclusive of bonus. Given the highly
skewed nature of the distribution, we logged income in the logistic regression
analyses. The final analyses focus on attorneys currently working full-time.
Data analysis
In this study we are interested in career dissatisfaction among attorneys in the
aftermath of the recession. We use logistic regression analysis to investigate
the likelihood of career dissatisfaction among respondents who are employed
full-time and to assess the determinants of these lawyerscareer dissatisfaction.
More specifically, we consider work characteristics and estimate their effects on
dissatisfaction among pre- and post-recession attorneys. Logistic regression
models are appropriate for binary outcomes and allow for both continuous
and categorical independent variables.
Descriptive results
Of the survey respondents, 86% are employed full-time, 7% are working part-
time, and 1% are unemployed and seeking work. Most respondents (73%) are
located in one of Texass four largest metropolitan areas; an additional 11%
practice outside of the state. The median gross personal income was $115,000 for
survey respondents who worked full time in 2015.
The demographics of the survey respondents are similar to those of theState Bar
membership as a whole, with the exception of women and younger, less experi-
enced attorneys being slightly overrepresented in the survey. Among the survey
respondents, 41% are female, 19% are non-white, 45% are forty years of age or
younger, and 44% of respondents have been practicing for ten years or less.
The State Bar membership as a whole is 35% female, 19% non-white, 36% forty
years and younger, and 30% of members have been practicing for ten years or less.
For occupational practice settings, approximately 65% of respondents work in
private practice, 16% in government, and 11% in-house for for-profit corpor-
ations. The remaining respondents work in non-law related fields, for non-
profit companies, and in public interest capacities. These figures closely track
those of the State Bar generally, although government attorneys are slightly
over-represented among respondents (16% to 11%).
In terms of the outcome measure of career dissatisfaction, our results do not
support that the recession has made lawyers unhappy in their careers. The
descriptive results in Table 1 show that only 13.5% of all State Bar respondents
and 11.5% of State Bar respondents employed full-time are either very dissatisfied
or dissatisfied with their careers. However, Table 1 also indicates that dissatisfac-
tion is somewhat higher among attorneys who began their careers after the 2008
recession (i.e. have been practicing for six years or less) than among attorneys who
began practicing previously. Among the former group, 17.8% are either very dis-
satisfied or dissatisfied with their careers. If only full-time attorneys who began
their careers after the recession are considered, 14.7% are dissatisfied.
Additional career satisfaction information for subgroups of respondents who
are employed full-time can be found in the Appendix.
Predictors of career dissatisfaction
We investigate the factors affecting career dissatisfaction presented in three
tables. First, Table 2 examines career dissatisfaction among the sample of all
Table 1. Respondentscareer satisfaction.
All lawyers 6
years of
All lawyers >6
years of
All full-
lawyers 6
years of
lawyers >6
years of
Very dissatisfied 4.8% 6.7% 3.8% 3.6% 4.3% 3.2%
Dissatisfied 8.7% 11.1% 7.6% 7.9% 10.4% 6.8%
Neutral 22.0% 25.3% 20.5% 22.1% 25.6% 20.5%
Satisfied 34.4% 35.0% 34.2% 35.9% 36.8% 35.5%
Very satisfied 30.1% 21.8% 33.9% 30.5% 23.0% 34.0%
Means 3.76 3.54 3.89 3.82 3.64 3.90
Number 10894 3465 7429 2920 6438 10081
full-time lawyers. Second, Table 3 estimates career dissatisfaction among full-
time lawyers who are private practitioners while adding occupational role (i.e.
associate, equity partner, non-equity partner, etc.) to the equation. Table 4
examines effects of practice area on full-time private practitionerscareer dissa-
tisfaction. The final Table 5 compares the career dissatisfaction of full-time
lawyers who began practicing before and after the recession.
In Table 2, we estimate effects of career dissatisfaction across occupational job
setting (i.e. whether a lawyer works in private practice, government, non-profit/
public interest etc.). Among the main effects, income, and to a lesser extent
remaining law school debt and law school class rank, significantly affect
lawyerscareer dissatisfaction. Comparisons across occupations also reveal
strong effects for private practice compared to lawyers in government or non-
profit/public interest settings.
Table 3 focuses only on lawyers in private practice the largest group of
respondents. Similar to the results in Table 2, income and remaining debt con-
tinue to significantly affect career dissatisfaction. However, we find that being
employed as an of-counsel, associate, or in an othernon-partnership role
also greatly increases dissatisfaction. Merely being employed as an of-counsel
increases ones odds of career dissatisfaction by 186.7%. For associates, dissatis-
faction is correlated with years of experience; controlling for other factors, the
more experienced the associate, the higher the likelihood of career dissatisfac-
tion. Firm size does not affect career satisfaction under this analysis.
Table 2. All full-time lawyers (N= 10081).
All sampled full-time lawyers
Variables Estimates Odds 95% C.I.
.043 1.044 [.8801.237]
.196 .822 [.6301.072]
Years of experience .037 1.037 [.9851.092]
Class rank
10th percentile .169 .844 [.6701.064]
25th percentile .247* .781 [.641.952]
75th percentile .066 1.068 [.8201.392]
Income (logged) .454*** .635 [.574.703]
Metropolitan area
.136 1.146 [.9201.425]
Debt remaining .128*** 1.136 [1.0791.198]
In-house counsel .179 .836 [.6371.096]
Non-profit/ public interest 1.137*** .321 [.172.597]
Government .492*** .612 [.479.781]
Non-law .344 1.411 [.9472.103]
Constant 2.743
2 log likelihood 4153.25
Nagelkerke RSquare .061
p< .10; *p< .05; **p< .01; ***p< .001 (two-tailed test).
Reference is male.
Minority = 1 and White = 0.
Class rank, reference is 50th percentile class rank.
Metropolitan = 1 and not metropolitan = 0.
Years of experience = coding from less than two through more than 25 years.
Occupation, reference group is private practice.
Table 4 presents the odds of career dissatisfaction for all full-time private
practitioners by main practice area. Only the five most popular main practice
areas are analyzed; that is family, criminal, litigation/personal injury, litiga-
tion/commercial, and business. Income and remaining debt continue to affect
dissatisfaction whereas none of the selected practice areas has a significant
effect on career dissatisfaction. As with the model in Table 3, firm size has no
To assess any differences in dissatisfaction among lawyers who began practi-
cing before and after the 2008 recession, we conduct separate logistic regression
analyses for lawyers with six or fewer years of practice experience and lawyers
with more than six years of experience. Table 5 illustrates the results.
Consistent with our previous analyses, income has a continuously significant
effect on career dissatisfaction for both groups of attorneys. Occupation also has
a significant effect, with lawyers in government and especially non-profit/public
interest settings demonstrating lower likelihood of dissatisfaction than those in
Table 3. Full-time private practice lawyers by role.
Variables Estimates Odds 95% C.I.
.006 1.006 [.8151.241]
.255 .755 [.5541.085]
Years of experience .016 1.016 [.9131.130]
Class rank
10th percentile .139 .870 [.6591.149]
25th percentile .190 .827 [.6511.051]
75th percentile .029 1.029 [.7311.449]
Income (logged) 431*** .650 [.573.737]
Metropolitan area
.011 1.011 [.7791.312]
Debt remaining .127*** 1.135 [1.0651.210]
Private practice characteristics
Firm size .001 .999 [.9961.002]
Associate .402 .669 [.3601.245]
Equity partner .689 .502 [.1261.993]
Non-equity partner .524 .592 [.1242.830]
Managing partner 1.295 .274 [.0681.100]
Of-counsel 1.053 2.867 [.59513.807]
Other .901 2.463 [.8267.342]
Years of experience
Years of experience* Associate .355*** 1.426 [1.1811.722]
Years of experience* Equity partner .075 1.078 [.8461.374]
Years of experience* Non-equity partner .154 1.166 [.8651.572]
Years of experience* Managing partner .236
1.266 [.9971.609]
Years of experience* Of-counsel .065 .937 [.6961.261]
Years of experience* Other .022 .978 [.7841.221]
Constant 2.490
2 log likelihood
Nagelkerke RSquare .074
p< .10; *p< .05; **p< .01; ***p< .001 (two-tailed test).
Reference is male.
Minority = 1 and White = 0.
Class rank, reference is 50th percentile class rank.
Metropolitan = 1 and not metropolitan = 0.
Role = reference group is solo practitioner.
Years of experience =coding from less than two through more than 25 years.
Table 4. Full-time private practice lawyers by practice area.
All sampled full-time lawyers
Variables Estimates Odds 95% C.I.
