Get access

Overstating the Satisfaction of Lawyers


  • David L. Chambers

    Search for more papers by this author
    • David L. Chambers is the Wade H. and Dores M. McCree Collegiate Professor of Law Emeritus, University of Michigan Law School. For comments on various stages of this article, I thank Terry Adams, who has shared with me the direction of the University of Michigan Law School Alumni Survey Project since 1981, as well as my long-time colleague Richard Lempert. For their advice on an early draft, I also thank Bart Bingenheimer, John DiNardo, Lynn Mather, and Jerome Organ. For financial support of the Alumni Survey Project over the years, I am grateful to the William W. Cook Research Funds of the University of Michigan Law School and the Law School Admission Council.


Recent literature commonly reports US lawyers as disheartened and discontented, but more than two dozen statistically based studies report that the great majority of lawyers put themselves on the satisfied side of scales of job satisfaction. The claim of this article is that, in three ways, these statistically based studies convey an overly rosy impression of lawyers' attitudes: first, that many of those who put themselves above midpoints on satisfaction scales are barely more positive than negative about their careers and often have profound ambivalence about their work; second, that surveys conducted at a single point in time necessarily fail to include the views of those who once worked in that setting but have now gone elsewhere; and third, that few studies address the problems of bias that may be caused by lower rates of response from the least satisfied persons in the population sampled.