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Dissatisfaction rife in large law: survey
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Dissatisfaction rife in large law: survey

A new survey has revealed just how unhappy lawyers working in the top tier are

LAWYERS in large firms have long been renowned for being workaholics, the by-product of a fiercely competitive industry and high wages and their education, but is it time for the industry to re-think its grind-to-the-bone approach? 

A US study of 5,000 lawyers, who began practice in 2000, shows that lawyers working in firms of more than 250 lawyers are less satisfied with their jobs than their small-firm counterparts, reports The American Lawyer. 

The study, which is based at the American Bar Foundation and called After the JD (AJD), suggests there is a specific pattern to the dissatisfaction among young associates at large firms.

Graduates of the most selective schools are the least satisfied with their jobs at large firms, while graduates of less selective schools are relatively more satisfied. 

Among AJD respondents working at firms of more than 100 lawyers, only 26 percent of graduates of U.S. News & World Report’s top ten law schools report extreme satisfaction with their decision to become a lawyer, compared to almost half (49 percent) of graduates from fourth-tier law schools. Similarly, 59 per cent of top-ten law school graduates expressed the intention to leave their employer within two years, compared to just over a quarter of fourth-tier law school graduates. 

Firms flock to elite law schools in order to recruit these students, often bypassing lower-tier schools. But the AJD data shows that after graduation, about two-thirds of top-ten law graduates were working in firms of over 100 lawyers, compared to 11 per cent of third-tier graduates, and seven per cent of fourth-tier graduates.

The study further shows that graduates of elite law schools come to the job market with different career expectations than graduates of non-elite schools.

Among other things, they are more likely to have considered careers in business consulting or investment banking, therefore the lucrative salaries offered by the large law firms are no consolation for the hours that they have to work. They know they have other options, and they have friends who are getting even richer with those other options. 

Students from less selective schools have a different approach. They know they had to work harder simply to attain these positions, and they realise that their options are more limited, while about 75 per cent of top-ten school graduates received two or more job offers, only 40 per cent of fourth-tier students received more than one offer. 

Studies such as AJD show that while the passing recession and economic downturn is of great concern to firms now, the structure of firms and culture within firms should be of greatest concern. 

Law firms are always going to need driven young lawyers who are committed to doing what it takes to make partner, but these lawyers are not necessarily from the elite law schools. 

The data confirms that firms must confront the culture within them, that creates such high attrition for all lawyers, especially for women, minorities, and even graduates from the top schools if they want to hold onto their talent. 

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