Those who read and debated my recent post on the question of whether law professors are "miserable" may be interested to see some actual evidence of relative job satisfaction among law professors as compared to other law school graduates. In 2006, Yale Law School surveyed members of the Yale class of 2001 on a variety of career-related issues including job satisfaction. 67% of graduates working in academia said that they were "very satisfied" with their jobs, compared to 51% of those working in "public service," 30% of those employed by businesses, and 30% of those working for private law firms. At the other end of the scale, there were no academics who were only "somewhat" or not at all satisfied with their jobs, compared to 19% of those working in public service, 16% of those employed in business, and 34% of those in private law firms.
It is striking that job satisfaction among academics is high not only relative to those in private practice, but also relative to graduates employed in "public service," which is often viewed as a career path chosen in large part to maximize personal happiness rather than income.
There are, of course, some limitations to this data. First, only Yale graduates are surveyed. The average Yale graduate in academia may have a somewhat better job than the average academic in general. On the other hand, the average Yale graduate in private practice or public service also probably has a better job than the average graduate of most other law schools. A more serious problem is that there are only 12 total academics in the sample. This is just enough to be statistically significant, but is a small group nonetheless. In addition, the survey question measures only the respondents' satisfaction with their jobs. It doesn't measure their overall level of happiness. Some academics might be happy with their jobs, but miserable more generally. However, the former is the better measure of the marginal effect of the job itself on personal happiness, which is after all the point at issue.
Finally, I should emphasize that the data does not prove that all, or even most law school graduates would be happier in academia than in other kinds of jobs. Obviously, academics are a self-selected group that draws disproportionately from those who would enjoy the job most. However, the survey does suggest that those law school graduates who choose to become academics are, on average, happier with their jobs than those who choose other careers.
UPDATE: Co-conspirator Orin Kerr points out that Yale has compiled the combined numbers for the 1996 to 2000 graduating classes (each also surveyed five years after graduation) here. As Orin notes, the numbers are similar to those for the Class of 2001 discussed in the post. For the 1996-2000 group, 75% of those working in academia, 60% of those in public service, 49% of graduates employed in "business," and 24% of those working for private law firms reported that they were "very satisfied" with their jobs. Similarly, 5% of the academics, 8% of those in public service, 13% of the business employees, and 37% of the law firm lawyers reported that they were only "somewhat satisfied" or "not satisfied." The 1996-2000 data represent a much larger sample than that for the Class of 2001 alone. In combination, the data for all six classes make a strong case that legal academics have higher average levels of job satisfaction than law school graduates working in other fields.