.006 1.006 [.8151.241]
.255 .755 [.5541.085]
Years of experience
.016 1.016 [.9131.130]
Class rank
10th percentile .139 .870 [.6591.149]
25th percentile .190 .827 [.6511.051]
75th percentile .029 1.029 [.7311.449]
Income (logged) .431*** .650 [.573.737]
Metropolitan area
.011 1.011 [.7791.312]
Debt remaining .127*** 1.135 [1.0651.210]
Private practice characteristics
Firm size .001 1.001 [.9981.004]
Practice area
Family .042 .959 [.7101.295]
Criminal .261 .771 [.5301.121]
Litigation/Personal .168 .958 [.6831.342]
Litigation/Commercial .043 1.183 [.8751.601]
Constant 2.730
2 log likelihood 2831.58
Nagelkerke RSquare .054
p< .10; *p< .05; **p< .01; ***p< .001 (two-tailed test).
Reference is male.
Minority = 1 and White = 0.
Years of experience =coding from less than two through more than 25 years.
Class rank, reference is 50th percentile class rank.
Metropolitan = 1 and not metropolitan = 0.
Practice Area = reference is Business.
Table 5. Full-time lawyers by years of experience.
Full-time lawyers 6 years of
experience N= 2920
Full-time lawyers >6 years of
experience N= 6438
Model 1 Model 2
Estimates Odds 95% C.I. Estimates Odds 95% C.I.
.223 1.250 [.9571.633] .119 .888 [.7081.112]
.011 .989 [.6791.442] .392* .676 [.461.992]
Years of experience .222 1.248 [.9481.643] .006 1.006 [.9251.094]
Class rank
10th percentile .241 .786 [.5251.176] .122 .885 [.6661.177]
25th percentile .120 .887 [.6461.218] .321* .725 [.562.934]
75th percentile .041 .960 [.6331.456] .165 1.180 [.8331.666]
Income (logged) .389*** .678 [.571.804] .522*** .594 [.520.670]
Metropolitan area
.170 1.185 [.8111.731] .101 1.107 [8471.454]
Debt remaining .047 1.048 [.9781.123] .214*** 1.238 [1.1481.335]
In-house counsel .231 .793 [.4891.288] .148 .863 [.6191.202]
Non-profit/Public interest 1.025* .359 [.153.840] 1.256** .285 [.114.711]
Government .334 .716 [.4821.064] .596*** .551 [.402.755]
Non-law .966*** 2.628 [1.5584.431] .369 .691 [.3481.373]
Constant 1.805 3.674
2 log likelihood 1510.17 2602.74
Nagelkerke RSquare .049 .080
p< .10; *p< .05; **p< .01; ***p< .001 (two-tailed test).
Reference group is male.
Reference group is white.
Class rank, reference group are respondents in the 50th percentile.
Reference group is non-metropolitan areas.
Reference group is private practice.
private practice. Class rank and remaining debt have effects only on the career
dissatisfaction of attorneys who began practicing before the recession. For
lawyers who began their careers after the recession, working in non-law
related settings is associated with a large increase in the odds of career dissatis-
faction (162.8%) whereas debt and class rank have no effect.
In this article we used data from a large cross-sectional sample of Texas lawyers
to examine lawyerscareer dissatisfaction in the post-recession period. Our
results show that most practicing lawyers regard their careers as satisfying and
that factors such as income, practice setting, class rank, and remaining law
school debt affect career dissatisfaction whereas attorneysdemographic charac-
teristics, practice areas, and firmssize do not. The economic recession may have
impacted the legal profession, but the overall incidence of dissatisfaction
remains low, and many of the factors that impacted lawyersassessments of
their careers prior to the recession continue to be salient. Our results also
shed new light on the challenges faced by newer attorneys and highlight that
attorneysroles within firms are central to career satisfaction and dissatisfaction.
Pre- and post-recession lawyers
As Table 1 illustrates, 64.5% of respondents and 66.4% of respondents employed
full-time report that they are either very satisfied or satisfied with their careers,
despite the dark and depressing new normal.
Only 13.5% of the former and
11.5% of the latter are either very dissatisfied or dissatisfied. It is possible that
satisfaction would be even higher if not for the recession, but, based on respon-
dentssubjective assessments of their careers, law continues to be a satisfying
Our results also point to marked differences among lawyers who began their
careers before and after the recession. Of the lawyers who have been practicing
for over six years, 68.1% are either very satisfied or satisfied with their careers.
Dissatisfaction is also quite low among this group, with only 11.4% in either
the very dissatisfied or dissatisfied category. Conversely, only 56.8% of lawyers
who have been practicing for six or fewer years report positive career satisfac-
tion, and 17.8% report negative satisfaction.
Even confining our analysis to
full-time attorneys, the less experienced group has lower career satisfaction
(59.8% to 69.5%) and higher dissatisfaction (14.7% to 10%).
Some of this disparity can be attributed to the fact that experienced attorneys
are usually more satisfied with their careers than less experienced ones.
theless, our results, when considered in light of previous research, provide some
support for the notion that attorneys who began practicing after the recession
are finding their legal careers less satisfying than their predecessors did.
First, pre-recession studies have observed substantially higher satisfaction
among full-time attorneys in the first few years of their careers. A longitudinal
study of University of Michigan Law School alumni who graduated from 1992
2001 indicates that 74% of respondents were at least mildly satisfied with their
careers five years out of law school.
Similarly, the first wave of After the JD has
found that 79% of respondents from the class of 2000 were at least moderately
satisfied with their decisions to become lawyers in 2003.
While these studies
examined very different populations and used different methodologies, that a
much lower percentage of early-career attorneys in this study are satisfied
with their careers (59.8% among full-time lawyers with six or fewer years of
experience) is suggestive of the recessions impact.
Second, as scholars have documented, the recession has forced more lawyers
to begin their careers in non-law related fields.
Our analysis indicates that,
even though relatively few State Bar members work in non-related fields,
those that do and began their careers after the recession are 162.8% more
likely to be dissatisfied with their careers than their colleagues in private prac-
Rewarding job opportunities for lawyers exist outside of traditional law
offices, but it appears that many of the non-law related jobs that employ
newer attorneys do not fall into this category and may have only been
pursued because of a dearth of opportunities in the post-recession period.
Conversely, working in a non-law related field leads to a slight, statistically insig-
nificant decrease in the odds of career dissatisfaction for more experienced attor-
neys, presumably because many of these attorneys chose to transition to these
positions. Future research should examine the types of non-law related positions
that are realistically available to attorneys at different stages in their careers.
Lastly, substantial evidence exists that attorneys who began practicing after
the recession are earning less than their predecessors did, even without adjusting
for inflation.
According to State Bar data, the median income of all full-time
lawyers with 02or36 years of experience was $91,765 and $106,681 in
In 2015, median incomes were $70,000 and $98,000 for lawyers with
the same experience.
As our logistic regression analyses indicate, higher
incomes for lawyers are generally predictive of lower career dissatisfaction,
with every unit ($10,000) increase in income associated with a 36.5% decrease
in the odds of career dissatisfaction for all lawyers and 32.2% for the cohort
that began practicing after the recession.
Consequently, all things being
equal, lower pay for newer attorneys would tend to lead to greater career dissa-
tisfaction in their ranks.
Much of the recent commentary concerning lawyerscareers has focused on
debt loads, although previous empirical research has not uncovered a nexus
between high debt and career dissatisfaction.
Our analysis indicates that
debt does have an effect on career dissatisfaction but only for attorneys who
have been practicing for more than six years.
For these attorneys, having
remaining law school debt increases the likelihood of dissatisfaction by 23.8%.
Why would debt impact only the careers of attorneys who started practicing
before the recession? One possibility is that the debt financing of higher edu-
cation and post-graduate education in particular has become so ubiquitous
that newer lawyers do not consider it unusual or especially daunting to carry
substantial debt.
These lawyers may also be more optimistic about repaying
their loans and may take for granted the availability of generous government
repayment programs that were instituted relatively recently.
More experienced
attorneys have fewer repayment options, are more likely to have peers who are
unburdened by student loan debt, and have had the unhappy experience of
making student loan payments for years after they completed their legal
The relationship between lawyersacademic performance in law school and
career satisfaction has also been the subject of recent inquiry.
