The Am Law Midlevel Survey is Out, and Associates Are Happy for the First Time in Years
Above the Law, August 30, 2012

By Staci Zaretsky

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….

Apparently the loss of spring bonuses wasn’t that big of a deal to these midlevels when a once-storied law firm was imploding before their very eyes. (But that doesn’t mean that they’ll be happy next year if partners decide to pull the plug on spring bonuses again.) So why are they so satisfied this year? From Am Law:

The rising satisfaction level among midlevels showed up in almost every facet of our 85-question survey. Fifty-seven percent of respondents described their firms as appropriately staffed, which represents a 7 percent increase from 2011. Seventy-nine percent of respondents described their workload as manageable, up 2 percent versus last year. Ninety-two percent of respondents said that if they had the choice to make again, they would again choose to come to their firms, a 2 percent increase from a year ago.

Most importantly, midlevels are less depressed happier with the ways that their firms have been communicating what it takes to make partner, and their firms’ transparency when it comes to finances. These Biglaw firms may be experiencing a bit forced transparency, though, because everyone fears that their firm may become the next Dewey. Just look at what happened with Greenberg Traurig’s capital call — the firm’s CEO, Richard Rosenbaum, basically shouted from the rooftops that his firm was not like Dewey.

When stepping away from the Dewey drama and looking at the Biglaw scene as a whole, midlevels are now so satisfied with their jobs that any unhappiness can only be blamed on one’s inability to get with the Biglaw program. Delia Swan, a legal recruiter, noted: “I think that this group of midlevel associates realizes that any gripes they may continue to have have less to do with any recession-related changes and more to do with whether Big Law fits into the lifestyle they want.”

She’s right: Biglaw is a lifestyle choice — a lifestyle where you’ll be able to pay off your student debt, buy a house, and produce a child without worrying about whether a baby will like eating ramen noodles. If you don’t want that kind of a lifestyle, then Biglaw probably isn’t the best place for you.

Despite their firm’s incredible prestige, the people at Cravath were some of the least satisfied midlevels of the entire bunch. Guess the cafeteria improvements weren’t enough to move the dial.

Now that the numbers are out, let’s hear more from the midlevels. Please grade your firm in our law firm survey. Are you actually this satisfied with your jobs? Are any of you debating whether Biglaw is really the lifestyle that you want? Tell us what you think in the comments.
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