More Associates Satisfied with Large Firms than in Over a Decade?
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More associates are happy with their large law firm jobs than in a decade. How is this possible? With places like CareerBliss and its 65,000 “employee-generated reviews” saying nay, why does a survey from the American Lawyer show that “Job satisfaction among third-, fourth-, and fifth-year associates at large U.S. law firms were at new highs last year,” as AmLaw reported?

The clue to the conundrum is this: with prospects being as deplorable as they are, these associates fresh on the scenes are simply happy to have anything at all. The standards have been lowered. As Steven Harper, author of The Lawyer Bubble, wrote, “It could be that some firm leaders are beginning to take more seriously the importance of morale to employee performance. To the extent that is happening, it’s encouraging.”


But what is more likely, is that “many young people are adjusting themselves to the new normal; in which they are grateful to have any decent (or even tolerable) full-time job. For young lawyers, I think the point emerges from this key finding: ’10.1 percent of men saw themselves as equity partners in five years at their current firm versus just 6.5 percent of women!”

“Midlevel associates at big firms,” says Harper, “are realizing that their long-term career prospects for equity partnership are increasingly bleak, as serious partners in many firms pull up the ladder and tighten standards for equity partner admission. … Surviving associates feel relatively fortunate.”

The father of modern psychology, William James, suggested a crude equation for happiness in life: happiness = ability / ambition. In other words, you are happier, the more able you are to grab your dreams, or alternatively, the less grandiose your dreams and ambitions are. In this case, since the market is so difficult, these associates have lower expectations, and so are willing to be pleased by something lawyers wouldn’t be pleased about a decade ago.

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