Michael Sean Quinn, Ph.D, J.D., Etc.

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II. The Empirical

The reader may skip the bracketed small type,if s/he wishes. 
They are my comments.(Maybe there’s too many of them,
and some are too long, anyway.)




Here are some of the assertions the authors  take to be true and empirically (or objective evidence)  based:
  •  People in general are no happier than they were a half century ago. 
  • Lawyers have it harder. Seventy percent (70%) would not choose to be lawyers if they could choose again. 
  • Half of all lawyers (5%) would discourage their children to become lawyers. 
  • Over one third (33+%) of all lawyers who start at big firms  leave their first firm within three (3) years.


[MSQ: Is any of the reasons that we had to do things resembling always mention any number twice–once in English and once in number symbols? There are many burdens hugely more weighty than this, but one gets the idea. This looks like a trivial point, and literately it is, but it is also a symbol using the trivial for the extraordinarily burdensome analogue.]



Lawyers suffer from exceptionally high rates of depression, alcoholism, and suicide.
[MSQ: I can testify to both the first and the third, though in my case, both of the first two were resolved, at least temporarily, perhaps by spiritual gifts, meditation abilities–something the authors recommend–not being one of them. Still, one wonders about the population with whom lawyers are being compared. Anyone that has attended regular AA meetings can tell you that the number of lawyers is not all that high. Maybe they are just too proud to attend. There is after all, in larger cities, special meetings for lawyers, but they are not sufficiently frequent. Again, these downtown meetings,often in one of the conference rooms of a large firm are not well attended.  Perhaps, the claim abut “exceptionally high rates” is over done.  In addition, I have been around the legal profession a long time, and I have not personally been (made) aware of a comparatively high suicide rate, though I seen one from times to time.  I see more news reports of lawyers getting murdered than I get informal news about  lawyers committing suicide.  Of course, the latter may be concealed somehow for a whole variety of reasons so my observation is not to be trusted.]


Lawyers over 50 and work at a small firm, solo, or part time; or work in-house; or work for a government agency, are probably happier than other lawyers. The least happy, are those who work for large firms.
[MSQ: I can testify to the first of these for some of us.  Many lawyers in solo practice have difficult making ends mean; many cannot generate business; many are stuck with types of cases they don’t like; and  many get stuck with cases they hate.   In addition, many of us look at   some other lawyers that remained in big firms, and wish that we had had  the self-discipline to keep going at such places like Dewey-Balentine–at least until recently.   [“Oops”, as the Governor of Texas once put it: not that name. Try “LeBoeuf.”]


Women leave the profession more rapidly than men do.  At the same time, women seem more satisfied with their career than are men, though the unhappiness of the relevant population are black woman in the mid-associate ranks.
[MSQ: I can testify to this, in tiny part. My “close in” observations tend to confirm the first sentence, but not the second.  At the same time, I have no evidence against it either. In addition, they often stay gone longer from the legal career, unless they are single mothers of relatively modest means, at the most.]
Happiness levels for women depend on the type of work they do, more than is true for me 
Men are happier about the work-home balance than women who work full time. 
[MSQ: Of course, men are often not the ones who is doing the real balancing.  I would be shocked if the Team’s claim is true.]


Ethnic and racial differences, influence the numbers.  Black women are less satisfied that others when they are in middle positions in large law firms.
Graduates of lower-ranked law schools rate higher on the happiness scale, than those who graduated from high ranked law schools.
[MSQ:  I’m having a hard time figuring out why this would be true
 Lawyers tend toward the introspective and toward pessimism more than the general population. 
[MSQ: For a variety of reasons, I believe that this proposition is false.  First. pessimism is hard to distinguish from prudence and caution which all lawyers must have : “You may want to settle because you may lose this case, and if you do, you may be responsible for paying the other party’s legal fees.”  Similar points can be made about introspection.  If a lawyer does not think inwardly about strategy, tactics, dimensions that which is facing the clients, his own ethical duties (as necessary), s/he would be a poor lawyers indeed.  See Many of the lawyers I have known over many years are not introspective in the sense that this is a description of a personality, taken as a whole.  Many lawyers, especially male lawyers, are “Hail Fellows, Well Met.” Such people are (at least partial) extroverts.


Church membership tends to increase happiness, as does more than a touch of hedonism.  Integrated groups like churches that encourage relatedness are like  churches in this regard. 
[MSQ: Aristotle was right about the second, at least amongst real “adults.”] Satisfactory close relationships increase happiness. MSQ: Few are happy when in a bitter divorce, a child is in rehab, or a close person is quite,  injured, or recently passed on.  By the way, belief in God or god or gods is not crucial to this function of church membership, in fact if might retard the function.]



