The American Lawyer recently released results from their annual survey of AmLaw 200 third, fourth, and fifth year associates. In the survey, respondents were asked various questions related to their overall satisfaction along with three open-ended questions: Tell the managing partner one thing. What would you change about your firm? What most surprised you about working at your current firm? Among the nearly 6,000 AmLaw 200 midlevels surveyed, three main themes appeared.

First, the survey suggests that associates are generally more satisfied than they were a year ago. Scores were higher in each of the categories ranked by the survey, including interest in the work, compensation, training, partner/associate relations, billable hours, etc.

Second, as a corresponding Vivia Chen article suggests, the survey shows substantial differences between male and female associates in their outlooks on their firms and careers:

  • Male associates are generally more satisfied, have a stronger desire to make partner, rate firms higher on diversity and family friendliness, are generally more concerned about pay, and indicate higher satisfaction with level of responsibility, client contact, and the firm’s retention efforts.
  • Female associates are more concerned about work-life balance and time outside of the office, are more willing to take a pay cut for decreased amount of hours, are skeptical about whether they will be promoted, and are hesitant that there is an unspoken penalty for motherhood.
  • Few male or female associates see themselves as equity partners in 5 years, though more men do than women; more men also believe they will make partner (income or equity) than do women.
  • Most associates are married – 88% of female associates, and 84% of male associates.
  • More male associates have children – 40% of male associates, and 26% of female associates.

Finally, as Robin Sparkman highlights in a follow-up article, both male and female associates express increasing worry over a continuing decline in billable hours. There seems to be a general level of concern over the amount of work being generated, within practice areas and firms as a whole. As put by Robin Sparkman in a September 25 article for the American Lawyer, “For recession-scarred young people, it’s understandable that they are concerned about having too much downtime. Not only is there the short-term risk of a lower bonus, there’s also the more existential questions about whether their practice area will get busier soon, whether the lack of work will derail them from a partner track, and whether the slowdown they are seeing reflects more macroeconomic concerns about the firm’s financial health.”

Overall, the message from midlevel associates is mixed. While the survey reflects what Sparkman calls the “perennial complaints” of associates (lack of transparency about financials, compensation, and path to partnership), it also appears that job satisfaction is generally improving across the board. Notwithstanding this general improvement in associate outlook, however, there now appear to be concerning differences between male and female outlooks on the future as well as an evident unease over a lack of work, both of which firms may well need to address.