Glad to have jobs, midlevel associates in Am Law survey give BigLaw a major thumbs-up

Despite widespread reported discontent about the legal job market and the dubious return a number of law graduates say they are getting from their juris doctor degrees, midlevel associates who have managed to get and keep elite jobs at the nation’s highest-paying law firms say they are happy with their lot.

In fact, third-, fourth- and fifth-year associates are the happiest they have been for nearly a decade, the American Lawyer (sub. req.) found. Its survey of 5,683 lawyers at 134 corporate law firms resulted in what the magazine describes as “the highest composite scores that we’ve seen in almost 10 years” on issues such as salaries and the extent to which they find their work interesting, reports the Wall Street Journal Law Blog (sub. req.).

There is, however, a gender gap, with men more likely than women to perceive their working conditions and prospects favorably.

Is it really true that associates are happier than ever with their lot, despite market pressures that presumably favor law firm employers rather than employees?

Former Kirkland & Ellis partner Steven Harper, who authored The Lawyer Bubble: A Profession in Crisis and now is an adjunct professor at Northwestern University, has an alternative view.

“Many young people are adjusting themselves to a ‘new normal,’ in which they are grateful to have any decent (or even tolerable) full-time job,” he tells Business Week.

Statistics such as the number of respondents who expect to make partner within five years–10.1 percent of the men and 6.5 percent of the women–make clear that their happiness isn’t based on great expectations of future success, Harper says. Instead, even though “[m]idlevel associates at big firmsare realizing that their long-term career prospects for equity partnership are increasingly bleak, as senior partners in many firms pull up the ladder and tighten standards for equity partner admission,” the remaining associates “feel relatively fortunate” simply to be working at BigLaw jobs.

See also: “Are lawyers from top schools a lot happier about their career choice? Statistically the answer is no”

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