Larry Kramer is a law professor and the current dean of Stanford Law School. Kramer has been openly critical about the state of the legal profession and has ushered in sweeping reforms of Stanford Law's curriculum since taking over in 2004. Kramer's changes seek a more multidisciplinary approach to legal studies, a stronger emphasis on public service, and a greater awareness how globalization has changed legal practice. Kramer graduated magna cum laude from the University of Chicago Law School in 1984 and has written a book "The People Themselves: Popular Constitutionalism and Judicial Review."
Question: Why are lawyers the most depressed professionals?
Larry Kramer: So I think a large part of that comes from exactly the things that we’ve been talking about. Which is, people have been, you know, making job choices, early career choices, that are not really well suited for them. And then getting into jobs with the idea that they’ll just do it for a couple of years, make a lot of money, pay off their debt and then find something that they like. But what happens too often is, it’s actually really hard to go from making $200,000 a year to making $100,000 a year. So they don’t make the move out once they’ve been in it for a couple years and suddenly they’re locked in a career that isn’t really satisfying to them.
A big part of that is our fault, the law school’s fault, because, as I say, we’ve always done much too little to really help them think about their choices while they’re in school and we’ve made it easy for them to just follow this path. So, you know, so we need to reduce that, I think we need to help people actually while they’re in law school, you know, find their way to a career within the law that will be fulfilling. It’s not the practice of law, as I say, the practice of law is great. It’s fascinating, you get to work with amazing people, you get to do important things, you get to help people in a big way. So it’s just a question of helping people find that part of a legal profession that does that for them and we haven’t done enough of that and I think too many people have done too little.
Now, there’s two other aspects to this, though. One is, for what it’s worth, I think the reports are somewhat exaggerated. We’ve been doing our own research on this and actually there’s a study that’s just come out called, After The JD and After The JD 2, and the levels of satisfaction among legal professionals are much higher than a lot of the other studies or anecdotal reports would have you think. They’re still not as high as they ought to be, but it’s, I think, not quite as bad as conventional wisdom now holds. And then the second thing is, you know, there’s also a large amount of evidence that suggests that if you can find a way to make public service a part of your career, you’ll have a much better career. And so this is something else that I think the law schools have to take on.
We’ve taken this on as one of the central tenants that we try and give students in their three years there, which is some exposure while they’re in school to some form of public service, whether it’s, you know, a pro bono practice full-time work, government work, whatever it is, you know, we say to them, “You come to law school, you’re going to get a license to practice law. It’s a really powerful thing in this society, you can do a lot of, a lot of things with it. Now you’re going to make a choice what kind of career you want to have and we don’t have, you know, it’s not our judgment about that, you should make your own choice, there are a lot of different careers in law, you have to find something that seems to suit you, but whatever practice you choose, whatever kind of law you choose to go into, there’s room in it to do public service. And that will be both good for the community, but will also, you’ll be much more fulfilled in your career if you do it. And so we try and model for them the different ways to do it, we try and do a lot to help students find their way into that, even the ones who are not going to, you know, become full-time public interest lawyers, it doesn’t matter. All right?
There’s still ways to do this and we’ll try and help you and that will increase career satisfaction as well.
Recorded May 5, 2010
Interviewed by Jessica Liebman