Nearly 30% of Lawyers Surveyed Fear Firing

  • Print

Updated: The fear factor is spreading throughout major law firms, as lawyers who are unable to meet their billable hour goals are wondering if their jobs are secure.

That’s the implication of two June surveys by the legal recruitment firm Lateral Link.

They found that nearly 30 percent of lawyers are afraid of losing their jobs and 26 percent don’t think they will make their billable hours goals in the coming months. Most of the respondents who identified their workplaces in the surveys worked for Am Law 200 law firms, and most appeared to be associates.

The numbers have jumped since December, when only 10 percent reported job fears and 19 percent said they would not make billable goals, Lateral Link spokesman Aven James told in an e-mail.

Fifty-two percent of lawyers responding to the June surveys indicated that work is slow, a slight increase over December when the number stood at 49 percent. The situation is even worse for lawyers working in corporate law. Sixty-nine percent in that area reported work is slow, compared to 58 percent in December.

T.J. Duane, a principal of Lateral Link, says the surveys highlight a change in the job market. For the last 15 or 16 years, “law firms never laid off attorneys. A law firm job was about as safe as you could get,” he told But in the last six months, major national firms are laying off lawyers. They are saying, “We just can’t afford to have the attorneys, and it’s not performance-related.”

More than 1,300 lawyers responded to the June survey questions about how busy they were, and 777 responded to questions about fear of losing their job. The surveys weren’t restricted to associates, although the large majority of responses came from lawyers in practice eight years or less.

Survey results were collected on Above the Law and from members of Lateral Link, which describes itself as a full-service, elite legal placement firm and a professional network for lawyers from the top law schools and firms. Associates who find a job through Lateral Link’s website are paid up to $10,000.

Thirty percent of the survey responses came from lawyers in New York and 15 percent from Washington, D.C., where 28 percent and 22 percent, respectively, said they won’t make their billable goals.

The hardest-hit area may be Charlotte, N.C., where nearly 47 percent of the respondents indicated they won’t make billable hours. However, only 3 percent of the survey responses were from Charlotte lawyers, making the survey results for that area less reliable.

Duane’s advice for associates who fear job cuts can be summed up in two words: “Work hard.”

“Now associates need to be more proactive about going out there at their firm and finding work,” he said. “And I think they need to be very mindful of their work product and very conscious of turning in the best possible work product they can, particularly if their hours are low.”

Updated at noon to include comments from T.J. Duane.

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.