Do you know what burnout is? If not, it may be time to study up, because the associates at your firm, happy as they may be, are increasingly aware of it.
Young lawyers appreciate law firms’ efforts to improve work-life balance, according to The American Lawyer’s 2019 Midlevel Associates Survey. Training and mentorship also appear to be working well for firms that have made efforts to improve in those areas. But associates also cautioned their firms in some cases throughout the survey, warning that burnout is a risk and calling on leaders to continue to modernize their business models by moving away from longstanding billable hour policies.
One Atlanta associate responded clearly when asked about the biggest threat to associates’ roles in the legal industry: “Escalating billable rates and billable hours requirements to enhance short-term profits at the expense of long-term attorney development, career satisfaction and work-life balance.”
Still, on average, associates in their third, fourth and fifth years are more satisfied with their work lives than ever. The average composite satisfaction score for all 96 participating law firms was 4.29 on a 5-point scale, an increase from last year’s average of 4.27.
Associate satisfaction grew in nearly every category lawyers were asked to rate. The results bode well for retention, in particular. The greatest improvement in average score was in the “expect to stay two years” category, rising to 4.18, compared with 4.12 last year.
Midlevel associates are also happier on average with regard to the type of work they’re doing and the training they are getting. The average score for “interesting work” was 4.51, up from 4.47 last year, and the average for “satisfying work” was 4.39, up from 4.37.
Scores for “training and guidance” and “partner relations” increased by similar margins, to 4.24 and 4.45, respectively.
“It all ties into the overall work environment. It’s the small things that make the big differences,” Nathan Peart, a managing director in Major, Lindsey & Africa’s associate practice group, says. More firms have made a shift toward openness and transparency with their associates, he notes.
Along those lines, the average score for management openness was up slightly, at 4.07. And although the average score of 3.74 in the “communication about partnership” category was lower than any other, it was up slightly from last year.
“Transparency between the firm and associate is important,” Peart says. “People are having more honest dialogues, which is helpful overall.”