Job Survey, Skaddenfreude

Associate Life Survey: Got Morale?

funny-pictures-happy-can-empty-inside.jpgWe received almost two thousand responses to last week’s ATL / Lateral Link survey on attorney morale. That’s way up from the survey we did in April.

Your morale, not so much.

Roughly 43% of practicing attorneys who responded to the survey are in poor spirits:

  * 24% said their morale was “bad”, up a bit from 21% in April.

  * 11.5% said their morale was “awful”, which is about the same as April.

  * 7.6% of respondents said their morale “couldn’t be worse.” This is actually down from 9.6% in April, suggesting that some of the most enthusiastically mopey April associates have now found unhappiness of a less extreme sort. (Either that, or they discovered that their morale really could be worse.)

Survey Results: How’s Your Morale?

morale 12-3-08.JPG

Structured Finance and Real Estate attorneys are still the mopiest, with 69% and 66%, respectively, feeling “bad” or worse. This is actually a big drop for real estate associates since April, when only 56% said they were unhappy.

Interestingly, only 31% of law students said they were happy, with 50% saying their morale was “bad” or worse.

But, the glass is still almost half full. Surprisingly, morale, while not exactly great, hasn’t really fallen much since April.

  * 23.7% of practicing attorneys who responded to the survey, said their morale was “good”, which is only slightly down from April’s number (25.8%).

  * 13.3% said their morale was “great”, which is actually up a little from April (11.5%)

  * And 3.2% of practicing respondents thought their morale “couldn’t be better,” basically the same as April.

So, overall, about 40% of respondents are still happy.

Patent associates were the happiest lot, with 58% declaring their morale to be at least “good.”

Bankruptcy associates, energy attorneys and judicial clerks were close behind at 57%, and trademark lawyers branded themselves 51% happy.

More results after the jump.

By far, the biggest factor in associate dissatisfaction is security:

  * Roughly 72% of unhappy respondents attributed their comfort to job security, way up from 23.5% in April.

  * Quality of life, compensation, and the quality of work were far behind at 38%, 37%, and 35%, respectively.

  * Only 19% of unhappy respondents cited relationships with colleagues as a factor.

Write-in-responses showed disgruntlement among both the have’s and the have-not’s, but for markedly different reasons:



expectation of crap bonus

everything suffered b/c of low bonus

Too many hours.

too much work, but bonus uncertain

low bonuses despite a blockbuster year for the firm

working WAY too much and seemingly getting screwed on bonus

Overworked, underappreciated, lacking sleep

General economic conditions.


Slow Work

Economic downturn (layoffs)

Quantity of work (not enough – no way I’ll make my hours)

Everyone is stressed out over job security.

no work

Nothing in the pipeline… really nothing (M&A)


Stealth Layoff and Defamation

prospects are bleak.


Best friend laid off

I was laid off

I was a summar associate at Thelen

laid off

Heller Ehrman

Laid Off!

lost job.

trying to find a job

Got laid off and worried about finding a job.

general sense of terror

Happy respondents had a more balanced view. While job security was still the most frequently cited factor, at 59%, relationships with colleagues, quality of work, quality of life, and, of course, compensation, were relatively close behind at 56%, 55%, 54%, and 50% respectively.

Many respondents took a conservative approach to describing their happiness:

just glad to still have a job. we’ll see how long that lasts.

still employed

Am a generally happy person. Have roof over my head and food on the table.

Focusing on non-work life. There is something else out there, you know!

A few, however, were quite satisfied:

I’m clerkin’, baby!


job with new firm

New Position

accepted offer with my first choice firm

got a job with Skadden

With respect to that last quote, props are in order. Among respondents who identified Skadden or “Skadden Classic” as their employer, more than 95% said they were in at least a “good” mood.

Among the handful of firms that recently adopted a lower “market” rate for bonuses, that number dropped to just under 43%.

Half Skadden, indeed.

Justin Bernold is a Director at Lateral Link, the sponsor of this Associate Life Survey.

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