What makes associates happy? Partners and billable-hour expectations are key

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On some measures, midlevel associate satisfaction is about the same as—or slightly better than—last year.

The average associate surveyed by the American Lawyer rated their firm a 4.36 on a 1-to-5 scale, up only slightly from 4.29 last year, reports. Half of the surveyed third-, fourth- and fifth-year associates said they thought that morale was the same as last year.

“However, on other key metrics of personal and professional fulfillment, associate satisfaction is still moving in the wrong direction,” reports. “Over three-quarters said their job at a law firm had significantly impacted their mental health, and 52% said they’d consider quitting for more work-life balance.” reviewed open-ended responses by the associates participating in the 2022 Midlevel Associate Survey. The findings:

    • Associates’ experiences depended on partners. Associates were happy when partners provided interesting work and access to clients. But associates blasted their firms if they failed to curb abusive partners.
    • High billable-hour expectations affected mental health. “The billable hour is a cancer that will slowly eat away at you if you don’t get away from it quickly enough,” said one associate.
    • Associates blasted law firms that talk about mental health but fail to do anything about it. “Having a webinar to talk about depression isn’t helpful for depressed people unless partners are educated on the topic and forced to actually implement recommendations for improving working conditions,” said another associate.
    • More than 300 associates said law firms could improve associate satisfaction if they required associates to take vacation time and honored time-off requests.

The law firms with the highest satisfaction ratings from associates were:

    1.) Paul Hastings
    2.) McDermott Will & Emery
    3.) Baker & Hostetler
    4.) O’Melveny & Myers
    5.) Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher

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