Last year, Situationist Contributor Jon Hanson and Situationist Fellow Goutam Jois wrote an article for the Harvard Law Record about the situation of law students at elite law schools. It’s recruitment season again, so we thought it was time to share their article, in chunks, with Situationist readers. The popst picks up where where Part I and Part II left off, suggesting a few things that might be done to assist students in their hunt for satisfaction.
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So what might be done to help students really look after themselves? We suspect that many reforms are worth considering. But the best hope for dealing with this problem of “doing better but feeling worse” may be to provide new and improved types of information to students regarding their options-not in terms of the kind of work, rates of pay, and levels of billing but in terms of the kind of lifestyle, rates of depression, levels of satisfaction, and so on.
We humans are far worse than we believe at predicting what will make us happy. We lack the information and the imagination to know what a new situation will feel like and how it will wear. Nonetheless, we place every confidence in our own happiness forecasts. Social Psychologists like Harvard’s Dan Gilbert are making (satisfying) careers demonstrating this embarrassing shortfall. And, according to Gilbert, probably the surest antidote is, not to try to imagine how we will feel about a life change, but to learn how people who have actually experienced the change feel about it. As he explained in a recent [NPR] interview: “One of the very best ways to find out if you’re going to enjoy taking a job at a particular law firm is simply to see how happy the people who work there are.”
As we’ve discussed, that information is not what HLS students typically receive, nor, because of a misplaced faith in their imaginations, do they demand it. It is true that some general information is available, but it is typically cursory and unreliable. Vault’s “Quality of Life” rankings, for instance, are based on considerations such as training, associate-partner relations, and offices. Valuable data, yes, but they reveal little about how much time associates and partners spend with their families and friends or whether a firm’s lawyers tend to suffer disproportionately from substance abuse problems. Moreover, even the most detailed rankings do not survey government agencies, public interest organizations, or smaller private firms. Yet answering such direct questions could be the only way to provide HLS students with useful information on what their future lives might be like and, thus, on what choices they should be making now.
Of course, filling the information void would be a challenge. Still, it seems doable, and it’s entirely in keeping with the current mission and trajectory of HLS. A valuable way to improve student life further is to help students make good life decisions. And we can better ensure that our students better meet the needs of the legal profession by helping to ensure that the legal profession better meets the needs of our students.
Whether or not the Law School takes up this task, we think it a worthwhile area for further research (a potential 3L paper topic!) and, at the very least, something that students in the throes of this interviewing season should keep in mind.
Though your sample will be small and biased, follow Professor Wilkins’s advice and “keep your eyes open”: look at the lawyers and staff at the places you are interviewing; pay attention to whether they seem happy-not just with their work, but in their lives. Maximize your satisfaction.
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To listen to Dan Gilbert’s NPR interview about his book, Stumbling on Happiness, including a brief description of job hunting, click here. To read Barbara Ehrenreich’s 2007 commencement speech at Haverford College, “The Apocolypse Is Yours Now,” describing the sorry situation in which many college grads now find themselves, click here.