Attitudinal Survey of IP Lawyers

Carol M. Langford, Depression, Substance Abuse, and Intellectual Property Lawyers, 53 U. Kan. L. Rev. 875 (2005)

This article contains the results of an attitudinal survey of IP lawyers. Like any survey, this survey is only as good as its methodology, and I’m not 100% confident that the methodology produced industrial-strength results. Further, the IP community is fairly heterogeneous–it includes litigators, prosecutors and transactional attorneys, many with a technical background but others without. Smushing all of these different subcommunities into a single IP community may mask some important differences.

With those caveats in mind, a few selected conclusions:

* “Eighty-five to ninety percent responded that they were either dissatisfied (“3”) or very dissatisfied (“4″) with their work hours, relationships with co-workers, schedule, compensation, personal fulfillment, job security, balance with personal life, intellectual challenge and sense of control over their lives. This seems to suggest that a majority of the attorneys in the field are not getting what they bargained for, or not living the type of life they thought they would be living once they started working in the field.”

[Eric’s comment: this statistic, if true, is fairly disconcerting, but it’s hardly surprising and certainly consistent with other studies. The questions I have are (1) are these statistics any worse than other practice areas (my guess is no), and (2) how can law student expectations be better set to avoid disappointed expectations? I wrestle with the latter question constantly]

* “We then asked the respondents to tell us how satisfied they felt with their personal and familial relationships. Nineteen percent ranked their satisfaction a “3” on a scale of one to five, with “5” indicating very satisfied. Thirty-eight percent ranked it as a “4” and 41 percent ranked it a “5.” This is the best indicator of the overall low incidence of depression and substance abuse problems within the field.”

[Eric’s comment: I’m not sure about the co-variables here. Is there a correlation or causation between personal/family satisfaction and substance abuse? This statistic is also both facially and implicitly in tension with the previous finding I critiqued; 85%+ of the respondents were dissatisfied with personal fulfillment and balance with personal life.]

* “What we learned from the survey responses seems to suggest that the intellectual property community is not afflicted with pervasive and rampant substance abuse issues.”

[Eric’s comment: this is good news if true, but I’m still troubled by the survey’s evidence suggesting a high rate of professional dissatisfaction among IP attorneys. Even if that dissatisfaction doesn’t translate into substance abuse issues, it lays the preconditions for other adverse outcomes.]