Law degrees…Are they worth it ? The happiness and financial factor..

By Ilana Greene and Nathana O’Brien

Job placement?Why would students be interested in this! Everyone hears lawyers are really happy.Why is it that lawyers as a group seem to be so happy?What can you do about it?What kinds of jobs might increase lawyer job satisfaction?Jobs which would contribute to society.

The common wisdom in America is that a law degree is a ticket to a secure steady career path. For art history and English literature majors who would have trouble getting a job that relies directly on their studies, a legal education is thought to provide a high speed ramp to a satisfying and lucrative career. However, recently that perceived wisdom is under attack. Articles have been published exposing the scam that some students, burdened by considerable debt and consequently trapped in a career path that makes them miserable, consider law school.

It is true that law school tuition has greatly outpaced inflation and is often used to support unprofitable departments in universities. It is also true that students are graduating hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt and that more and more law schools are opening their doors in an ever shrinking legal job market. However, there are those for whom law school is a great path to a personally satisfying career. behavioural economics research suggests that contact with people and the feeling that one’s work has a direct impact is a crucial part of job satisfaction. Jobs that fulfil just these requirements are available in the legal field.For example, David Willig, an international lawyer with his own practice that focuses on legal issues that involve transnational borders.

Students interested in law school as stepping stone on the way to a long and productive career should research not just law schools, but also behavioural economics literature on what sorts of jobs make for psychologically satisfying work. Students can then find career paths within the law that will have the features of a satisfying job such as direct interaction with people and a positive impact on society.


Nathana O’Brien is a phi beta kappa graduate of the University of Chicago with interests in philosophy, neuroscience, business, and foreign affairs and will be attending Yale Law School in the Fall of 2012. Follow Nathana on twitter at