How accountable should BigLaw partners be for associate happiness? Stephen Harper, Northwestern law professor and former Kirkland partner, says “more.”
The American Lawyer's most recent midlevel associates survey reports the lowest overall level of associate satisfaction since 2004. (Vault historical data on associate satisfaction supports this conclusion.)
Harper observes that, for too many of the low-ranked firms, there is an inverse correlation between sources of associate satisfaction (relations with partners, level of the work, training and guidance, management's openness) and the “metrics that dominate today's large law firm business models” (billables, leverage ratios, profits):
The absence of a metric by which firms hold partners accountable for associate satisfaction means that it gets ignored. From there, it's a short step to the unhappiness that this year's survey results capture.
He offers this prescription for unhappy firms:[P]retend that there's a cost associated with young attorney dissatisfaction that their short-term profit-maximizing metrics aren't capturing. Then they should look at the categories by which associates measure their satisfaction. Finally, they should develop a mechanism for evaluating partner behavior that takes those categories into account--and rewards or penalizes partners accordingly. At the end of this process, thoughtful leaders might find that they've improved their own lives along the way, too.
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