779 Well-Being, Happiness, and Lawyering

You’ve heard it before: “Don’t be a lawyer. Lawyers are miserable people.”

Research has continuously shown that lawyers (and law students) experience depression, overwork, dissatisfaction, substance abuse, and psychological distress more severely and at a rate much higher than that of other high-stress professions. In a real sense, lawyers take on the worries of their clients.  It is possible to be a diligent (or even great) lawyer and still maintain well-being and happiness?

In this class, participants will join the growing movement to better define and address that question. Participants will read a survey of the ever-growing theoretical and empirical research on lawyer well-being from both legal academia and positive psychology. In particular, participants will aim to develop a broad perspective of the well-being issues in the legal industry. In doing so, participants will be asked to look for flaws and outliers in the perspective described above – after all, some lawyers are, in fact, happy people. Participants will discuss why that is, and consider whether “happiness” should be an expectation or achievable goal for the average lawyer.

Each participant will be asked to imagine a legal industry in which its well-being problems, while likely never solvable, are at least minimized. To that end, in addition to two reflection papers, each participant will be challenged to outline an article, program, idea, or other contribution to thought leadership that will help ameliorate one or more of the legal industry’s well-being problems.

Along the way, this work should be beneficial to each participant’s own well-being and development of a functional – and possibly even happy – professional identity.

This class is a one-credit, pass-fail seminar that will meet eight times for 90-minute sessions. It is open to 2L, 3L and LLM students, with an enrollment cap of 25.  Reflection papers, project work, and class participation will be required.

In Spring 2024, the class will meet January 12, January 26, February 9, February 23, March 22, March 29, April 5, and April 12.

Course Areas of Practice
Evaluation Methods
  • Reflective Writing
  • Research and/or analytical paper
  • Class participation
Degree Requirements
Course Type
  • Lecture
Learning Outcomes
  • Other professional skills needed for competent and ethical participation as a member of the legal profession

Spring 2024

2024
Course Number Course Credits Evaluation Method Instructor

779.01 1
  • Reflective Writing
  • Research and/or analytical paper
  • Class participation
Michael Murphy

You’ve heard it before: “Don’t be a lawyer. Lawyers are miserable people.”

Research has continuously shown that lawyers (and law students) experience depression, overwork, dissatisfaction, substance abuse, and psychological distress more severely and at a rate much higher than that of other high-stress professions. In a real sense, lawyers take on the worries of their clients.  It is possible to be a diligent (or even great) lawyer and still maintain well-being and happiness?

In this class, participants will join the growing movement to better define and address that question. Participants will read a survey of the ever-growing theoretical and empirical research on lawyer well-being from both legal academia and positive psychology. In particular, participants will aim to develop a broad perspective of the well-being issues in the legal industry. In doing so, participants will be asked to look for flaws and outliers in the perspective described above – after all, some lawyers are, in fact, happy people. Participants will discuss why that is, and consider whether “happiness” should be an expectation or achievable goal for the average lawyer.

Each participant will be asked to imagine a legal industry in which its well-being problems, while likely never solvable, are at least minimized. To that end, in addition to two reflection papers, each participant will be challenged to outline an article, program, idea, or other contribution to thought leadership that will help ameliorate one or more of the legal industry’s well-being problems.

Along the way, this work should be beneficial to each participant’s own well-being and development of a functional – and possibly even happy – professional identity.

This class is a one-credit, pass-fail seminar that will meet eight times for 90-minute sessions. It is open to 2L, 3L and LLM students, with an enrollment cap of 25.  Reflection papers, project work, and class participation will be required.

In Spring 2024, the class will meet January 12, January 26, February 9, February 23, March 22, March 29, April 5, and April 12.