While excelling
in law school may affect a lawyers career in numerous ways, including by
facilitating access to desirable entry-level employment opportunities,
rank has no independent effect on the career dissatisfaction of lawyers who
have been practicing for six years or less. Interestingly, finishing in the top
quarter of ones law school class does have a significant effect on career dissa-
tisfaction for more experienced lawyers; such lawyers are 27.6% less likely to
be dissatisfied with their careers compared to their peers who finished in
the middle of their law school classes. Finishing in the top ten percent of
ones class also decreases the odds of dissatisfaction although the effect is
not significant.
One possible explanation for this observation is that high-achieving students
are better equipped to transition to practice and therefore derive greater satisfac-
tion from their work. However, this possibility would seem to be foreclosed by
the fact that law school rank has no effect on the career satisfaction of lawyers
who are just beginning their careers. An alternative possibility is that students
who perform well in law school have other traits such as superior self-efficacy
or grit that serves them well in the long-term even though such traits may not
be as central to career satisfaction in the short-term.
Whatever the precise
mechanism, as with debt, class rank has only a minor effect on career dissatis-
faction and its effect is limited to more experienced attorneys.
Dissatisfied lawyers in the new normal
Although most State Bar members are satisfied with their careers, the two factors
that are most predictive of career dissatisfaction are attorneysincomes and
whether they work in private practice as opposed to in government or non-
profit/public interest. Private practitioners who are employed as associates, of-
counsel, or in other non-partnership roles also have a much higher likelihood
of dissatisfaction than equity partners, non-equity partners, and solo prac-
titioners. Factors that do not affect satisfaction include demographic
characteristics such as gender, race, and years of practice experience, and for
private practitioners, practice area and firm size. These findings are discussed
in turn below.
Significant factors
Most empirical legal profession research has found that income and practice setting
affect lawyerscareer satisfaction.
However, researchers have differed on the mag-
nitude of these effects. Krieger and Sheldon ascertain only a modest correlation
between attorneysincomes and well-being and emphasize that service lawyers
report higher well-being than their counterparts in prestigious private practice pos-
Conversely, Monahan and Swanson conclude that only income is predic-
tive of lawyersjob satisfaction and that, aside from lawyers working full-time for
firms with over one hundred lawyers, job setting has no impact.
A middle ground
is suggested by Dau-Schmidt and Mukhopadhaya who assert that there is a tradeoff
between higher incomes and satisfaction with job settings.
Our findings are consistent with the notion of a tradeoff. The median
full-time private practitioner in Texas earns $125,000 a year whereas the
median government attorney and public interest attorney earn $88,000 and
$60,000 respectively.
As noted, each unit ($10,000) increase in income tends
to reduce the odds of career dissatisfaction by over 36.5%. However, private
practitionersmore satisfying incomes are offset by less satisfying work settings.
Employment in private practice increases a lawyers odds of career dissatisfac-
tion by 38.8% compared to employment in government and 67.9% compared
to employment in a non-profit/public interest setting. Government and non-
profit/public interest attorneys face tradeoffs as well because their inherently
more satisfying work settings may leave them with incomes that increase their
odds of career dissatisfaction.
That all attorneys make tradeoffs explains why similar percentages of attor-
neys report to be satisfied with their careers regardless of the practice setting.
In our sample, 65.5% of full-time private practitioners are either very satisfied
or satisfied with their careers; only slightly higher percentages of government
attorneys (68.5%) and non-profit/public interest attorneys (73.9%) report posi-
tive career satisfaction.
Our analysis also highlights the importance of private practitionersroles. As
set out in the Appendix, few equity and non-equity partners are dissatisfied with
their careers.
Only 6% and 8.4% of these lawyers report that they are either
very dissatisfied or dissatisfied with their careers. It is primarily associates, of-
counsel, and other attorneys who report negative career dissatisfaction: 15.3%
of associates, 19.3% of of-counsel, and 17.5% of otherattorneys are either
very dissatisfied or dissatisfied with their careers.
The results of our logistic regression in Table 3 indicate the extent to which
these three groups are dissatisfied vis-à-vis equity partners, non-equity partners,
and solo practitioners. For example, controlling for other factors, associates are
42.6% more likely to be dissatisfied with their careers than solo practitioners are
for every additional year they spend as associates. Of-counsel have 186.7%
greater odds of career dissatisfaction than solo practitioners whereas those in
the othercategory such as staff attorneys have 146.3% greater odds. Practice
settings undoubtedly affect career satisfaction and dissatisfaction, but, as our
analysis has shown, generalizations about private practice versus other occu-
pational settings are of limited utility because of the variety of roles in which
private practitioners are employed.
How to account for the dramatically higher odds of career dissatisfaction
among associates, of-counsel, and otherlaw firm attorneys? Lower professional
autonomy may play a role. Regan has defined professional autonomy as the
ability to exercise discretion and judgment in performing ones work,
as several empirical researchers have observed, associates and others in non-
partnership roles tend to have less of this type of autonomy.
Of course, all
lawyers function as their clientsagents and are subject to their clientswhims
(as well as those of their colleagues). But partners in law firms and solo prac-
titioners will generally have more control over how work is completed.
Socio-psychological research has also suggested that people who are drawn to
the legal profession generally have greater needs for assuming leadership roles
and appear to be less subordinate or deferential.
Lawyers are also purport-
edly highly competitive and possess a strong need for achievement.
that these characterizations are accurate, they would help to explain why our
analysis points to increased odds of career dissatisfaction for more senior associ-
ates, of-counsel, and otherattorneys within firms. Promotion to partnership
has been famously characterized as a tournament,
and for every winner
who becomes an equity or non-equity partner, there are frequently several
losers who are left as potentially disaffected senior associates and of-counsel
unless or until they are able to locate alternative employment. Law firms have
also long hired staff attorneys and others who are not even eligible to enter
the tournament and compete for partnership.
Some commentators have characterized the entire model of lawyer partners
owning and operating law firms as outmoded.
We do not purport to assess
this claim here, but the comparative career dissatisfaction of associates, of-
counsel, and otherfirm attorneys vis-à-vis solo practitionersand equity and
non-equity partners signifies that substantial growth in the ranks of the
former would likely cause an increase in the career dissatisfaction of the legal
profession as a whole.
Insignificant factors
Consistent with previous legal profession research, our analysis suggests that
race, gender, and other demographic factors do not have an independent
effect on career dissatisfaction.
In fact, belonging to a racial minority group
appears to have a modest positive effect, lowering their odds of dissatisfaction
by 32.4% for full-time attorneys who have been practicing more than six years.
These findings do not signify that all demographic groups have the same
career satisfaction. For example, as set out in the Appendix, the career satisfac-
tion of lawyers in Texas generally increases as they gain practice experience even
though experience has no independent effect on career dissatisfaction in any of
our models; similarly, full-time female and non-white attorneys have lower
mean career satisfaction than male and white attorneys even though being
female and non-white does not increase the odds of dissatisfaction.
The main reason that female and non-white attorneys lag in career satisfac-
tion is that they earn less than male and white counterparts. Our income data
indicate that the median male attorney who is practicing full-time earned
$130,000 in 2015 whereas the median female attorney earned $97,000; the
median white attorney earned $120,000 compared to $92,500 and $90,000 for
Hispanic and Black attorneys. Although explanations of these earning disparities
are beyond the scope of this article, the low incidence of career dissatisfaction
among female and non-white attorneys may be attributable to the fact that, con-
sistent with the analysis in the previous section, they are able to partly offset any
increase in the odds of career dissatisfaction associated with their lower incomes
by working in more satisfying job settings.
Lawyers who work in less remu-
nerative and prestigious job settings often have better work/life balance and
can more directly participate in childcare, factors that previous research has
identified as integral to the satisfaction of female lawyers in particular.
We also do not find any evidence that certain substantive practice areas are
more satisfying than others. While there has been very little research conducted
on the effects of lawyerspractice areas on their career satisfaction, what little
there is points to minimal impact.
This stands to reason as lawyers mostly
self-select their practice areas and presumably will eschew areas that they do
not find appealing.
However, there are two important limitations to our analy-
sis of this factor.
First, we have assessed only the effects of attorneysmain practice areas on
their career satisfaction. Lawyers commonly engage in many different substan-
tive practice areas, all of which could have an impact on their satisfaction.
Second, our survey instrument requested practice area information only from
private practitioners and therefore other attorneys are excluded from the analy-
sis. Considering government, non-profit/public interest, and other attorneys
may well alter the findings.
Perhaps this studys most unexpected result is that firm size does not affect
lawyerscareer dissatisfaction. A whole literature documents colorfully the
alleged horrors of working in one of the nations largest firms.
research, although hardly confirming the stereotype of the miserable large
firm lawyer, has also suggested that firm size is negatively correlated with
career satisfaction.
