Mid-Level Survey

The results of the annual American Lawyer midlevel associate survey are out, and it looks like people have been taking happy pills. We thought things were going well last year, but this time around, it’s all lollipops and double rainbows for third-, fourth-, and fifth-year associates. According to Am Law, these happy campers gave their firms the highest composite scores the publication had seen in almost 10 years.

These associates have good reason to be happy. They’ve secured and maintained jobs at elite firms while entry-level hiring has been swirling down the drain. Spring bonuses have come and gone, but they’ve managed to stick it out. They’ve seen the rise and fall of Biglaw empires. They’ve seen the worst of the profession’s worst, and still, they’ve survived it all. They have the right to be happy.

Of course, not everyone is as thrilled. For the first time, American Lawyer measured gender differences in question responses, and women are markedly less satisfied with their jobs than their male colleagues. Considering how difficult is is to gain entry to the Biglaw boys’ club, who could blame them?

Enough idle chatter, let’s delve into the details of the survey and discuss the results…

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The annual Am Law midlevel associate survey came out yesterday, and for the first time in years, satisfaction among third-, fourth-, and fifth-year associates seems to be up across the board. According to Am Law, this year’s average score across all firms was the highest it’s been since at least 2004.

But, as with all things in Biglaw, their happiness is relative. After all, these are the people who survived the worst of the layoffs, and the lucky few who managed to get a foot in the door during a time of reduced new associate hiring. Above all, these are the people who must be thanking their lucky stars that they weren’t midlevels at Dewey & LeBoeuf. They may have been working extremely hard on cases that were understaffed, but at least they were working.

Last year, my colleague Elie Mystal noted that the midlevels who were whining about their unhappiness were “missing the big picture” — that they’d be making serious bank for the rest of their lives if they remained in Biglaw. Given the results of this year’s survey, perhaps these midlevels have come to that very realization….

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If you are a current midlevel associate at a top firm, that means you survived the worst of the Biglaw layoffs. In fact, it probably means you survived while friends and colleagues were having their careers ruined.

That should make you happy, right? Not according to the American Lawyer’s annual midlevel associate survey. The results, released this morning, show that midlevel associates are anything but satisfied with their careers. From the report:

Many people would consider Am Law 200 midlevel associates to be extremely fortunate. While thousands of their colleagues lost jobs, these young lawyers are gainfully employed with salaries in the six figures. The midlevels tell us that they survived the recession in part because of the quality of their work, and that they aren’t worried about losing their jobs going forward. And even though revenue and profits dipped at the majority of their firms, relative to other industries, Big Law wasn’t hit as hard during the recession. In many ways, once their student loans are paid off, midlevel associates’ prospects seem bright.

But that’s not how they see it. Maybe it’s the posttraumatic stress syndrome from watching so many associates and law firm staffers get the ax, but the midlevels who survived the great purge aren’t feeling particularly fortunate. In fact, they seem downright cranky.

Survivor’s guilt? Not bloody likely. The result are probably due to people working harder than they were before the recession for less pay and job security than they had before the recession. Add in the fact that their secretaries have probably been fired (and so the partners now treat them like paralegals), and the fact that they’re more likely to get struck by a bolt of lightning than make partner, and you can see why these people are a little disappointed with the way things have turned out.

I’ll pause now so all the members of the Lost Generation can comment on how they would change places with these disgruntled midlevels faster than one can ask “would you like fries with that”…

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