Wealth is vastly over estimated. Too much money often contributes to less happiness than secure and plenty of asserts. 
[MSQ: I can testify about this, though constant worry about enough money does not make one happy. There is much to be said about the life style or minimalism, or frequent meditation or spiritual retreats. Many good thing can be said about silence, perhaps.]
Trusting and being trusted by some people is a key component of happiness. 
[MSQ:  As long as the right people are involved. The termination of trust can be for damaging than there being a trust relationship.]


Failures contribute to unhappiness.

[MSQ: There are exceptions. Making mistakes, under circumstances can be very educational. Aristotle is right again. Too may errors, even if they are educational, don’t help. This also applies to the wrong type of errors. If you have just lost or caused a loss, especially an expensive loss, you might not focus on how much you’ve learned]
People do a rather poor job of predicting their own happiness.
[MSQ: It is amazing how many people refuse to believe this, even if the arc of their friends tends to confirm it or if their own record or prediction confirms it.]
Having control over professional and personal functions contributes to happiness.
[MSQ#1: Or learning how to live with some dependence. Co-dependence is not always a bad thing. Consider the married couple: He depends on her and she on him. This could be work related; it can be emotional; it better be–at least usually–for sex, and so on at great length.]
[MSQ#2: The idea of “control” over one’s profession, is a murky idea. All sorts of things influence having a sense of control over virtually anything, including one’s profession: family needs, self-discipline, self-needs from outside the profession, feelings about bosses, tolerance of assholes, amusement about them, never having learned how to “shrug” and doing it, practicing appropriate depths of  breathing, a sense of the comical, inclination to satire, inclination to laugh–often privately–at the foibles of hubris. Of course, from a more immediate perspective regarding control professional control are many examples. There are judges, their schedules, opposing counsel, co-counsel, hierarchy, clients and their personalities. These all pertain to the nature and availability of control. So what does it really mean to say that control influences happiness? What if I were to say, a genuine right to happiness for lawyers is to study the great joksters of today and the past, appreciate them, and step inside them (as it were)? Oh yes, and study the ancient and the current literature of stoicism and embody it into your soul. The literature is not that hard to grasp, etc. Aha! I forgot. Try some psychotherapy.
[[MSQ#3: It is not the case that having control over people increases happiness on anything like a universal basis and maybe not even in a huge majority.  When wife controls husband, the price of having control may be very high, an it is not the case that all of the problems result from husband’s resentment.  In addition, having control means that the person in control is going take the blame for mistakes.  And “blame” is not a simple idea.  The person who is not not in control may keep a “file” on the perceived errors of the person who is control carries with it responsibility.]
[MSQ#4: For different reasons, control over career choices can lead to despair. I know a number of lawyers who took control of their careers, went solo, and ended up wishing they had developed the stamina and self-discipline to stick it out with the big firm. Here is another view: the weight of–at worse–dictatorial power–or snobbish elitism fades after a few years in a large law firm, unless you will the existence of those powers or you are weak.  Even then, those in charge–the bosses of mature adults–become less sergeant-to-private and more seemingly convivial.  Lording it inferiors who are plainly actually superior is less fun and more dangerous after time has passed.]




[MSQ#5:One could easily imagine a by internal comparison, so-so lawyer handling mid-sized estate matters from beginning to end in a large and even prestigious firm, where they would be done–at a relatively modest fee–for executives and some customers of a large client. Such a person will probably  be treated reasonably well on the whole and not contemptuously, will probably not be sneered at behind his back (much, and then only by contemptable outliers), but will not rise to any high prestige status within the firm and may not become a senior partner (or whatever the highest ranking party is). Such a situation may be perfectly satisfactory to  a modest fellow who is not burning with ambition or legal-career ambition.  He does not need a solo practice of his own. He may enjoy his station. Neither he nor his wife need or want to live on an A+ street; a B street may be fine. The wife has no desire to be in the Junior League. He plays golf, if at all, on municipal courses. The couple can put kids through college without their amassing enormous debt and ultimately retire with a decent financial nest.  They vacation frequently in X-ville, but do not have a summer place in Aspen.  This man does not fit the Team-paradigm of the lawyers they focus on.  Whatever is “said” such a fellow has no concete portrait in the book under discussion.]

[MSQ#6:  It is worth pointing out that not all senior lawyers in large law firms end up “filthy rich.”  They end up wealthy, in the absence of gambling problems, too many “girlfriends at once or over time,” money grubbing “girlfriends,” too many children by a once beloved spouse (or more), the alimony owed the spouse that kicked you out, and so forth.]  
The authors assert that as a matter of empirical fact, across all cultures, there are six factors which contribute to a person’s being a “thriving person,” and such a person is “generally one who is satisfied with his or her life.”  Here they are:
  1. security
  2. autonomy
  3. authenticity
  4. relatedness
  5. competence
  6. self-esteem
[MSQ# This is a hard list to dispute. Still, how many dimensions are there to security?  Physical, monetary, job-related, personal connections?   Authenticity means, perhaps among other things, deciding for you self who you really are and going after it with zest.  The former of these two might be called “self-insight;” the second might be called “self-construction;” and together they might be called “self-determination.”  How much self-determination is needed to be happy or happier?  (Self-determination does not come only in A v. F grades.) 

