The Am Law Midlevel associate survey came out yesterday. Satisfaction among 3rd, 4th, and 5th year Biglaw associates is down for the second year in a row.

That’s a trend people should get used to. The midlevel survey should be renamed the Survivor’s Remorse Report for the next few years. The thing will be a snapshot of the few who made it through the great winnowing of 2009, or the lucky who got into Biglaw as the industry massively scaled back new associate hiring. As demand for legal services picks up, all we’re going to be looking at here are people working extremely hard on inadequately staffed cases.

My favorite quote from the Am Law piece is from a DLA Piper associate (the associate will be played by Miranda from the Tempest in my mind) who said: “Firms got too lean [after the recession] and consequently realized that associates will work more and more if asked. Quality of life has therefore decreased.”

Oh, brave new world.

These midlevels who are whining right now are slightly missing the big picture. They might have to work long hours, but they are going to make serious bank for the rest of their legal lives….

You know what today’s midlevels have going for them? There are so few of them. Hell, because of the weak-ass job market, today’s midlevels haven’t even gotten to the point where over half their class voluntarily resigns to do anything but Biglaw.

These guys are going to be in demand. The current Biglaw midlevels have a monopoly on becoming the future Biglaw senior associates. And in five (or ten) years from now, the firms will have to promote somebody to partner. Somebody will have to become of counsel. Somebody will have to be on top of emerging issues in law that have passed by the current crop of Biglaw partners.

From a certain point of view, the midlevels of today have a better chance at making partner than the midlevels from five years ago, simply because there are fewer of them and they (hopefully) won’t be coming up for partner during an economy as bad as this one.

Look, the midlevels are already seeing the benefits of being rare in their bank accounts. From Am Law:

Luckily for associates (as well as for their firms’ scores), compensation is on the rise. The average base salary for midlevel associates this year was the highest in five years and represented a 4 percent increase, from $178,164 last year to $185,319 this year. The average year-end bonus was $19,746, up 5 percent from last year’s average of $18,774. Satisfaction with compensation and other benefits crept up from last year’s survey as associates gave out a 3.84 average score in that category, compared to a 3.78 last year.

Anyway, enough about the kids who are unhappy they didn’t get fired a couple of years ago. Let’s look at the kids who are just happy to still be playing the game. Here are the top-11 firms in terms of midlevel associate satisfaction (you’ll see why I went all the way to 11):

You can see the full list, here.

Is it maybe time to just admit that Latham did the right thing? It’s rebounding in Vault. It’s not having problems hiring people. Profits per partner are high. And the people who should most care about the way the firm eviscerated associates a couple of years ago just propelled the firm to a #11 ranking in midlevel associate satisfaction.

Maybe the firm still has a lot of disgruntled employees — note the particularly anemic Latham response rate. But that sound you hear is all the managing partners who read the previous paragraph commencing a slow clap.

Now that the numbers are out, let’s hear from the midlevels. Are you guys really feeling sad and overworked? How many of you are starting to realize that you’re going to come out of this clean on the other side?

Under Pressure [Am Law]
Ranking Midlevel Satisfaction [Am Law]


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