For example, Dinovitzer and Garth conclude, based on
After the JD data, that For lawyers working in private law firms, the pattern
is clear: the larger the firm, the lower the expressions of career satisfaction,
with satisfaction decreasing as firm size increases.
Our finding of no effect for firm size may derive from a different methodo-
logical approach. This study focuses on the predictors of career dissatisfaction
for attorneys who are active State Bar members whereas previous research,
including After the JD, focuses on the career satisfaction of very different popu-
lations from various legal markets. We cannot exclude the possibility that firms
operate differently in Texas or that State Bar members have differing expec-
tations for their careers than attorneys admitted to practice in other jurisdic-
tions. Moreover, since the vast majority of attorneys are satisfied with their
careers, it is possible that working in a large firm could decrease the likelihood
of career satisfaction without actually increasing the odds of career dissatisfac-
tion. Indeed, Heinz, Hull, and Harter specifically found this phenomenon in
their study of Chicago lawyers.
Other methodological choices are also relevant. Whereas Dinovitzer and
Garth group together law firms with two lawyers and firms with 20 lawyers
and use this as their reference group,
we use smaller ranges for firm size
because of our larger dataset. This choice was likely meaningful because, accord-
ing to our data, firms with two to five attorneys employ the most attorneys next
to solo offices; firms with six to ten attorneys and 11 to 24 attorneys also employ
far more attorneys than the largest law firms.
Comparing the career satisfac-
tion of the small number of attorneys who work in firms with either 101 to
250 attorneys or over 251 attorneys nationwide with that of attorneys who
work in 2 to 20 firms could lead to differences in results, especially when attor-
neysroles within these firms are not considered as part of the analysis. In Table
3, our analysis treats firm size as a continuous variable and determines that it is
an attorneys role within a firm, and not firm size that affects career
Lastly, it is possible that the economic recession has made attorneys in larger
firms more satisfied with their careers. Career expectations are not formed in a
and, as Burk has demonstrated, the economic recession most
impacted large law firms.
In a time of prosperity, lawyers and especially
those from more elite backgrounds may not have fully appreciated the advan-
tages of working in these generally high-paying and prestigious positions.
However, in the new normal, securing and maintaining a position with a large
law firm is no small feat, and the lawyers who are successful in doing so may
be more satisfied with these positions than the cohorts who preceded them.
This would account both for our finding that firm size does not affect career dis-
satisfaction and that higher percentages of lawyers working in large law firms
report career dissatisfaction in some pre-recession surveys.
This study has presented evidence that the economic recession has not caused
practicing lawyers to be unhappy in their careers. Most State Bar members are
very satisfied or satisfied with their careers, and few are dissatisfied. Neverthe-
less, attorneys who began practicing after the recession report greater dissatisfac-
tion and may face challenges that their predecessors did not. In particular, they
appear to be earning lower incomes and working in non-law related jobs that
dramatically increase their odds of career dissatisfaction.
Consistent with previous research, we have determined that lawyersincomes
are predictive of their career dissatisfaction. Occupational job settings have
effects as well, with lawyers in government and especially non-profit/public
interest settings having lower odds of dissatisfaction than private practitioners
and lawyers in non-law related fields. However, generalizations about private
practice versus other practice settings elide that associates, of-counsel, and
otherfirm attorneys are far more likely to be dissatisfied with their careers
than equity partners, non-equity partners, and solo practitioners. Debt and
class rank have weaker effects that are limited to the career dissatisfaction of
attorneys who began practicing before the recession.
Equally important, although Texas lawyersassessments of their career satis-
faction vary by race, gender, and years of practice experience, none of these
demographic characteristics has an independent effect on career dissatisfaction.
Private practitionersodds of dissatisfaction are also unaffected by their firms
size and by their practice areas.
Ultimately our analysis of attorneyscareer dissatisfaction suggests that the
legal profession has weathered the economic recession and that legal careers
continue to be satisfying. The 2008 recession may have altered lawyerscareer
trajectories, but the new normal is hardly dark and depressingfor the vast
majority of attorneys. This conclusion may seem difficult to reconcile with the
negative rhetoric surrounding the legal profession and claims of structural
change, but it is possible that in impacting lawyerscareers, the recession also
moderated lawyersexpectations of their careers. In more prosperous times,
attorneys may have sought both high incomes and satisfying job settings
whereas in the new normal one or the other may suffice to generate career sat-
isfaction. Indeed, for newer attorneys, who appear to have been disproportio-
nately impacted by the recession, merely being able to work as lawyers and
not in non-law related fields may suffice.
Whether the legal profession will maintain its relatively low level of career dis-
satisfaction depends on two main factors: First, whether attorneys that entered
the legal profession after the economic recession will eventually be able to earn
incomes equivalent to those earned by attorneys who began their careers earlier,
and second, whether they will have the same opportunities to advance and tran-
sition between practice settings that their predecessors did or whether they will
be forced to remain in less satisfying associate, of-counsel, and other such pos-
itions. These trends are likely to determine if law will continue to be a satisfying
career not only in the new normal, but beyond.
1. See, e.g., Heinz, J.P. & Laumann, E.O. (1994) Chicago Lawyers: The Social Structure of
the Bar 1; Abel, R.L. (1989) Comparative sociology of legal professions in lawyers in
society, Comparative Perspectives, 80.
2. See, e.g., Stefancic, J. & Delgado, R. (2005) How lawyers lose their way: a profession
fails its creative minds 3; Seligman, M., Verkuil, P.R. & Kang, T.H. (2001) Why
lawyers are unhappy, Cardozo Law Review, 23, pp. 33, 34; Schiltz, P.J. (1999) On
being a happy, healthy, and ethical member of an unhappy, unhealthy, and unethical
profession, Vanderbilt Law Review, 52, pp. 871, 874878.
3. See, e.g., Organ, J. (2011) What do we know about the satisfaction and dissatisfaction
of lawyers? A meta-analysis of research on lawyer satisfaction and well-being, Uni-
versity of St. Thomas Law Review, 8, pp. 225, 225; Monahan, J. & Swanson, J.
(2009) Lawyers at mid-career: a 20-year longitudinal study of job and life satisfac-
tion, Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, 6, pp. 451, 474; Dinovitzer, R. & Garth,
B.G. (2007) Lawyer satisfaction in the process of structuring legal careers, Law &
Society Review, 41(1), pp. 68; see also Fortney, S.S. (2000) Soul for sale: an empirical
study of associate satisfaction, law firm culture, and the effects of billable hour
requirements, UMKC Law Review, 69, pp. 239, 243 (reporting 79% satisfaction
among law firm associates in Texas).
4. Organ, supra note 3, at 274.
5. See Chambers,D.L. (2014) Overstating the satisfaction of lawyers, Law & Society Inquiry,
39, pp. 313, 31314 (observing that lawyersmean career satisfaction in the 2007 General
Social Survey was 3.33 out of 4 whereas for all occupations the mean was 3.3).
6. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, overall employment in the legal sector
declined by 71,000 from May 2007 to December 2009. See Craig Stalzer, Careers in
Law Firms, Bureau of Labor Statistics (Sept. 2014), at
careeroutlook/2014/article/careers-in-law-firms.htm. This figure includes lawyers
and non-lawyers. Id.
7. See Georgetown Center for the Legal Profession, 2016 Report on the State of the Legal
Market, p. 3 (2016), at
Final-Report.pdf (Demand for legal services was essentially flat in 2015 this con-
tinues a pattern seen over the last six years …’).
8. Burk, B.A. (2014) Whats new about the new normal: the evolving market for new
lawyers in the 21st century, Florida State University Law Review, 41, pp. 541, 543;
see Barton, B.A. (2015) A glass-half full: the decline and rebirth of the legal profession
pp. 214225.
9. See works cited in Dinovitzer, R., Garth, B.G. & Sterling, J.S. Buyers remorse? An
empirical assessment of the desirability of a legal career?, Journal of Legal Education,
63, pp. 211, 211 N.2 and in Adediran, A., Hagan, J.O., Parker, P. & Plickert, G. (2017)
Making the best of a bad beginning: young New York lawyers confronting the great
recession, Northeastern University Law Review, 9, pp. 259, 298.
10. See, e.g., Barton, supra note 7, at 12; Brooks, R.A. (2011) Cheaper by the hour: tempor-
ary lawyers and the deprofessionalization of law pp. 2124 (exploring possible causes
for de-professionalization of legal work).
