BigLaw Associates Happy? Puh-leez, part 2

So I finally got around to thinking about how Hildebrandt can come out with a survey that suggests nearly 95 % of associates are not unhappy, let alone miserable. Their exact finding is:

In the region of 45% of associates are highly satisfied with their work, another 50% are more or less satisfied, and only 5% express strong dissatisfaction.

These findings are completely at odds with the reality documented just a year or so ago by the AmLaw 2006 Mid-level Associate Survey (and probably the 2007 survey, I just found the 2006 one first). That survey found that mid-level associates in 2006 were almost exactly as dissatisfied as mid-levels were in 1986, and for almost exactly the same reasons (workload, and the black box of partnership decisions). Yet Hildebrandt expects us to believe that in one year, law firms have changed so radically that nearly everyone is happy.


I can’t speak to what Hildebrandt’s motivations were in doing its survey. Maybe after dishing out very expensive advice to law firms for years, they wanted the firms to think that some of those suggestions had made a difference. I can only guess.

But let’s look at the Hildebrandt data a little more closely. Buried down in the executive summary conclusion (I’m not paying for the survey, but if someone has it and wants to give me more details, please do) is this gem:

Associates are not the unhappy collection of unfulfilled employees portrayed in the media. As a group, they are engaged, interested, and happy with their compensation. Very few show any interest in leaving the profession. On the other hand, only a small proportion aspires to partnership. Many are seeking alternatives.

Um, if so many are seeking alternatives, shouldn’t that be alarming to law firms? Human nature being what it is, I doubt that all those seeking alternatives have a Zen-like acceptance about the likelihood they won’t make partner.

And that 50% that are more or less satisfied? My guess is that Hildebrandt didn’t ask quite the right question. Associates are more or less satisfied because — my guess, at any rate — they know they’re not staying at the firm for very much longer. They’re more or less satisfied because making $200K for a few more years seems OK — as long as they don’t have to do what it takes to make that money forever.

And did you note what Hildebrandt said associates were actually happy about? Their compensation. Not their work environment, not their future in a law firm. Not even the people they work with.

The take-away? You are not the only person in your firm who isn’t happy; you still have lots of company. Don’t let Hildebrandt’s silliness make you feel isolated.

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