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On Happiness Scale, Big Law Partners Rank High (No, Really)

For those who think Big Law partners are miserable, lost souls, I’ve got news for you: They are quite happy, thank you. Plus, they’re making bundles of money. And guess what? Many wouldn’t dream of scaling down their practice (and the money) for more free time. In sum, they like what they’re doing and how they’re doing it.

Maybe that doesn’t describe you or the lawyers in your circle. But it fits those who have ascended the ranks—particularly that of equity partnership—at major firms. That’s according to Major, Lindsey & Africa’s 2016 Partner Compensation Survey. (My previous post about the MLA survey discussed cronyism vs. gender bias in partner pay.)
Here’s what the MLA survey says about partner satisfaction:

  • Taking compensation into account, a whopping 82 percent of partners described themselves as “very,” “moderately” or “slightly” satisfied.
  • Only 14 percent called themselves “slightly,” “moderately” or “very” dissatisfied when factoring in compensation.
  • Equity partners are happier: 36 percent of them rate themselves as “very satisfied,” while only 15 percent of nonequity partners did the same.
  • Equity partners also raked in more money. Median compensation for equity partners was $775,000 versus $325,000 for nonequity.

What’s apparent is that money correlates with satisfaction. But MLA managing director Jeff Lowe, who headed the study, says the study also shows that money isn’t the sole driving force and that partners fundamentally like what they do. “Even when you take compensation out of consideration, 72 percent said they were satisfied with their lives.” He adds, “I thought they were slogging away only for the money, but that’s not exactly true.”


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