The American Lawyer has released its annual Midlevel Associates Survey.
As you might expect, there’s a decent amount of complaining, about things like billable hours targets, opportunities for partnership, work/life balance, and the lack of good firm communications.
One quick reply would be: when you’re making a six-figure salary plus bonus, you have to take some of the bad with the good–and you may not get a lot of sympathy from the public-at-large. Another view might be is that if you give well-educated, Type A people an anonymous survey, you may not hear “great firm, love it” too much.
But consider this excerpt from one of the articles:
“Associates say partners pile on the assignments in a never-ending effort to boost profits per partner without a thought to giving younger colleagues direction, feedback or guidance on their development as lawyers. Mentoring and communication about longer-term career prospects are largely absent..”
Sounds like fun.
Bruce MacEwen has a good overview, focusing on what the results mean for law firms, and the resulting management challenges.
What I’ll offer is one client’s viewpoint.
Since midlevel associates are often regular service providers for many law firms, I do cringe when I think that those entries on the monthly invoice represent clock-fixated young lawyers who resent their firm’s partners. What do they think about the firm’s clients? Am I part of the problem?
Are my legal needs addressed with optimism and client-orientation? Or is matter X just something else to gut out so you can leave by 10 pm?
It’s not enough for a GC to just complain about this. If associate satisfaction is a real concern, what do you do about it?
Well, you could choose firms based upon quality-of-life surveys. In reality, however, that’s not the way firms are selected–it is nice to see, but not a sufficient criterion.
The other thing a GC could do is migrate work appropriately to good firms that have lower billable hours targets. Would these firms have associates with better attitudes? Maybe. Would the firm charge less per hour? Probably.
Let’s be clear–this stuff is hardly new. I had many of these same feelings when I was an associate in private practice eons ago. And I was billing 300 hours less per year than many of the associates surveyed.
Today’s reality has changed a bit–clients are more aware than ever that they have choices in law firms. And in any service business, customer awareness of employee dissatisfaction hardly makes you want to continue–or expand–a business relationship.
Most clients of major law firms have probably restructured operations and staffing in the last 10 years to reduce costs, increase quality, and meet competitive challenges.
How long can law firms continue to meet their challenges by raising rates and hourly targets?
The survey says: perhaps not much longer.