11. See Chambers, D.L. (2013) Satisfaction in the practice of law: findings from a long-
term study of attorneyscareers, University of Michigan Public Law Research, Paper,
No. 330, p. 40, Available at:
12. See, e.g., Allesandri, G., et al. (2017) A dynamic model of the longitudinal relationship
between job satisfaction and supervisor-rated job performance, Applied Psychology, 66,
pp. 207, 207; Bartel, A.P. & Borjas, G.J. Middle-Age Job Mobility: Determinants and
Consequences 2 in Men in the Pre-Retirement Years (Wolfbein ed. 1977).
13. There has already been some concern regarding the alleged dumbing downof the
legal profession. See Kitroeff, N. (2015) Are lawyers getting dumber?, Bloomberg,20
August, Available at:
14. See Dinovitzer, R. et al. (2014) After the JDIII: third results from a national study of
legal careers 17.
15. As noted by Organ, a survey conducted by the South Carolina Bar in October 2008
reports that only 59.1% of attorneys are very satisfied or satisfied with their careers.
See Organ, supra note 3, at 259 (citation omitted). However, the survey was focused
exclusively on newer attorneys. See id.
16. See generally, Simkovic, M. & McIntyre, F. (2014) The economic value of a law degree,
The Journal of Legal Studies, 43, pp. 249, 272 (noting the vulnerability of entry-level
workers during difficult economic cycles).
17. See e.g., Hagan, J. & Kay, F. (2007) Even lawyers get the blues: gender, depression, and
job satisfaction in legal practice, Law & Society Review, 41, pp. 51, 78; Mueller, C.W. &
Wallace, J.E. (1996) Justice and the paradox of the contended female worker, Social
Psychology Quarterly, 59, pp. 338, 349.
18. Since this research focused only on active members of the State Bar, we do not presume
to assess the career satisfaction of law school graduates who never became members of
the State Bar or resigned from the Bar.
19. See e.g., Monahan & Swanson, supra note 3, at 451; Heinz & O. Laumann, supra note 1,
at 1; Kay, F.M. & Hagan, J. (1995) The persistent glass ceiling: gendered inequalities in
the earnings of lawyers, British Journal of Sociology, 46, pp. 279, 284.
20. Krieger, L.S. & Sheldon, K.M. (2014) What makes lawyers happy?A data-driven pre-
scription to redefine professional success, The George Washington Law Review, 83,
pp. 554, 571.
21. Farber, H.S. (2011) Job Loss in the Great Recession: Historical Perspective from the Dis-
placed Workers Survey, 19842010. National Bureau of Economic Research Working
Paper 17040. (Cambridge, MA, National Bureau of Economic Research); Goodman,
C.J. & Mance, S.M. (2011) Employment loss and the 200709 recession: an overview,
Monthly Labor Review, 134, 312; Rodgers, W.M. (2012) The Great Recessions Impact
on African American Public Sector Employment, Unpublished Working Paper #12-01,
(Ann Arbor, MI, National Poverty Center, University of Michigan); Thies, D. (2009-
2010) Rethinking legal education in hard times:the recession, practical legal education,
and the new job market, Journal of Legal Education, 59, p. 598; Wegner, J.W. (Forth-
coming) More complicated than we think: a response to rethinking legal education in
hard times: the recession, practical legal education and the new job market, Journal of
Legal Education; University of North Carolina Legal Studies Research Paper No.
1533788. Available at SSRN:
22. Mauro, G.F. & Sandra, S.L. (2010) The global crisis of 20072009: markets, politics,
and organizations, In Markets On Trial: The Economic Sociology of the U.S. Financial
Crisis, 30, pp. 225, 256, Bingley, UK: Emerald, Michael Lounsbury & Paul. M. Hirsch
23. See Stalzer, C. (2014) Careers in law firms, Bureau of Labor Statistics September. Avail-
able at: This
figure includes lawyers and non-lawyers. Id.
24. LexisNexis (2009) State of the Legal Industry Survey: Complete Survey Findings, 10.
25. Burk, B.A. & McGowan, D. (2011) Big but brittle: economic perspectives on the future
of the law firm in the new economy, Columbia Business Law Review, 2011(1), pp. 28
29 (reporting that from 1 January 2008 through 31 January 2010, the Law Shucks
website documented 14,347 people laid off by majorlaw firms.Further, the total
number of attorneys decreased 4.3% in 2009 compared with 2008, and another 1.1%
in 2010, only the second period since the National Law Journal started compiling
these statistics in 1979 that the total has decreased.
26. See, e.g., Merritt, D. (2015) What happened to the class of 2010? Empirical evidence of
structural change in the legal profession, Michigan State Law Review, 3, p. 1043.
27. Merritt, supra note 25, at 1073.
28. Id. at 10741075.
29. See e.g., Kaiser, L.C. (2002) Job satisfaction: a comparison of standard, non-standard,
and self-employment patterns across Europe with a special note to gender/job satisfac-
tion paradox. EPAG Working Paper 27 (Colchester, University of Essex); Souza-
Poza, A. & Sousa-Poza, A.A. (2007) The effect of job satisfaction on labor turnover
by gender: an analysis for Switzerland, The Journal of Behavioral and Experimental
Economics, 36, pp. 895, 913; Pohl, S. & Galletta, M. (2017) The role of supervisor
support on individual job satisfaction: a multilevel analysis, Applied Nursing Research,
33, pp. 61, 66.
30. Adediran et al., pp. 23 (2016).
31. See State Bar of Texas, Frequently Asked Questions, at
32. Tx. Gov. Code § 81.051.
33. See State Bar of Texas, State Bar of Texas Membership: Attorney Statistical Profile
(20152016), at
34. Krieger and Sheldon report a response rate of 12.7%, with one state having a response
rate of 8.8%. See supra note 16, at 571; see also Adediran et al., supra note 8, at 3
(reporting at 10.8% response rate).
35. Surveys featuring relatively low response rates can be subject to nonresponse bias when
respondents differ from nonrespondents in certain respects and respond differently on
these bases. See, e.g., Siemiatycki, J. & Campbell, S. (1984)Nonresponse bias and early
versus all responders in mail and telephone surveys, American Journal of Epidemiology,
120, pp. 291, 297; Groves, R. & Petcheva, E. (2008) The impact of nonresponses rates
on nonresponse bias: a meta-analysis, Public Opinion Quarterly, 72, pp. 167, 169, 180.
Nonresponse bias is far more likely to occur when survey participation is linked to the
measure of interest (i.e. when respondents complete the survey because they are dis-
posed to a certain outcome). See id. at 181. As set out infra,respondents and nonre-
spondents are substantially similar in gender, race/ethnicity, years of experience, and
occupation; in addition, respondents were queried concerning their career satisfaction
as part of an income survey that, in previous years, did not include questions concern-
ing career satisfaction. Lastly, one method to ascertain the existence of nonresponse
bias is to use late responders as surrogates for nonrespondents and to compare this
group to early responders. See, e.g., Lindner, J.R., Murphy, T. & Briers, G.E. (2001)
Handling nonresponse in social science research, The Journal of Agricultural Edu-
cation and Extension, 42, pp. 43, 5152; Armstrong, J.S. & Overton, T.S. (1977) Esti-
mating nonresponse bias in mail surveys, Journal of Marketing Research, 14, pp. 396,
397. Using this method, we find no significant differences in either career satisfaction
or satisfaction with the decision to attend law school between early and late respon-
ders, suggesting that the results are unaffected by nonresponse bias.
36. While career satisfaction is a 5 category variable, we found it more meaningful to apply
a binary estimation than a multinomial estimation. One advantage to this approach is
that we can distinctively compare satisfaction and dissatisfaction without the potential
noise of the category that places respondents in neither category. See Allison, P. (1999)
Comparing logit and probit coefficients across groups, Sociological Methods &
Research, 28, pp. 186, 18687.
37. See Allison, supra note 22, at 199.
38. Among full-time private practitioners, the median income was $125,000.
39. The over-representation of newer attorneys, who, according to our data, are generally
less satisfied with their careers than their more experienced counterparts, provides
additional support for our analysis in supra note 23 that our results do not overesti-
mate the career satisfaction of active State Bar members.
40. See State Bar of Texas, State Bar of Texas Membership: Attorney Statistical Profile
(20152016), at
41. Compare to id.
42. See Appx.Table A3.
43. We explored two measures of firm size, a continuous and a categorical measure. For
the categorical measure of firm size, we tested a measure somewhat similar to the
AJD Study. However neither of the two firm size measures reaches significance in pre-
dicting career satisfaction. Thus our logistic regression models include the non-trans-
formed continuous measure of firm size.
