American law schools are sometimes charged with turning out people who are so driven, competitive, and insecure that they end up hating their lives and their careers, and too often sink into depression or alcoholism.
Turns out, this is one thing we in the legal academy might not be responsible for. It’s possible that it’s the practice of law, not what we do in law schools, that tends to emotionally maim so many of our graduates. This is shown by a new paper from five Australian profs, who have done a study of first-year law students’ attitudes toward their new profession, and compared them with later surveys of what lawyers hate about their jobs. The authors are Melissa Castan, Paul Richardson, Helen Watt (all Monash), Jeannie Marie Paterson (Melbourne), and Maryanne Dever (Newcastle), and the paper is Early Optimism? First-Year Law Students’ Work Expectations and Aspirations. Given that Australia, like most civilized nations, uses the four-year LL.B. degree instead of the J.D., its problems with lawyer dissatisfaction might show that at least our U.S. three-year program isn’t making things worse.
As I’ve made clear, I liked law practice, and I like lawyers. Lots of lawyers enjoy their practices hugely. But far too many do not. Whether that’s an inevitable problem with a high-stress job in which our task is often to take all the heat and get little of the thanks from ungrateful clients, or whether we do a poor job of training students on how to deal with those real-life stresses, I don’t know. But Australian law students seem to be as optimistic, and Australian lawyers seem to be as unhappy, as those here in North America.