John Monahan

Lawyers at the Peak of Their Careers: A 30-Year Longitudinal Study of Job and Life Satisfaction

CO-AUTHORS Jeffrey Swanson
Journal of Empirical Legal Studies


A decade ago, we conducted a 20-year longitudinal study of career and life satisfaction among the class matriculating at the University of Virginia School of Law in 1987. Here, we extend our repeated measures follow-up from 20 to 30 years—from the time when respondents were a mean of 43 to the time they were a mean of 53 years old. The 2017 survey employed substantially the same instrument used in 2007, with the addition of a new section assessing potential period effects occurring over the past decade that might have influenced respondents’ working conditions, including a stronger stress on economic sustainability. The 2017 response rate was 81 percent of those who had responded to the 2007 survey (constituting 58 percent of the class matriculating in 1987). We found respondents to have taken diverse career paths, with no single work setting accounting for more than one-quarter of the respondents and with fully one-third of the respondents changing jobs in the past decade. Marked gender differences in the professional lives of respondents persisted (e.g., women continued to be much more likely than men to forego full-time employment “in order to care for children” (30 percent vs. 4 percent)). Working conditions at large private law firms stayed problematic, with the portion of respondents negatively affected by a stronger stress on economic sustainability being twice as high among those working in large firms (77 percent) than among those working in other settings (38 percent). Finally, both career satisfaction and life satisfaction again were found to be high, with 77 percent of respondents satisfied with their decision to become a lawyer, and 91 percent satisfied with their lives more broadly.


John T. Monahan & Jeffrey Swanson, Lawyers at the Peak of Their Careers: A 30-Year Longitudinal Study of Job and Life Satisfaction, 16 Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, 4–25 (2019).

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