Twenty years or so ago, I wrote the best prose I had ever written. It was a flop. The same happened to me in a lecture two years ago. Both of these efforts manifested authenticity; neither suggested to me that I was incompetent; neither damaged my self-esteem about certain things, anyway; but its being a flop undermined my own sense of authenticity to a considerable degree at first and then less so for other  various periods of time. I felt like I hadn’t really found myself.  Actually, I was wrong, but I felt like I had not, an that was what mattered.



The facts are quite clear, really, those who constructed the empirical system upon which the Team is depending, as plausible as it looks, needs further study, before it is reliable for happier-creating (or, happier-pursuing, etc.). First, these six factors need not go together. Second, they can last for short times or long. Third, they come in degrees. Fourth, which ones render one happier than others? Do they work differently for different people?  If they are not flying in a flock, which one (or two) generally (or should, or could) come first, according to the world-wide evidence, if any? If one can chose which one(s) come first, how should someone make these decisions?  Fifth, does self-help work well at making one’s self happier (or happy),  from the empirical point of view?  If it does, how does it mix with the components on the  “List of  Six.”  Obviously, and sixth, common sense tells us that no one can improve at all of them all at once. It also tells us that some of them will be harder to develop than others. Seventh, it tells us that different people will achieve some but not others, and finally, Eighth, common sense also tells us that for different people, a regime of one self-helping his/her toward happiness must  something something like congruence with different types of persons, in different ways, and at different times.  In my opinion, a person thinking apriori will not be able to come up with good and dependable answers if he or she, works alone, starts with questions in groups that are complicated or tangled, does not get outside advice, e.g., from a person with whom the striving self-helping person, is not willing to change their mind periodically, and so forth.

The Team also provides a list of factors they believe, at least, tend to make lawyers unhappy. Some of them affect everyone.  In a few cases, these are inferences or guesses of mine as to what they think. I have marked them “MSQ.” In any case, here are some key phrases, but not whole sentences:
  • “Life on the hedonistic treadmill.”
  • substantial lasting real personal danger [not only to one’s self but to the closely related–“soul mates”? [MSQ]
  • substantial lasting pain [MSQ: Id.]
  • lasting and high level ambient noise
  • work based misery (may go along with other sources)
  • not loving (or close to loving) vocation
  • overwork. . . .rigid billable hour system
  • superiors demanding performance at off-times
    • making the demand
    • performance itself
  • (technology is a contributing force)
  • loss of a sense of social significance
  • feeling like the job is meaningless,
  • out of touch with one’s true self,
  • having sought to be part of  a “noble profession” and having lost that conception regarding one’s law practice,
  • loss of passion for the law
  • feeling of not measuring up to one’s own specified potential or performance standards [MSQ]
  • having absurd standards for oneself [MSQ],
  • loss of idealism (if it earlier existed)
  • sense of declining “professionalism” in the lawyer culture
  • sense of growing incivility among practicing lawyers
  • inability to shrug off incivility [MSQ],
  • lack of appreciation for the use of the “nudge” in dealing with important decision making [MSQ],
  • lack of respect for the essential role of negotiations in law practice,  [MSQ],
  • inability to grasp negotiations, and really understand it [MSQ]
  • acquire the sensibility and skill to be able to negotiate well, at least in theory and to no more than a limited extent in practice[MSQ]
  • really know that s/he’s  got it and therefore have thorough and in depth self-confidence
  • and more.
[MSQ:  What if the empirical data indicates that no more than 40% of the empirical propositions were supported by evidence. Would one be discouraged about the reliability of the data?  With respect to recommendations as to how to make a lawyer happier, or how each can make him/her self happier, what if it had only a 40% achievement record?  Of course, that is the wrong observation.  If it had a 40% rate, but no other approach or approaches has higher rates–but had only substantially lower rates–then the leading program would be the only one to work with.]

    Now we turn to the advice and recommendations.

Originally posted on 01/30/2014 @ 8:00 pm

Michael Sean Quinn, PhD, JD, CPCU, Etc

Michael Sean Quinn, PhD, JD, CPCU, Etc. (530)

One of Texas's leading insurance scholars, Michael Sean Quinn is a past chair of the Insurance Section of the State Bar of Texas and has a broad legal practice.

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