Pre/Co-requisites
None

Spring 2023

2023
Course Number Course Credits Evaluation Method Instructor

779.01 1
  • Reflective Writing
  • Research and/or analytical paper
  • Class participation
Daniel Seymour Bowling III

Optimistic, happy people outperform their counterparts on almost every measure of job success with the notable exception of one group: lawyers. Psychological research suggests that on the whole pessimists perform better in both law school and private practice. Since research also shows that pessimism can be a predictor of depression and/or lower levels of life satisfaction, this raises a question among academics who study well-being: what do we do about the lawyers? Or is the research insufficient to make such sweeping claims?

This class will examine why the "pursuit of happiness," a phrase written by a lawyer, has proved futile for many members of the legal profession and those aspiring to its ranks.There is considerable data indicating that lawyers and law students suffer from greater rates of depression and anxiety than other professions, along with accompanying social maladies such as substance abuse. There is also considerable evidence of high career dissatisfaction among lawyers, and many others are leaving the profession or performing well below their capability. This seems unfathomable given the high levels of education, affluence, and respect lawyers enjoy (or will enjoy), factors which predict happiness and job satisfaction in other areas of life.

This class will present the research to date on lawyers and happiness. We will examine the scientific data and academic literature on lawyer maladies, while examining holes in the collective wisdom and why the majority of lawyers are quite content. Also, we will analyze what Covid lockdowns, remote learning and practice, etc., have done to the overall happiness of lawyers and law students. We will not ignore the questions of social justice and if different groups experience different levels of well-being in law school and practice. While acknowledging the very real problems of the profession, we will address the question many lawyers and law professors legitimately ask – so what: who said lawyers are supposed to be happy? We will then review simple actions law schools, bar associations, law firms, and individuals can take to improve the collective health of the profession, as well as the productivity and engagement of its individual practitioners. In the course of so doing, will learn the basic well-being measurement tools and practice interventions shown to increase individual happiness. Students will have the opportunity, on a volunteer basis, to take different well-being measurement tools developed at the University of Pennsylvania, where the professor obtained a master’s degree in psychology studying well-being. This is a serious course grounded in the latest science; while there will be fairly intensive reading and writing requirements, they will be within the bounds of a one-credit hour course, and should add to the overall well-being of each student.

Pre/Co-requisites
None

Spring 2022

2022
Course Number Course Credits Evaluation Method Instructor

779.01 1
  • Reflective Writing
  • Research and/or analytical paper
  • Class participation
Daniel Seymour Bowling III

Optimistic, happy people outperform their counterparts on almost every measure of job success with the notable exception of one group: lawyers. Psychological research suggests that on the whole pessimists perform better in both law school and private practice. Since research also shows that pessimism can be a predictor of depression and/or lower levels of life satisfaction, this raises a question among academics who study well-being: what do we do about the lawyers? Or is the research insufficient to make such sweeping claims?

This class will examine why the "pursuit of happiness," a phrase written by a lawyer, has proved futile for many members of the legal profession and those aspiring to its ranks.There is considerable data indicating that lawyers and law students suffer from greater rates of depression and anxiety than other professions, along with accompanying social maladies such as substance abuse. There is also considerable evidence of high career dissatisfaction among lawyers, and many others are leaving the profession or performing well below their capability. This seems unfathomable given the high levels of education, affluence, and respect lawyers enjoy (or will enjoy), factors which predict happiness and job satisfaction in other areas of life.

This class will present the research to date on lawyers and happiness. We will examine the scientific data and academic literature on lawyer maladies, while examining holes in the collective wisdom and why the majority of lawyers are quite content. Also, we will analyze what Covid lockdowns, remote learning and practice, etc., have done to the overall happiness of lawyers and law students. We will not ignore the questions of social justice and if different groups experience different levels of well-being in law school and practice. While acknowledging the very real problems of the profession, we will address the question many lawyers and law professors legitimately ask – so what: who said lawyers are supposed to be happy? We will then review simple actions law schools, bar associations, law firms, and individuals can take to improve the collective health of the profession, as well as the productivity and engagement of its individual practitioners. In the course of so doing, will learn the basic well-being measurement tools and practice interventions shown to increase individual happiness. Students will have the opportunity, on a volunteer basis, to take different well-being measurement tools developed at the University of Pennsylvania, where the professor obtained a master’s degree in psychology studying well-being. This is a serious course grounded in the latest science; while there will be fairly intensive reading and writing requirements, they will be within the bounds of a one-credit hour course, and should add to the overall well-being of each student.

