David Zaring and I are finishing up a book review on two novels that feature large law firm associates (Kermit Roosevelt's In the Shadow of the Law and Nick Laird's Utterly Monkey). In a nutshell, we compare the fictional accounts of misery in large law firms with associate satisfaction data published by The American Lawyer.
The editors at Michigan Law Review have imposed a strict 10,000 word limit. As a result, it looks like the table below, which analyzes various dimensions of associate satisfaction by metropolitan area, is headed for the cutting room floor. It suggests that desirable work conditions in large corporate law firms are partially a function of market size/geography.
Some methodological notes: In this table, associates (years 3-5) at 160+ law firms rated their firm on a 1 to 5 scale (5 = top/best category). The geographic category was broken down by the top 10 cities in terms of lawyers in the sample: NYC (1,415 associates); DC, Chicago, LA, San Fran (1,834 associates); Boston, Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, Philadelphia (955 associates). This breakdown tracks the "Global Cities" typology I have discussed in previous posts (see here and here). The firm means are calculated at the branch office level; in turn, the metropolitan means are weighted by the number of mid-level respondents at each firm. A large number of firms are represented in all three geographic categories.
The most striking feature of this table is that, in ALL categories, working conditions appear to be better in the smaller corporate law markets. An interesting subsidiary observation is that the mean scores for "overall rating as a place to work" (in red) are typically higher than the working conditions. This seems at odds with the intuition that these work conditions would be determinants of the "overall rating" score. One possible explanation, which David and I explore in the Michigan essay, is that, because of exposure to more high-end non-commodity legal work, associates at prestigious firms in large markets (a) enjoy much greater outplacement options than their smaller market counterparts, and (b) higher expected lifetime earnings.
I would be interested in hearing other alternative explanations for these results.
NOTE: If you are an academic researcher interested in working with similar law firms data, see announcement for the Law Firms Working Group.