What Associates Really Want

Susan Raridon Lambreth of Hildebrandt publishes a survey on Monday providing a glimpse into the largest survey yet conducted on associates in law firms around the world.  It’s electrifying because it punctures a number of myths about new generations who supposedly don’t share traditional attitudes and work ethics. 

Susan’s Report is being released on Monday
– but here are a few insights:

  • Overall associate satisfaction is somewhat higher than expected.
  • 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. Some of this relates to the wide and varied aspirations of young lawyers and some of it to the unattractiveness of private practice to significant segments of the
  • Satisfaction and workload concerns do not vary significantly by firm size.
  • Associate satisfaction is a complex issue in which generalities obscure rather than inform. Associates are not a homogeneous group sharing common career aspirations and attitudes. They  have widely varying career aspirations, expectations for
    workload and lifestyle, and factors that drive their satisfaction and
    morale.  Firms wishing to attract and retain the best lawyers for their practice need to understand these differences and to apply this understanding in the design of a rewarding professional environment that builds the enthusiasm and commitment of their lawyers.
  • Almost 45% of associates are highly satisfied with their work,another 50% are more or less satisfied, and only 5% express strong dissatisfaction. These figures are better than one would expect to seein the general working population, and they represent a substantialimprovement since the low levels of satisfaction found in studies of thelegal profession in the 1980s and 1990s.

The Hildebrandt survey stratified associates into four clusters:

Career Practitioners
Approximately a quarter of associates have “traditional” aspirations to build a career in professional practice and to develop into partners. They are relatively highly satisfied, and are willing to sacrifice their personal life for professional advancement.
Flexibility Seekers
About a quarter of associates demonstrate a particularly strong interest in flexible hours and alternative career tracks. They are not any more likely to be in a caring role (looking after children or others) but they do wish to reduce hours and pay. Overall this group is the least satisfied and few wish to become partners.
Called Lawyers
Slightly less than a quarter of associates can be identified by a love of the law and their interest in pursuing careers in public service or education. Disinterest in partnership does not mean that they do not wish to contribute to the firm and to be involved in management, but they are only reasonably satisfied and firms do not appear to be meeting their needs particularly well at present.
Willing Workers
Just over a quarter of lawyers identify themselves through a willingness to be managed and their relatively high satisfaction. They do not demonstrate a particular passion for the law, nor a willingness to sacrifice personal life for advancement.

The study focuses on what needs to be done to retain women associates:

Women find life as an associate significantly less satisfying than men.
Both seem to start their legal careers with similar aspirations, but while men’s interest in a career in private practice and partnership increases with experience, women’s interest decreases.

The data identifies a number of factors which have a disproportionate influence on female associate satisfaction, including the importance of belonging, the importance of contributing, and non-standard employment policies and roles.

The Study is well worth reviewing closely

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