Pre/Co-requisites
None

Spring 2021

2021
Course Number Course Credits Evaluation Method Instructor

779.01 1 Daniel Seymour Bowling III

Optimistic, happy people outperform their counterparts on almost every measure of job success with the notable exception of one group: lawyers. Psychological research suggests that on the whole pessimists perform better in both law school and private practice. Since research also shows that pessimism can be a predictor of depression and/or lower levels of life satisfaction, this raises a question among academics who study well-being: what do we do about the lawyers? Or is the research insufficient to make such sweeping claims?

This class will examine why the "pursuit of happiness," a phrase written by a lawyer, has proved futile for many members of the legal profession and those aspiring to its ranks.There is considerable data (that predates the current economic crisis) indicating that lawyers and law students suffer from greater rates of depression and anxiety than other professions, along with accompanying social maladies such as substance abuse. There is also considerable evidence of high career dissatisfaction among lawyers, and many others are leaving the profession or performing well below their capability. This seems unfathomable given the high levels of education, affluence, and respect lawyers enjoy (or will enjoy), factors which predict happiness and job satisfaction in other areas of life.
This class will present the research to date on lawyers and happiness. We will examine the scientific data and academic literature on lawyer maladies, while examining holes in the collective wisdom and why the majority of lawyers are quite content. While acknowledging the very real problems of the profession, we will address the question many lawyers and law professors legitimately ask – so what: who said lawyers are supposed to be happy? We will then review simple actions law schools, bar associations, law firms, and individuals can take to improve the collective health of the profession, as well as the productivity and engagement of its individual practitioners. In the course of so doing, will learn the basic well-being measurement tools and practice interventions shown to increase individual happiness. This is a serious course grounded in the latest science; while there will be fairly intensive reading and writing requirements, they will be within the bounds of a one-credit hour course, and should add to the overall well-being of each student.

Pre/Co-requisites
None

Spring 2020

2020
Course Number Course Credits Evaluation Method Instructor

779.01 1 Daniel Seymour Bowling III

Optimistic, happy people outperform their counterparts on almost every measure of job success with the notable exception of one group: lawyers. Psychological research suggests that on the whole pessimists perform better in both law school and private practice. Since research also shows that pessimism can be a predictor of depression and/or lower levels of life satisfaction, this raises a question among academics who study well-being: what do we do about the lawyers? Or is the research insufficient to make such sweeping claims?

This class will examine why the "pursuit of happiness," a phrase written by a lawyer, has proved futile for many members of the legal profession and those aspiring to its ranks.There is considerable data (that predates the current economic crisis) indicating that lawyers and law students suffer from greater rates of depression and anxiety than other professions, along with accompanying social maladies such as substance abuse. There is also considerable evidence of high career dissatisfaction among lawyers, and many others are leaving the profession or performing well below their capability. This seems unfathomable given the high levels of education, affluence, and respect lawyers enjoy (or will enjoy), factors which predict happiness and job satisfaction in other areas of life.
This class will present the research to date on lawyers and happiness. We will examine the scientific data and academic literature on lawyer maladies, while examining holes in the collective wisdom and why the majority of lawyers are quite content. While acknowledging the very real problems of the profession, we will address the question many lawyers and law professors legitimately ask – so what: who said lawyers are supposed to be happy? We will then review simple actions law schools, bar associations, law firms, and individuals can take to improve the collective health of the profession, as well as the productivity and engagement of its individual practitioners. In the course of so doing, will learn the basic well-being measurement tools and practice interventions shown to increase individual happiness. This is a serious course grounded in the latest science; while there will be fairly intensive reading and writing requirements, they will be within the bounds of a one-credit hour course, and should add to the overall well-being of each student.