44. Burk, supra note 7, at 423.
45. These differences are particularly striking because some of the less experienced group
(those with 0 to 2 years of practice experience) decided to embark on legal careers
during the recession and therefore, unlike more experienced colleagues, should not
have been caught unware by the recession.
46. See Organ, supra note 3, at 264 ([S]urveys consistently indicate that, across time,
newer attorneys are less satisfied than more experienced attorneys.). One of the
main reasons is income. Income is highly correlated with years of practice experience.
See also Simkovic, M. & McIntyre, F. (2014) Populist outrage, reckless empirics: a
review of failing law schools, Northwestern University Law Review Online, 108, pp.
176, 184 ([L]awyer earnings typically peak at middle age, between fifty and fifty-
five.). For differences in careers across the life course, see Plickert, G., Kay, F. &
Hagan, J. (2017) Depressive symptoms and the salience of job satisfaction over the
life course of professionals, Advances in Life Course Research, 31, pp. 22, 33.
47. See Chambers, supra note 10, at 10.
48. See Dinovitzer & Garth, supra note 3, at 22.
49. The comparatively low level of satisfaction is not unprecedented. As Chambers reports,
five year graduates of the University of Michigan School of Law were least satisfied with
their careers in the aftermath of the recession that lasted from July 1990 to March 1991.
See Chambers, supra note 10, at 40 (noting that percentage of attorneys reporting high
career satisfaction had dropped by ten percent among private practitioners).
50. See Burk, supra note 7, at 57778; Merritt, D.J. (2015) What happened to the class of
2010? Empirical evidence of structural change in the legal profession, Michigan State
Law Review, 2015, pp. 1043, 1083.
51. Our sample of lawyers included 158 who both began their careers after the recession
and work in non-law related fields.
52. See also Merritt, supra note 36, at 1079 (noting that Almost half (45.6%) of the 2010
graduates holding business jobs were seeking other work compared to just 28.8% in
that category a decade earlier.).
53. NALP collects entry-level salary data for law school graduates and has reported that
the median starting salary for 2008 law school graduates was 72,000. For 2013 gradu-
ates, it was $64,800. See NALP, Employment for the Class of 2015-Selected Findings,p.3
(2016), Available at:
54. See State Bar of Texas, Department of Research and Analysis, 2009 Income
Fact Sheet, p. 4 (2010), at
55. See State Bar of Texas, Department of Research and Analysis, 2015 Income Fact Sheet, p.
56. See Tables 2 and 3. It should be noted, however, that the effect becomes insignificant
above $70,000 as other factors become more salient.
57. See Dinovitzer & Garth, supra note 3, at 20; Dinovitzer, Garth & Sterling, supra note 8,
at 222 ([W]e find that educational debt (both initial debt and debt remaining ) has
no significant relationship to any of the dimensions of job satisfaction that we
58. Debt has an effect on the career satisfaction of private practitioners as well as those in
government, public interest, and non-profit settings. Having remaining debt increases
the odds of dissatisfaction for the former by 12.4% and the latter groups by 22.9%.
59. As Glater points out, the number of students borrowing rose to ten million in 2012
from 5.9 million a decade earlier. See Glater, J.D. (2015) Student debt and higher edu-
cation risk, California Law Review, 103, pp. 1561, 1577. Our data indicate that 80% of
lawyers who have been practicing for six years or less graduated with $50,000 or more
in law school debt.
60. Students that graduated in 2012 or later may qualify for Pay as You Earnthat allows
them to lower their monthly loan payments to 10% of their discretionary income and
then have the remainder of their student loan debt forgiven after twenty years of timely
payments. See generally Wachnik, E.J. (2012) The student debt crisis: the impact of the
Obama administrationspay as you earnplan on millions of current or former stu-
dents, Loyola Consumer Law Review, 24, pp. 442, 45053 (discussing benefits and
drawbacks of Pay as You Earn).
61. Among attorneys with more than 25 years of practice experience, debt has no signifi-
cant effect on career satisfaction, but few practicing attorneys with this level of experi-
ence have remaining debt.
62. This was one of the primary focal points of Krieger and Sheldon. See supra note 16, at
63. See generally, Sander, R. & Bambauer, J. (2012) The secret of my success: how status,
eliteness, and school performance shape legal careers, Journal of Empirical Legal
Studies, 9, pp. 893, 920 (suggesting the law school grades are the strongest predictor
of attorneysincomes).
64. Researchers have found that students with high self-efficacy and grit tend to perform
better academically in different contexts. See, e.g., Duckworth, A.L., Peterson, C., Mat-
thews, M.D. & Kelly, D.R. (2007) Grit: perseverance and passion for long-term goals,
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92, pp. 1087, 1093 (concluding that there
is a correlation between grit and undergraduate performance); Chemers, M. et al.
(2001) Academic self-efficacy and first-year college performance and adjustment,
Journal of Educational Psychology, 91, pp. 55, 61 (finding strong correlation between
first year studentsself-efficacy and adjustment to college). Researchers have also
begun to explore the impact of such traits in the law school context. See Zimmerman,
E. & Brogan, L. (2015) Grit and legal education, Pace Law Review, 36, pp. 114, 114.
65. See, e.g., Dau-Schmidt, K.G. & Mukhopadhaya, K. (1999) The fruits of our labors: an
empirical study of the distribution of income and job satisfaction across the legal pro-
fession, Journal of Legal Education, 342, pp. 362363; Heinz, J.P., Hull, K. & Harter,
A.A. (1999) Lawyers and their discontents: findings from a survey of the Chicago
bar, Indiana Law Journal, 74, pp. 735, 754 (The variables that were significantly
associated with higher satisfaction were income and practicing setting.); Krieger &
Sheldon, supra note 16, at 579, 591 (reporting moderate correlation between income
and well-beingand higher satisfaction among service lawyersversus prestige
66. Krieger & Sheldon, supra note 16, at 591.
67. Monahan & Swanson, supra note 3, at 475.
68. See Dau-Schmidt and Mukhopadhaya, supra note 51, at 363.
69. See State Bar of Texas, Department of Research and Analysis, 2015 Income Fact Sheet, p.
70. Although some research has postulated that income has no effect on the career satis-
faction of government and non-profit/public interest attorneys, see Chambers, supra
note 10, at 35, according to our analysis, each unit increase in income decreases
odds of career dissatisfaction by 21.8% for full-time government and public interest/
non-profit attorneys. However, the effect for private practitioners is larger (38.3%).
71. See Appx.Table A4. Dau-Schmidt and Mukhopadhaya have maintained that lawyers
who take positions with large law firms and as in-house counsel generally make wise
trade-offs, see Dau-Schmidt & Mukhopadhaya, supra note 51, at 363, and our data
point to low career dissatisfaction among these groups of attorneys. Among lawyers
who are employed by law firms with more than 400 lawyers nationwide, only 9%
report being very dissatisfied or dissatisfied. For in-house counsel, career dissatisfac-
tion is likewise 9%. See Appx.Tables A4 &A8.
72. See Appx.Table A9. Krieger & Sheldon posit no difference in the well-being of associ-
ates and partners, but their analysis is based on a sample of 193 partners and 163
associates. See Krieger & Sheldon, supra note 16, at 597. For reasons that are
unclear, they did not include in their analysis lawyers who worked in firms with
fewer than 15 attorneys. Id.
73. Id.
74. Regan, M.C. (2000) Ethics, law firms, and legal education, Maine Law Review, 55, pp.
363, 366.
75. See, e.g., Krieger & Sheldon, supra note 16, at 597; Hagan, J., Huxter, M. & Parker, P.
(1988) Class structure and legal practice: inequality and mobility among Toronto
lawyers, Law & Society Review, 22(9), pp. 2830.
76. See Hagan et al., supra note 61, at 15, 1718.
77. Daicoff, S. (1997) Lawyer, Know thyself, a review of empirical research on attorney
attributes bearing on professionalism, American University Law Review, 46, pp.
1337, 1354.
78. Id. at 1417.
79. See Galanter, M. & Palay, T. (1991) Tournament of lawyers: the transformation of the
big law firm pp. 99102.
80. See id.at6566; Johnson, V.R. & Coyle, V. (1990) On the transformation of the legal
profession: the advent of temporary lawyering, Notre Dame Law Review, 66, pp. 359,
81. Molot, J.T. (2014) Whats wrong with law firms? A corporate finance solution to law
firm short-termism, Southern California Law Review, 88, pp. 1, 8. For an analysis of
non-lawyer-owned firms in the United Kingdom and Australia, see Robinson, N.
