I recently came across a lengthy article I wrote about 20 years ago dealing with the stresses of law practice at the end of the 20th Century. It was packed with quotes from both lawyers and law professors describing how legal education, and later the practice itself, have been leeched of their humanity. I had recalled that lawyer and diplomat Sol Linowitz had made some powerful statements in his book The Betrayed Profession and sure enough I found them in my paper. While written more than 20 years ago, he and former Yale Law School Dean Anthony Kronman identified a pervasive and enduring problem with the practice of law in the late 20th and early 21st Centuries.
In describing law as it was practiced in the middle of the last century, Linowitz comments,
“The satisfaction of practicing law were in the knowledge that others depended upon your judgment and loyalty and your abilities and that at the end of the day you knew that you had, in fact helped your client. In my generation, we thought of the law as a helping profession, not a continuation of war by other means.”
Kronman chimed in with these comments in his book The Lost Lawyer – Failing Ideals of the Legal Profession:
“This crisis (of morale among lawyers) has been brought about by the demise of an older set of values that until quite recently played a vital role in defining aspirations of American lawyers. At the very center of these values was the belief that the outstanding lawyer – the one who serves as a model for the rest – is not simply an accomplished technician but a person of prudence or practical wisdom as well. It is, of course, rewarding to become technically proficient in the law. But earlier generations of American lawyers conceived their highest goal to be the attainment of a wisdom that lies beyond technique – a wisdom about human beings and their tangled affairs that anyone who wishes to provide real deliberative counsel must possess.”
Much of this has been reconfirmed in an exhaustive study of lawyers and well-being recently concluded by Florida State Law Professor Lawrence Krieger and Kenneth Sheldon. They found that there is very little correlation between happiness and salary, prestige of law firm or law school or the other achievements which law students and attorneys strive so vigilantly toward. Rather, it is the degree of personal autonomy and the congruence of one’s professional life and personal values that show the highest correlation to well-being.