Pre/Co-requisites
None

Spring 2019

2019
Course Number Course Credits Evaluation Method Instructor

779.01 1 Daniel Seymour Bowling III

Optimistic, happy people outperform their counterparts on almost every measure of job success with the notable exception of one group: lawyers. Psychological research suggests that on the whole pessimists perform better in both law school and private practice. Since research also shows that pessimism can be a predictor of depression and/or lower levels of life satisfaction, this raises a question among academics who study well-being: what do we do about the lawyers? Or is the research insufficient to make such sweeping claims?

This class will examine why the "pursuit of happiness," a phrase written by a lawyer, has proved futile for many members of the legal profession and those aspiring to its ranks.There is considerable data (that predates the current economic crisis) indicating that lawyers and law students suffer from greater rates of depression and anxiety than other professions, along with accompanying social maladies such as substance abuse. There is also considerable evidence of high career dissatisfaction among lawyers, and many others are leaving the profession or performing well below their capability. This seems unfathomable given the high levels of education, affluence, and respect lawyers enjoy (or will enjoy), factors which predict happiness and job satisfaction in other areas of life.
This class will present the research to date on lawyers and happiness. We will examine the scientific data and academic literature on lawyer maladies, while examining holes in the collective wisdom and why the majority of lawyers are quite content. While acknowledging the very real problems of the profession, we will address the question many lawyers and law professors legitimately ask – so what: who said lawyers are supposed to be happy? We will then review simple actions law schools, bar associations, law firms, and individuals can take to improve the collective health of the profession, as well as the productivity and engagement of its individual practitioners. In the course of so doing, will learn the basic well-being measurement tools and practice interventions shown to increase individual happiness. This is a serious course grounded in the latest science; while there will be fairly intensive reading and writing requirements, they will be within the bounds of a one-credit hour course, and should add to the overall well-being of each student.

Pre/Co-requisites
None

Spring 2018

2018
Course Number Course Credits Evaluation Method Instructor

779.01 1 Daniel Seymour Bowling III
Optimistic, happy people outperform their counterparts on almost every measure of job success with the notable exception of one group: lawyers. Psychological research suggests that on the whole pessimists perform better in both law school and private practice. Since research also shows that pessimism can be a predictor of depression and/or lower levels of life satisfaction, this raises a question among academics who study well-being: what do we do about the lawyers? Or is the research insufficient to make such sweeping claims?

This class will examine why the "pursuit of happiness," a phrase written by a lawyer, has proved futile for many members of the legal profession and those aspiring to its ranks.There is considerable data (that predates the current economic crisis) indicating that lawyers and law students suffer from greater rates of depression and anxiety than other professions, along with accompanying social maladies such as substance abuse. There is also considerable evidence of high career dissatisfaction among lawyers, and many others are leaving the profession or performing well below their capability. This seems unfathomable given the high levels of education, affluence, and respect lawyers enjoy (or will enjoy), factors which predict happiness and job satisfaction in other areas of life.
This class will present the research to date on lawyers and happiness. We will examine the scientific data and academic literature on lawyer maladies, while examining holes in the collective wisdom and why the majority of lawyers are quite content. While acknowledging the very real problems of the profession, we will address the question many lawyers and law professors legitimately ask – so what: who said lawyers are supposed to be happy? We will then review simple actions law schools, bar associations, law firms, and individuals can take to improve the collective health of the profession, as well as the productivity and engagement of its individual practitioners. In the course of so doing, will learn the basic well-being measurement tools and practice interventions shown to increase individual happiness. This is a serious course grounded in the latest science; while there will be fairly intensive reading and writing requirements, they will be within the bounds of a one-credit hour course, and should add to the overall well-being of each student.

