New Survey of Law Firm Associates Finds Job Security and Cost-Cutting Measures the Top Concerns Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

Hanover, MD – May 14, 2020 – Job security and cost-cutting measures by their firms ranked among the top concerns of associates during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new survey released jointly by global legal recruiting firm Major, Lindsey & Africa (MLA) and Above the Law. However, despite concerns about the financial picture and outlook for their firms, the vast majority of associates (68.9%) reported that they were satisfied or very satisfied with overall communication from their firm and that communication and transparency have actually increased during the pandemic. The survey, which was fielded from April 13–21, polled 1,335 associates from law firms across the world.

The economic fallout of the coronavirus has impacted the industry disproportionately, with 39.2% of respondents seeing a reduction in their workload. Of those respondents, 57.8% of real estate associates reported declines in their workload, followed by 42.8% of IP associates, 41.7% of tax associates and 39.8% of corporate associates. Not surprisingly, 52.6% of associates in bankruptcy practices and 43.8% of healthcare associates said their workload has increased during the pandemic. Despite these differences, an overwhelming majority of respondents (93.5%) reported that their billable hour target had not changed.

“Billable hour requirements have emerged as a flashpoint for associates, some who are facing salary cuts and reductions in workloads, and others who are struggling to juggle work with child or family care responsibilities,” said Ru Bhatt, partner in MLA’s Associate Practice Group. “For this reasons, we’re seeing a strong desire from associates to see the billable hour target changed in light of this pandemic.”

Mental health is another important concern for associates overall—second only to the financial considerations listed above—with 10.3% of respondents reporting mental health as their primary concern. However, a majority of respondents (57.96%) are satisfied with the wellness resources firms have added during this pandemic. The most prevalent wellness resources added by firms were employee resource groups (73.18%), followed by virtual mental health counseling (42.92%) and meditation subscriptions (31.33%).

“Efforts to shine a light on mental health in the legal profession have received significant attention in recent years, and these concerns have only amplified during this crisis,” said Stephanie Biderman, managing director in MLA’s Associate Practice Group. “We’re glad to see that firms are stepping up to the plate to support associates’ well-being at this time.”

The survey found disparities by gender with respect to how the following concerns ranked in order of importance: partnership track, childcare and billable hours. About four times as many male associates were concerned about the impact on partnership track compared to their female colleagues. Meanwhile, three times as many female associates listed childcare as their top concern. Additionally, nearly double the number of female associates, compared to men, listed concerns about being able to hit billable hours as their primary worry. However, for both men and women, a small percentage of respondents ranked these issues as their top concern over and above job security and cost-cutting measures—6.8% of associates listed billable hours as their primary worry, with 2.9% citing partnership track issues as their most pressing concern.

“It’s understandable that financial concerns, like job security and cost-cutting measures, are high during these uncertain times,” said Michelle Fivel, partner in MLA’s Associate Practice Group. “Though we did see interesting differences between men and women, the high-level findings from this survey were fairly consistent across the board—regardless of geography, practice area, gender, firm size and class year.”

Other notable findings of the survey include:

  • Despite their remote work environments, more than half of the associates surveyed reported feeling very connected to the partners for whom they work and the other associates in their group during this time.
  • The majority of associates believe this crisis will result in permanent changes to the legal industry. Respondents felt these changes would most likely be made to remote working policies (94.9%), technological resources (82.5%) and physical office space (56.8%)
  • Senior associates (JD 2009–2013) reported the most difficulty working from home at 65%.

 

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