Member Groups

Women and the LawThe newsletter of the ISBA’s Standing Committee on Women and the Law

June 2006, vol. 11, no. 4

Lawyer, Know Thyself—Let’s look together behind the facade of a profession in the law for women

Several incidents, events and conversations converged recently which brought me to reading the book and formulating the ideas I wish to share with you here. The book is Lawyer, Know Thyself: A Psychological Analysis of Personality Strengths and Weaknesses by Susan Swaim Daicoff, J.D., M.S., L.L.MS. (2004, 1st ed., American Psychological Association). 

The first incident happened when one of my 21-year-old twin daughters announced recently that after graduation from college this May she is seriously considering following in mom’s footsteps into a career in law. My first thought (which I did not share with her at the time) was “Oh, no, dear, why!” Another event was my becoming an ISBA Mentor with the encouragement of my Women and the Law Committee colleague, Sharon Eiseman.1 Having to verbalize for new and younger attorneys why a career is law is so great made me reflect seriously on my own choice, on my work, and on my place in the conflict resolution spectrum. Thank you, Sharon, for leading me to that opportunity. 

Yet another event was my joining the national list-serve for the International Association of Collaborative Practitioners (IACP).2 Through that list-serve, I entered into a multiple-discipline (legal, financial and mental health) on-line conversation. A large part of that inter-professional dialogue concentrates on how we as a culture, community, and society deal with disputes and their resolution. Further, in daily conversation I often find myself forced to defend the legal profession or my colleagues (bench and bar) or even the entire legal system itself. I’m sure most of you have had similar conversations which start “why are all attorneys and judges so .... (insert something negative).” So, in that atmosphere, I turned to Ms. Daicoff’s work for greater insight into myself, my chosen profession, and my place in the conflict resolution community.

Ms. Daicoff has digested 40 years of empirical research on lawyers and the legal professional. In her book she looks at lawyers’ personalities, satisfaction, motives and mental health. The findings, dear friends and readers, are not good. 

With respect to women lawyers, she concludes that the data shows that women lawyers are “more achievement-oriented, masculine, competitive and aggressive than other women professionals and lay persons.” Id. at 41. She cites a 1994 study by Harvard psychologist, Carlo Gillian, that found women to more often make decisions based on an “ethic of care,” whereas men more often decide on the basis of a “rights” orientation. Id. at 38. The “ethic of care” decision orientation values “interpersonal harmony, maintaining relationships, people’s feelings and needs and preventing harm.” Id. at 38. Throughout the book Ms. Daicoff, whom I had the pleasure of interviewing by telephone as she drove across Florida, laments that this “ethic of care” is devalued (my own word) through the current process of legal education and professional training of lawyers and judges. Ms. Daicoff delves in her work and her research into the personalities of those of us attracted to (and often disheartened by their chose of) a career in law. 

Lawyer, Know Thyself is an exploration of lawyer personality that discusses how, despite professional success, lawyers sometimes feel dissatisfied, empty, or even miserable. It investigates what it is that makes lawyers different from other people, why there is arguably a crisis of professionalism in the field, and why there is a relatively high level of dissatisfaction and depression among lawyers. Ms. Daicoff tackles two major issues: (1) How did we get here as a profession? and (2) Where are we headed? Id., preface, p. xv. She specifically identifies a tripartite crisis facing the legal profession. Id. at 3. First, the lack of “professionalism” evidenced by frequent complaints of incivility, discourtesy, “Rambo-style” litigation, near-unethical behavior, and general poor conduct of judges and lawyers. This subject is currently under scrutiny by our own bar and by the Illinois Supreme Court. Recently ISBA President, Bob Downs, held Bench and Bar Forums in Chicago and Collinsville addressing this very subject. The goal of the forums was to help to effectively discern the level of this lack of professionalism and how to correct it with concrete and specific measures. Second in the tripartite crisis—a low public opinion of lawyers and the legal profession. Personally, I encounter and attempt to combat this low public opinion daily. Again the ISBA, with its upcoming advertising campaign to the public, is actively addressing this concern head on here in Illinois. Third in the tripartite crisis—the low levels of job satisfaction and mental well-being among lawyers, as revealed by surveys of attorney job dissatisfaction and distress. 

This third crisis gives me most concern. The concern is not only for myself and my friends who practice but now alarms me as a mother whose daughter is contemplating a career in the profession. Although a 1998 in-person survey found that Chicago lawyers (where I practice) are happier than most, Ms. Daicoff goes on to point out that those lawyers surveyed possibly “did not want to admit to as much dissatisfaction face to face as they would have if they had been filling out anonymous, pen-and-paper, mailed-in questionnaires.” Id. at 7. Not much encouragement to be found there. Her review of comparison research on other professions and the public finds that:

... the fact that clinically significant levels of lawyer distress clearly exist, and that they are about double the levels found in the general population, remain. Whether or not individuals in other professional occupations exhibit such alarmingly low psychiatric well-being is irrelevant. What is important is that such levels of distress in my own profession is intolerable to lawyers, to the profession, and to the clients we serve. Fully one fifth of us, one in five lawyers, is “walking wounded,” meaning working, functioning, and representing clients while being psychologically impaired enough that intervention is indicated. Id. at 14.

Clearly this article can only very briefly touch on the many facets of the in-depth analysis of the research on profession and the conclusions to be drawn from same in this some 200-page book. My hope in introducing Lawyer, Know Thyself and Ms. Daicoff’s work to our Catalyst readers is to encourage a review of her book.3 I also hope to start a dialogue among ISBA women members regarding the topic of “lawyers as the walking wounded,” women’s perspectives on that topic, and to find out about (and hopefully inform our readers in these pages) what efforts or programs are already underway to help us effectively “heal” ourselves of such distress. Hopefully we can accomplish some level of “healing” in time for the next generation of women in the profession which may include by child.

If we, the women of the bar, are more likely to have the “ethic of care,” it is more likely then not that we can help get the discussion of “healing” the profession underway. If you are interested in this topic, please feel free to contract the author at lawcrawford@sbcglobal.net or by mail at Law Offices of Sandra Crawford, 77 West Washington, Suite 1515, Chicago, Illinois, 60602, 312)726-8766. 
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1. For information regarding the ISBA Mentor Center and becoming a mentor, go to www.isba.org and click on Mentor Center.
2. For information regarding IACP or Collaborative Practice, go to www.collaborativepractice.com.
3. Ms. Daicoff states, “The book is not necessarily designed to be read from start to finish. Instead, it is more akin to a reference volume. You may want to read it cover to cover or alternatively to dip into it at random.” (Preface p. xv).


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