Pre/Co-requisites
None

Spring 2017

2017
Course Number Course Credits Evaluation Method Instructor

779.01 1 Daniel Seymour Bowling III

Optimistic, happy people outperform their counterparts on almost every measure of job success with the notable exception of one group: lawyers. Psychological research suggests that on the whole pessimists perform better in both law school and private practice. Since research also shows that pessimism can be a predictor of depression and/or lower levels of life satisfaction, this raises a question among academics who study well-being: what do we do about the lawyers? Or is the research insufficient to make such sweeping claims?

This class will examine why the "pursuit of happiness," a phrase written by a lawyer, has proved futile for many members of the legal profession and those aspiring to its ranks.There is considerable data (that predates the current economic crisis) indicating that lawyers and law students suffer from greater rates of depression and anxiety than other professions, along with accompanying social maladies such as substance abuse. There is also considerable evidence of high career dissatisfaction among lawyers, and many others are leaving the profession or performing well below their capability. This seems unfathomable given the high levels of education, affluence, and respect lawyers enjoy (or will enjoy), factors which predict happiness and job satisfaction in other areas of life.
This class will present the research to date on lawyers and happiness. We will examine the scientific data and academic literature on lawyer maladies, while examining holes in the collective wisdom and why the majority of lawyers are quite content. While acknowledging the very real problems of the profession, we will address the question many lawyers and law professors legitimately ask – so what: who said lawyers are supposed to be happy? We will then review simple actions law schools, bar associations, law firms, and individuals can take to improve the collective health of the profession, as well as the productivity and engagement of its individual practitioners. In the course of so doing, will learn the basic well-being measurement tools and practice interventions shown to increase individual happiness. This is a serious course grounded in the latest science; while there will be fairly intensive reading and writing requirements, they will be within the bounds of a one-credit hour course, and should add to the overall well-being of each student.

Pre/Co-requisites
None

Spring 2016

2016
Course Number Course Credits Evaluation Method Instructor

779.01 1 Daniel Seymour Bowling III

Optimistic, happy people outperform their counterparts on almost every measure of job success with the notable exception of one group: lawyers. Psychological research suggests that on the whole pessimists perform better in both law school and private practice. Since research also shows that pessimism can be a predictor of depression and/or lower levels of life satisfaction, this raises a question among academics who study well-being: what do we do about the lawyers? Or is the research insufficient to make such sweeping claims?

This class will examine why the "pursuit of happiness," a phrase written by a lawyer, has proved futile for many members of the legal profession and those aspiring to its ranks.There is considerable data (that predates the current economic crisis) indicating that lawyers and law students suffer from greater rates of depression and anxiety than other professions, along with accompanying social maladies such as substance abuse. There is also considerable evidence of high career dissatisfaction among lawyers, and many others are leaving the profession or performing well below their capability. This seems unfathomable given the high levels of education, affluence, and respect lawyers enjoy (or will enjoy), factors which predict happiness and job satisfaction in other areas of life.
This class will present the research to date on lawyers and happiness. We will examine the scientific data and academic literature on lawyer maladies, while examining holes in the collective wisdom and why the majority of lawyers are quite content. While acknowledging the very real problems of the profession, we will address the question many lawyers and law professors legitimately ask – so what: who said lawyers are supposed to be happy? We will then review simple actions law schools, bar associations, law firms, and individuals can take to improve the collective health of the profession, as well as the productivity and engagement of its individual practitioners. In the course of so doing, will learn the basic well-being measurement tools and practice interventions shown to increase individual happiness. This is a serious course grounded in the latest science; while there will be fairly intensive reading and writing requirements, they will be within the bounds of a one-credit hour course, and should add to the overall well-being of each student.

Pre/Co-requisites
None

*Please note that this information is for planning purposes only, and should not be relied upon for the schedule for a given semester. Faculty leaves and sabbaticals, as well as other curriculum considerations, will sometimes affect when a course may be offered.