(2016) When lawyers dont get all the profits: non-lawyer ownership, access and pro-
fessionalism, Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics, 29, p. 1.
82. See, e.g., Heinz, Hull, & Harter, supra note 51, at 754 (noting that neither race, gender,
or practice experience was correlated with either high career satisfaction or low career
satisfaction); Dau-Schmidt & Mukhopadhaya, supra note 51, at 362 ([T]here is little
relationship between job satisfaction and gender or minority status.).
83. See Appx.Tables A13.
84. See also Dau-Schmidt & Mukhopadhaya, supra note 51, at 362363 (suggesting that
minority and female attorneys are shuntedto less remunerative but more satisfying
job settings); Chambers, supra note 10, at 33 ([W]omen in much greater numbers
than men were willing to earn somewhat less and forego the prestige of firm partner-
ship in order to obtain a more satisfying professional life in other ways.).
85. See Dau-Schmidt et al. (2009) Men and women of the bar: the impact of gender on
legal careers, Michigan Journal of Gender and Law, 16, pp. 49, 117; Plickert, G. &
Hagan, J. (2011) Professional work and the timing of family formation among
young lawyers in US and German cities, International Journal of the Legal Profession,
18, pp. 237, 261; see also Kay, F. & Gorman, E. (2008) Women in the legal profession,
Annual Review of Law and Social Science, 4, pp. 299, 305 (Because the associate period
often coincides with the bearing and raising of children, women may shy away from
firms that require them to sustain a high level of work hours and effort over a
larger number of years.).
86. Krieger and Sheldon found a small negative effect on well-being with increasing
amounts of litigation in lawyerspractices. Krieger & Sheldon, supra note 16, at 599.
87. See Richard, L.R. (2002) Personality type and job satisfaction among practicing lawyers
in the United States, The Capital University Law Review, 29, pp. 979, 983984 (positing
a correlation between lawyerspersonality types and their practice area choices).
88. 70% of lawyers interviewed as part of the Chicago Lawyers Study identified as special-
ists,even though only 22% of research subjects practiced exclusively in one area. See
Heinz & Laumann, supra note 1, at 3334. Economic researchers have found that
specialization tends to increase with the size of the legal market. See Garicano, L.
(2003) Firmsboundaries and the division of labor: empirical strategies, Journal of
the European Economic Association, pp. 495, 500.
89. See, e.g., Schiltz, supra note 2, at 888906; McMillian, L. (2009) Tortured lawyers
through the lens of film, Seton Hall Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law, 19,
pp. 31, 6667; see also Hoffman, P. (1973) Lions in the street: the inside story of the
great wall street law firms 129(The apocrypha of legal literature is filled with horror
stories about the exhausting hours associates once had to put in.).
90. See Krieger & Sheldon, supra note 16 at 596 (reporting small decrease in well-being as
firm size increases); Dau-Schmidt & Mukohpadhaya, supra note 51, at 362 ([L]awyers
in all other types of practice find their work intrinsically more satisfying than their
counterparts in large firm private practice.); see also Fortney, S.S. (2005) NALP foun-
dation in pursuit of work-life balance: best practices management 17 (noting that
among associates at medium and large Texas law firms, only 36.8% reported having
good balance between their work and personal lives). But see Heinz, Hull, and
Harter, supra note 5151, at 754 (noting that firm size is not a significant predictor
of career dissatisfaction).
91. Dinovitzer & Garth, supra note 3, at 22.
92. Heinz, Hull, & Harter, supra note 51, at 754.
93. Dinovitzer & Garth, supra note 3, at 24.
94. See Appx.Table A8.
95. See Bourdieu, P. (1998) The state nobility: elite schools in the field of power 122; Dino-
vitzer & Garth, supra note 3, at 32.
96. See Burk, supra note 7, at 57677.
97. See generally Dinovitzer & Garth, supra note 3, at 3340 (documenting the differing
expectations and career satisfaction of lawyers from more elite and less elite
98. Compare Appx.Table A8 with Dau-Schmidt and Mukhopadhaya, supra note 51, at
362 (reporting 18% negative job dissatisfaction among fifteen-year graduates of Uni-
versity of Michigan School of Law who practice in large private practices).
The authors wish to thank Susan Saab Fortney, Nuno Garoupa, Bryant Garth, Fiona Kay and
Michael Simkovic for the constructive comments on earlier drafts of this paper. We also
thank the State Bar of Texas for their invaluable assistance with survey administration
over the course of this project. This research was supported by a research grant from the
AccessLex Institute. The opinions contained in this paper are those of the authors and do
not necessarily reflect the position or policy of the Institute granting agency.
Disclosure statement
No potential conflict of interest was reported by the authors.
This research was supported by a research grant from the AccessLex Institute [grant number
Table A1. Career satisfaction by gender (full-time workers only).
Career satisfaction Women Men
Very satisfied 29.5% 31.4%
Satisfied 35.7% 36.0%
Neutral 22.5% 21.8%
Dissatisfied 8.4% 7.6%
Very dissatisfied 3.9% 3.3%
Mean 3.97 4.03
Valid N3782 5471
Table A2. Career satisfaction by race/ethnicity (full-time workers only).
Career satisfaction Asian White Black Hispanic Other
Very satisfied 22.2% 31.4% 27.1% 33.2% 26.0%
Satisfied 39.5% 35.8% 31.7% 33.7% 38.3%
Neutral 25.2% 21.7% 26.0% 21.4% 22.9%
Dissatisfied 9.0% 7.7% 9.6% 9.4% 10.2%
Very dissatisfied 4.1% 3.4% 5.8% 2.3% 2.6%
Mean 3.67 3.84 3.65 3.86 3.75
Valid N266 8041 417 1036 420
Table A3. Career satisfaction by years of experience (full-time workers only).
Career satisfaction 2 or less years 36 years 710 years 1115 years 1620 years 2125 years >25 years
Very satisfied 24.4% 21.9% 24.1% 25.9% 30.5% 32.1% 46.0%
Satisfied 36.5% 36.8% 37.2% 37.9% 35.5% 38.8% 32.0%
Neutral 24.6% 26.2% 26.1% 23.8% 23.6% 19.4% 14.8%
Dissatisfied 10.1% 10.9% 8.0% 8.9% 7.2% 6.6% 4.9%
Very dissatisfied 4.4% 4.1% 4.5% 3.5% 3.2% 3.1% 2.4%
Mean 3.66 3.61 3.68 3.74 3.83 3.90 4.14
Valid N1196 1699 1220 1128 894 936 2199
Table A4. Career satisfaction by occupation (full-time workers only).
Private law
For-profit Corporate/In-house
Very satisfied 30.1% 27.7% 33.6% 30.8% 27.2%
Satisfied 35.4% 41.5% 40.3% 37.7% 27.2%
Neutral 22.3% 21.7% 20.6% 22.6% 26.5%
Dissatisfied 8.3% 6.9% 4.5% 6.6% 11.2%
Very dissatisfied 3.9% 2.1% 0.9% 2.2% 7.8%
Mean 3.80 3.86 4.01 3.88 3.54
Valid N5458 1024 330 1478 294
Table A5. Career satisfaction by class rank (full-time workers only).
Career satisfaction 10th percentile 25th percentile 50th percentile 75th percentile Dont know
Very satisfied 34.8% 32.9% 26.9% 26.7% 30.3%
Satisfied 36.0% 36.8% 36.9% 35.0% 32.0%
Neutral 19.5% 20.6% 23.9% 23.6% 24.0%
Dissatisfied 6.8% 7.1% 8.8% 8.9% 8.7%
Very dissatisfied 3.0% 2.6% 3.5% 5.8% 5.1%
Mean 3.93 3.90 3.75 3.68 3.74
Valid N1727 2714 2880 795 1173
Table A6. Career satisfaction by counties (full-time workers only).
Career satisfaction MSA 1 MSA 2 MSA 3 MSA 4 Non-metropolitan
Very satisfied 28.2% 29.2% 28.0% 32.6% 36.9%
Satisfied 35.1% 35.8% 39.6% 34.4% 34.2%
Neutral 24.3% 22.0% 22.2% 22.2% 19.8%
Dissatisfied 8.5% 9.3% 7.8% 7.7% 6.9%
Very dissatisfied 4.0% 3.7% 2.4% 3.1% 2.1%
Mean 3.75 3.78 3.83 3.86 3.97
Valid N2377 2322 1236 688 333
Table A7. Career satisfaction by practice area (full-time private practitioners only).
