Review: The Inseparability of Professionalism and Personal Satisfaction…

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By Jeremiah A. Ho, University of Massachusetts School of Law

Lawrence S. Krieger, The Inseparability of Professionalism and Personal Satisfaction: Perspectives on Values, Integrity, and Happiness, 11 Clinical L. Rev. 425 (2005).

Through his writings and teachings, Professor Lawrence Krieger has devoted a notable—dare I say, even honorable—body of work on the humanistic side of lawyering.  Thus, even though his article, The Inseparability of Professionalism and Personal Satisfaction: Perspectives on Values, Integrity, and Happiness, was published more than a decade ago, it still reads with relevance today, especially in light of the many worries that law teachers have expressed regarding the professionalism issues with current law students.  His article here first discusses reasons why law schools have been teaching a limited sense of professionalism—restricted to only “telling law students and lawyers that they should act in certain ways” for either vaguely described “noble reasons” or singly to avoid bar discipline.  Then it illustrates how to redirect that teaching to a more noble and personally fulfilling sense of professionalism.  Such training should be more specific, relevant, and profound, according to Krieger’s article.  It ought to be tied to professional satisfaction, happiness, and a deep set of inherently principled values.  Through humanistic and empirical science, he shows why this connection is true and how to instill a deeper, more personally satisfying sense of professionalism in our students.

To connect professionalism to career and life satisfaction, Krieger begins from a place of dissatisfaction, describing the empirical evidence amongst lawyers that reveal their low career satisfaction and high concerns for mental health issues.  “Those values and motivations that promote or attend professionalism have been empirically shown to correlate with well-being and life satisfaction, while those that undermine or discourage professionalism empirically correlate with distress and dissatisfaction,” Krieger writes.  He also relies on the Maslow hierarchy of human needs that explains people’s drives for growth and satisfaction:  people pursuing higher needs, such as self-actualization and esteem, tend to experience growth motivation and psychological maturity; those pursuing lower needs, such as survival, security, competence, belonging, and respect from others, experience more deficiency motivation accompanied by minimal life satisfaction.  All of these correlations are also supported by modern psychological research, which Krieger examines.  Between intrinsic values of purpose and personal happiness and external motivators such as money or status, modern psychological research builds on Maslow to show that “when intrinsic values and motivation dominate a person’s choices she tends to experience satisfaction and well-being, whereas when extrinsic values and motivation are most important to her she will experience angst and distress.”  Those values that promote happiness are likely to lead to professional behavior; while the vice versa seems to be true.  Furthermore, Krieger finds that the intrinsic value of integrity is tied to professionalism and satisfaction.

Because law school and the legal profession places heavy emphasis of external rewards, law students can be led astray from professionalism and career happiness by their drive to seek out such extrinsic motivators.  In this way, Krieger offers a teaching exercise to instill in students an awareness of the correlation between intrinsic values and professionalism.  He makes his students actively seek out intrinsic values by having them write out hypothetical eulogies of themselves followed by lessons on an idealized professionalism that seeks out noble behavior, by introducing research on the dismal mental and emotional well-being of attorneys, as well as studies on the typical goals and behaviors of happy and healthy individuals.  After such lessons, Krieger asks his students to revisit that eulogy to identify intrinsic values that students have written about in regards to themselves.  Then students must match up those identified values with values that promote professionalism.

As Krieger notes, “[t]he results of this exercise are illuminating, because they show students and lawyers the kinds of things that matter most deeply to them.”  In running this exercise, Krieger has observed that his students tend to express intrinsic values and virtues in their eulogies rather than external ones.  Ultimately, this exercise helps his students differentiate the intrinsic values that lead to personal fulfillment and professionalism from values that would distort their sense of professionalism and career identity and possibly hinder personal fulfillment.  It’s an intriguing exercise, odd in the sense of what’s required is writing one’s own eulogy, but goal-oriented in nature and form, where the law teacher shapes students’ conception of professionalism by getting them to actively acknowledge on their own the types of intrinsic values that professionalism embodies and what values they ought to seek.