Wednesday, September 9, 2009
[W]e have been tracking the careers of a nationally representative sample of 5,000 lawyers who began practice in 2000. The study, which is based at the American Bar Foundation, is called After the JD (AJD). While the lawyers in this study work in a range of practice settings and sectors, we find that new lawyers working for firms of more than 250 lawyers are less satisfied with their jobs than their counterparts in smaller firms.
Two things puzzled us about this finding. First, it's not so clear why lawyers at large firms are dissatisfied. After all, they are earning generous salaries and are generally on the fast track. Second, the big firms could make changes, such as lowering the billing requirements, so that their attorneys are not so miserable, but do not.
The AJD study sheds light on these questions. The data shows that there is a specific pattern to the dissatisfaction among young associates at large firms: It varies by law school attended. Graduates of the most selective schools are the least satisfied with their jobs at large firms, while graduates of less selective schools are relatively more satisfied. Among AJD respondents working at firms of more than 100 lawyers, only 26% of graduates of U.S. News & World Report 's top ten law schools report extreme satisfaction with their decision to become a lawyer, compared to almost half (49%) of graduates from fourth-tier law schools. Similarly, 59% of top-ten law school graduates expressed the intention to leave their employer within two years, compared to just over a quarter of fourth-tier law school graduates. ...
Why are elite law graduates dissatisfied with these jobs? Part of the answer is that graduates of elite law schools are groomed to expect success. ...
Students from less selective schools have a different disposition. They know they had to work harder simply to attain these positions, and they realize that their options are more limited. ... Thus, for a segment of students from the lower echelons of the law school hierarchy, the large corporate law firm job is a coveted reward for hard work and is not to be squandered.