Career satisfaction Family Litigation Personal Injury Litigation Commercial Criminal Business
Very satisfied 31.8% 29.6% 25.9% 36.6% 25.7%
Satisfied 32.7% 34.0% 37.5% 28.3% 38.4%
Neutral 22.0% 23.8% 24.8% 22.7% 23.4%
Dissatisfied 8.8% 8.8% 8.9% 8.7% 9.6%
Very dissatisfied 4.7% 4.0% 2.9% 3.7% 2.8%
Men 3.78 3.76 3.75 3.85 3.75
Valid N701 626 560 481 354
Table A8. Career satisfaction by firm size (full-time private practitioners only).
satisfaction Solo
attorneys 610
Very satisfied 33.5% 32.0% 27.2% 25.1% 27.0% 27.0% 24.3% 29.0% 27.5% 28.7%
Satisfied 32.4% 32.0% 37.5% 39.7% 39.1% 37.2% 41.4% 36.0% 47.7% 42.5%
Neutral 22.1% 23.1% 23.4% 24.0% 20.8% 20.3% 21.6% 24.0% 15.4% 19.6%
Dissatisfied 7.5% 9.0% 9.1% 7.4% 8.5% 12.8% 8.1% 7.0% 4.7% 6.7%
Very dissatisfied 4.4% 4.0% 2.8% 3.8% 4.6% 2.7% 4.5% 4.0% 4.7% 2.3%
Mean 3.83 3.79 3.77 3.76 3.73 3.73 3.79 3.89 3.89 3.80
Valid N1541 1526 646 526 307 148 111 100 149 341
Table A9. Career satisfaction by role (full-time private practitioners only).
Career satisfaction Solo Associate Equity partner Non-equity partner Managing partner Of-counsel Other
Very satisfied 34.2% 20.1% 40.1% 26.7% 48.7% 18.8% 21.9%
Satisfied 32.3% 38.3% 38.1% 44.7% 29.1% 35.5% 29.2%
Neutral 21.6% 26.3% 15.9% 20.1% 14.4% 26.4% 31.5%
Dissatisfied 7.7% 11.0% 4.2% 6.3% 4.4% 14.7% 10.2%
Very dissatisfied 4.2% 4.3% 1.8% 2.1% 3.4% 4.6% 7.3%
Mean 3.85 3.59 4.10 3.88 4.15 3.49 3.48
Valid N1598 1673 741 333 526 197 343
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The downturn in employment accompanying the 2007-09 recession was notable for its prolonged length, for affecting an especially wide range of industries, and for being deeper than any other downturn since World War II
This is the first theory-guided empirical research seeking to identify the correlates and contributors to the well-being and life satisfaction of lawyers. Data from several thousand lawyers in four states provide insights about diverse factors from law school and one's legal career and personal life. Striking patterns appear repeatedly in the data and raise serious questions about the common priorities on law school campuses and among lawyers. External factors, which are often given the most attention and concern among law students and lawyers (factors oriented towards money and status-such as earnings, partnership in a law firm, law school debt, class rank, law review membership, and U.S. News & World Report's law school rankings), showed nil to small associations with lawyer well-being. Conversely, the kinds of internal and psychological factors shown in previous research to Erode in law school appear in these data to be the most important contributors to lawyers' happiness and satisfaction. These factors constitute the first two of five tiers of well-being factors identified in the data, followed by choices regarding family and personal life. The external money and status factors constitute the fourth tier, and demographic differences were least important. Data on lawyers in different practice types and settings demonstrate the applied importance of the contrasting internal and external factors. Attorneys in large firms and other prestigious positions were not as happy as public service attorneys, despite the far better grades and pay of the former group; and junior partners in law firms were no happier than senior associates, despite the greatly enhanced pay and status of the partners. Overall, the data also demonstrate that lawyers are very much like other people, notwithstanding their specialized cognitive training and the common perception that lawyers are different from others in fundamental ways.
The legal profession is undergoing a structural transformation, with particularly pronounced growth among large core sector firms. This restructuring of an increasingly stratified profession has occurred simultaneous to an influx of large numbers of women. This study examines the intersection of gender and labour organization in the segmentation of the legal profession and the outcomes for earnings attainment. We examine the relative contributions of human capital, labour segmentation and Marxist theories to the earning differentials observed between men and women lawyers. The results reveal a persistent gap between the earnings of men and women. The earnings differential remains after taking into account differences in specializations, positions, and employment settings. Men receive higher income rewards for their acquisitions of human capital. The analysis also finds patterns of gender segregation between and within market sectors that operate to the disadvantage of women. Finally, there appears to be an amplification of the earnings differential for women as they ascend the mobility ladder. A decomposition of effects reveals that 39 per cent of the earnings differential is due to the fact that men and women lawyers work in different positions, different fields of law, and different firms and organizations. The remaining differential (approximately 61 per cent of the total) can be attributed to different rates of returns for men and women for their respective employment characteristics. These findings raise important questions for studies of gender and social mobility and why monetary rewards traditionally associated with positions of high status are not forthcoming to women.
Legal academics and journalists have marshaled statistics purporting to show that enrolling in law school is irrational. We investigate the economic value of a law degree and find the opposite: given current tuition levels, the median and even 25th percentile annual earnings premiums justify enrollment. For most law school graduates, the present value of a law degree typically exceeds its cost by hundreds of thousands of dollars. We improve upon previous studies by tracking lifetime earnings of a large sample of law degree holders. Previous studies focused on starting salaries, generic professional degree holders, or the subset of law degree holders who practice law. We also include unemployment and disability risk rather than assume continuous full time employment. After controlling for observable ability sorting, we find that a law degree is associated with a 73 percent median increase in monthly earnings and 60 percent increase in median hourly wages. The mean annual earnings premium of a law degree is approximately $57,200 in 2013 dollars. The law degree earnings premium is cyclical and recent years are within historical norms. We estimate the mean pre-tax lifetime value of a law degree as approximately $1,000,000.Note: A final version of this article has been published in The Journal of Legal Studies as Michael Simkovic & Frank McIntyre, The Economic Value of a Law Degree, 43 J. LEGAL STUD. 249 (2014).The final published version of the article can be accessed through Jstor or the JLS website.
Everyone agrees that job prospects for many new law graduates have been poor for the last several years; there is rather less consensus on whether, when, how, or why that may change as the economy recovers from the Great Recession. This Article analyzes historical and current trends in the job market for new lawyers in an effort to predict how that market may evolve. The Article derives quantitative measurements of the proportion of law graduates over the last thirty years who have obtained initial employment for which law school serves as rational substantive preparation (“Law Jobs”). In comparing entry-level hiring patterns since 2008 with those in earlier periods, a significant development emerges: While other sectors of the market for new lawyers have changed only modestly during the Great Recession, one sector — the larger private law firms colloquially known as “BigLaw” — has contracted proportionally six times as much as all the others. Entering BigLaw classes overall are now roughly one-third smaller than they were seven years ago. And though BigLaw hiring has historically accounted for only 10% to 20% of each graduating class, it is responsible for over half the entry-level Law Jobs lost since 2008. While some observers predict a return to business as usual as the economy recovers, this Article is skeptical of that account. The Article identifies significant structural changes in the way that the services BigLaw has traditionally provided are being produced, staffed, and priced that diminish BigLaw’s need for junior lawyers, both immediately and in the longer term. These observations suggest that entry-level BigLaw hiring, and thus the market for new lawyers overall, will remain depressed below pre-recession levels well after demand improves to or beyond pre-recession levels. At the same time, even though entry-level demand may remain static, new lawyers’ job prospects may nevertheless improve as the con-traction in the legal academy now underway reduces the number of new graduates competing for work.
Can professional groups, such as lawyers, be incorporated within class analyses? Results from a Toronto survey indicate that lawyers can be usefully located within class categories operationalized in terms of power relations. The class structure of legal practice in Toronto is dominated by older, Anglo-Saxon Protestant males with degrees from Canada's elite law schools, who are practicing corporate and commercial law for predominantly corporate clients. Notwithstanding evidence of recently and substantially improved mobility prospects, we found an absence of Jewish lawyers from the capitalist class and a tendency for women to remain in a legal working class. We also discovered the emergence of a new working class in the legal profession that, perhaps unexpectedly, includes young associates in the corporate and commercial departments of large firms. The exploitation of this "professional proletariat" is as clear as are their relatively high salaries and promising prospects of sharing in the power relations that facilitate their domination and limited autonomy. We argue with qualitative data that it is the combination of high salaries, good mobility prospects, and a highly competitive environment that allows this group to be exploited with very little chance of rebellion. More generally, this kind of class analysis opens new possibilities in the comparative and historical study of lawyers and other professional groups.