One of the ironies of the American Lawyer Associate Survey is that most midlevel associates surveyed plan to be on the job for the short-term, but few plan to stay for the long-term.

One of the ironies of the American Lawyer Associate Survey is that most midlevel associates surveyed plan to be on the job for the short-term, but few plan to stay for the long-term. 2

Most midlevel associates surveyed by the American Lawyer plan to be on the job for the short-term, but few plan to stay for the long-term.

The finding is one of the ironies of the survey, the Am Law Daily reports. Asked to rate the likelihood of being at their firm in two years on a 1-to-5 scale, the average was a 3.79, the highest score in six years. Seventy percent said they were on the partnership track, and only 10.6 percent said they were concerned about layoffs.

The survey, based on responses from 7,259 midlevel associates, was taken after Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft laid off 35 associates in January, but before its announcement of 96 more lawyer layoffs this week.

Those who indicated they were likely to stay with their law firms for two years also tended to be the respondents who were most interested in their work, the American Lawyer reports in a separate story. Among those who gave their work a score of 1 for interest rated their likelihood of staying for two years an average of 1.6. Those who gave their work scores of 2, 3, 4 and 5, had tenure scores of 2.1, 2.9, 3.8 and 4.4, respectively.

Associates who expressed reservations about becoming partners cite the continuing pressure to work long hours and to build business, the second story says. One third-year associate at Arnold & Porter explained it this way in an interview with the publication: “This is not the sort of place where once you become a partner, you sit back and ride the gravy train.”

Consider:
-Few associates plan on staying forever, but most have no desire to leave at the moment. It’s hard to moan that you want to be paid like an investment banker after Citi took a hatchet to its workforce and Bear Stearns stopped hiring, period. Those risk-averse tendencies that led to law school aren’t looking so bad this season.

-For all the talk of layoffs, or, failing that, harsher performance reviews, most asso­ciates report confidence in keeping their jobs. There was no Cadwalader effect: our survey was in the field between the firm’s two big layoffs. On a 1-to-5 scale, our 7,259 respondents averaged a 3.79 on the question of whether they’d still be at the firm in two years. That’s the highest score in six years. Only 10.6 percent expressed concern about getting laid off. Associates in Chicago (13.3 percent) and Philadelphia (12.9 percent) were the most worried; associates in Dallas (6 percent) and Houston (7 percent) were the least. The energy boom pays dividends.

-The wage increases aren’t as painful as the partner moaning would have suggested. The Am Law 200 firms, in their rush to bid for talent, added about $1 billion in wage overhead last year. That’s a serious number but still just a bit more than 1 percent of the total gross. Of course, the timing isn’t great; its impact is being felt as demand slows and firms are worrying about collecting from clients on rate increases that would, in a good year, more than cover the salary hikes. In fact, as sad managing partners have noted quietly, a faithful indicator of an impending downturn is a rush to jack up associates’ pay.

-The generous and perhaps overdue associate salary hikes of the last two years didn’t buy the firms anything distinctive. What’s striking from our paycheck report, which we will post Monday, August 4, was the uniformity we found, both within and among the firms. It’s as though The Am Law 200 denies its self-image as the ultimate meritocracy. Actually, when you look at the pay–both wages and bonuses–The Am Law 200 operates as a lockstep civil service: You’re a fourth-year, we’re going to pay you like a G-12.

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