When appropriate to a research question(s) and where resources permit, longitudinal studies can provide important insights that are not possible from studies that use the more common cross-sectional approach. In longitudinal studies, researchers engage the same participants with repeated measures over time. While perhaps somewhat unusual in the legal research literatures, longitudinal studies are not unknown.
A recent paper by John Monahan (UVa) and Jeff Swanson (Duke--psych), Lawyers at the Peak of Their Careers: A 30-Year Longitudinal Study of Job and Life Satisfaction, provides one such example. The study follows a cohort of UVa law students who matriculated in 1987. Critical to the success of longitudinal studies, of course, involves censoring attributable to sample participation decay over time. In their original paper the researchers (in 2007) engaged with 58% of those law students who entered UVa law school 20 years earlier in 1987. Their recent follow-up paper, reporting results from their 2017 follow-up survey, includes 81% of those who participated one decade earlier (or, to be more precise, the 2017 sample includes 81% of the 58% who participated ten years prior in 2007). A summary of key findings, drawn from the abstract, follows.
“We found respondents to have taken diverse career paths, with no single work setting accounting for more than one-quarter of the respondents and with fully one-third of the respondents changing jobs in the past decade. Marked gender differences in the professional lives of respondents persisted (e.g., women continued to be much more likely than men to forego full-time employment 'in order to care for children' (30 percent vs. 4 percent)). Working conditions at large private law firms stayed problematic, with the portion of respondents negatively affected by a stronger stress on economic sustainability being twice as high among those working in large firms (77 percent) than among those working in other settings (38 percent). Finally, both career satisfaction and life satisfaction again were found to be high, with 77 percent of respondents satisfied with their decision to become a lawyer, and 91 percent satisfied with their lives more broadly.”