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On the Caliper Profile personality test, lawyers also rank astonishingly low in the sociability trait–which measures how comfortable a

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"There are some great lawyers at Shearman & Sterling," one former partner is reported to have said.  "I just don’t think they are particularly happy."

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The use of assessments worldwide is rapidly expanding and lawyers are still lagging at the back of the pack–way back. 

An article by Lisa Belkin in yesterday’s New York Times notes that there are 2,500 "profiling instruments" that companies rely on more every year when deciding whom to hire or promote. Sixty-five percent of companies surveyed reported using

Lawyers have been making it into the big-time news lately.  That is, not just into the AmLaw publications, where spots about closely-argued decisions vie for those on the merger of the month, but onto the front page of  the New York Times SundayStyles section in early January  ("The Falling Down Professions") and more recently the front page

In the era of the global law firm comes (wisely, in our view) the introduction of the position of Global Chief People Officer into law firm senior management .  Reed Smith announced last week that its creation of  the position underscores the increasing importance the firm places on running itself as a business.

"You see more of this

A recent article in the New York Times on young 20-something Internet mega-millionaires quoted one as saying “You ask yourself, ‘Why am I not happier given how lucky I’ve been?’”

While we as lawyers, being supremely circumspect, would rarely verbalize this sort of “squishy” sentiment out in the open, given the levels of unhappiness in our profession, it is a question we should be asking ourselves. 

So here are some of the findings about "happiness," which has exploded as a subject of research over the last few years. Let’s start with the data on the current state of happiness in the US.

Recent surveys point to a relatively high “happiness quotient” these days:

·             86% of Americans are content with their jobs (General Social Survey)

·             76% are satisfied with their family income (Pew Research Center Survey)

·             62% expect their personal situation to get better over the next five years vs. only 7% who expect it to get worse

·             65% of Americans are satisfied over all with their own lives—one of the highest personal satisfaction rates in the world.

As the query of that Internet mega-millionaire illustrates, happiness is not correlated with financial resources or even political stability: countries like Nigeria, El Salvador, Columbia, Mexico and Puerto Rico (along with Switzerland, Denmark and Canada) register higher rates of happiness than the US in the World Values Survey. Other countries, such as Romania, Russia and other former Soviet countries, consistently score at the bottom.

This fairly rosy picture in the US becomes decidedly darker when we factor in the “happiness” data on lawyers:

·             Lawyers generally have one of the highest dissatisfaction rates with their work of all industries/professions, with 65% of young associates surveyed by the ABA last year intending to change professions within two years.

·             Lawyers also have the highest “personal distress” rates of any industry, exhibiting dramatically higher incidences of suicide, mental illness, divorce and substance abuse than other industries. 

Women lawyers seem particularly effected by these developments:

·             Fewer women are seeking law degrees: from 1963 through 2001 female enrollment at law schools climbed nearly every year, from 3.7% to a peak of over 50%; since 2002, however, the percentage of women in law schools has declined each year, currently down to 46%.

·             At a time of very high attorney turnover generally (over 20% leave their jobs every year), the highest drop-out-of-the-profession-entirely demographic is women.

·             In spite of many years of women in the "pipeline," only a small proportion of women stay to become partners in law firms (17%) or senior legal counsel in corporations (18%).

The message seems to be that, in spite of Americans’ general glee, few lawyers are happy living the lawyer’s life.

What Makes Us Happy?

As it turns out, over the last few years a wave of books on happiness, primarily written by academics, have been published. Among them are:

The Pursuit of Happiness, by David G. Myers

Happiness, The Nature and Nurture of Joy and Contentment by David Lykken

Happiness, A History by Darrin M. McMahon

Authentic Happiness by Martin Seligman

The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama and Dr. Howard C. Cutler

The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt

Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert

Happier: Learn the Secrets of Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment by Tal Ben Shahar

Most of these books are based on David Lykken’s findings that there is an individual “set point” of happiness to which most people revert, regardless of their life circumstances—illness, financial concerns, family problems. Lottery winners and paraplegics, those both accepted and rejected as partners or general counsel, all on average return to their baseline levels of happiness within a year.

If health and other circumstances don’t impact our happiness, what does? Jonathan Haidt compares our emotional life in The Happiness Hypothesis to a small, conscious monkey riding a large, unconscious elephant: in many ways we are estranged from the great bulk of our own inner feelings. The running commentary in our minds about what we feel and why is often simply wrong, he contends. For example, research subjects unknowingly hypnotized to react in a specific way to a cue quickly come up with rational, and in their mind truthful, “explanations” of why they acted that way, even though those explanations are causally entirely beside the point: their reaction was programmed in their unconscious by the hypnosis. 

Not only are we not able to access a great part of our inner feelings, evidently we are not very good at analyzing the happiness data that we do have access to. Daniel Gilbert in Stumbling on Happiness explains that we are very bad at remembering what made us happy in the past and in predicting what will make us happy in the future, often overestimating the bang we will get and how long it will last. For example, people often list children as a source of happiness, yet the data indicates that children in fact are "extremely negative," "mildly negative" or have no effect on overall happiness. (More about this later.)

Could We Be Happier?

Continue Reading Lucky Is As Lucky Does: The Muscle Behind Happiness

There is no substitute for face time, as people in my business are wont to insist. But maybe there is.

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