Survey: Associate Job Satisfaction at 6 Year Low

By Jason Beahm on September 20, 2010 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Many law students enter law school anxious, but excited about the future prospect of working for a big law firm, doing exciting work and making serious bank. As many have recently found, reality tends to be a far cry from the picture painted by law school admissions programs. For one, very few students end up working at big law firms. Further, the graduates "fortunate" enough to land big law jobs tend to hate them.

In fact, three reports released last week found that associate job satisfaction is at a six year low. According to the survey, which included more than 5,000 third, fourth and fifth year associates found that a huge number of such attorneys are unhappy with their careers.

Only 35 percent of associates believed that they had a long-term future with their current firm. In addition, associates reported medium to high anxiety about losing their jobs. Only nine percent of the associates surveyed expected to be at the same firm just five years later.

Though bonuses have frequently been cut, associates in major cities such as Washington, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago were still pulling in a median salary of $160,000 a year, though some firms were now paying nearly a quarter less than that.

Much of the dissatisfaction likely comes from the increasing expectations for billable hours. According to a study by CT TyMextrix, between 2007 and 2009, associate billing rates increased by 16.6 percent, while partner billing increased by 8.6 percent. The biggest increase in billable hours came on the backs of first, second and third year associates, whose billable hours rose by 17.9 percent.

So what does this all mean? First of all, don't accept the law school admissions packet as the straight dope. Gather information from a variety of sources. While most law schools provide excellent legal educations with respect to how to read and understand the law, they often do very little to educate students what life will be like after law school. Most attorneys make a fraction of the salaries listed above for big law firms, and must learn how to strike out on their own. Gathering practical experience and knowledge is invaluable to help avoid an unsatisfactory legal career of being worked to the bone or taking a job that one finds unfulfilling.

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