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Research: Lawyer Satisfaction in the Process of Structuring Legal Careers

Lawyer Satisfaction in the Process of Structuring Legal Careers

University of Toronto
Southwestern Law School; American Bar Foundation Law & Society Review, Forthcoming

This paper proposes a new approach to the study of job satisfaction in the legal profession. Drawing on a Bourdieusian understanding of the relationship between social class and dispositions, we argue that job satisfaction depends in part on social origins and the credentials related to these origins, with social hierarchies helping to define the expectations and possibilities that produce professional careers. Through this lens, job satisfaction is understood as a mechanism through which social and professional hierarchies are produced and reproduced. Relying on the first national data set on lawyer careers (including both survey data and in-depth interviews), we find that lawyers' social background, as reflected in the ranking of their law school, decreases career satisfaction and increases the odds of a job search for the most successful new lawyers. When combined with the interview data, we find that social class is an important component of a stratification system that tends to lead individuals into hierarchically arranged positions.