Biglaw Midlevel Associates link high billable hours to their mental health concerns

Young business woman suffering from headache or migraineMaking it to mid-level in Biglaw isn’t easy – especially after a pandemic. First, you had to break into Biglaw in the first place (which can be quite difficult, especially if you didn’t go to top law school or get top grades). Then you had to endure the high stress and long hours. After all, you’ve had to endure and somehow get through the incredibly uncertain times that COVID-19 has brought upon the legal profession and the world at large (although we’re sure the bonuses and raises must have helped a little).

But if you did It’s arguably harder than ever to break into the middle ranks of your company in recent years, and these people just have enough. The American Lawyer has just released its mid-level employee survey, and as Dan Roe observed, “They’ve kept the firms afloat, they’ve made partners rich, and now they’re planning to reshape the profession in their image.” He goes on to explain, that mid-level staff appear doing better than last year, but problems may be brewing beneath the surface. Here’s more:

On paper, Big Law’s middle-class employees are doing better than last year. In The American Lawyer’s 2022 Midlevel Associate Survey, the average associate gave his firm a score of 4.36 out of 5, up from 4.29 last year. Employees’ perceived likelihood of being at their company in two years’ time also increased slightly, and 32% said they felt morale was higher than last year (50% said it was the same). Skill shortages also seem to have improved, with 10% fewer employees saying they think their company is understaffed compared to last year.

However, when it comes to other key metrics of personal and professional fulfillment, employee satisfaction is still moving in the wrong direction. The same number of employees said they felt depressed and anxious compared to 2021. With many organizations enforcing office work, more than half of employees said the hybrid flexibility reduced their likelihood of burnout. More than three-quarters said working at a law firm had significantly affected their mental health, and 52% said they were quitting for better work-life balance.

To arrive at these findings, Am Law asked middle-level employees to rate how satisfied they were with their company on a variety of issues: compensation and benefits; training and guidance; relationships with partners and other employees; interest in and satisfaction with work; the company’s billable hours policy; and management’s openness to corporate strategies and partnership opportunities. And what came up again and again in the answers of the respondents? This year, work-life balance and mental health are in the crosshairs, and high billable hour expectations are to blame.

When asked what they would change about their company and the job as a whole, more than 1,000 employees spoke about the direct link between high billable hour expectations and poor physical and mental health. The more hours companies demand of their employees, the more the long hours and lack of boundaries made their lives worse.

“We can’t schedule a workout, healthy meals, or even some downtime with friends when a client’s ’emergency’ (nothing a corporate client needs is actually an emergency) could arise unexpectedly and interrupt them,” a Greenberg employee told Traurig . “This leads to high stress, poor sleep, lack of exercise, and too much fast food and takeout. All of this will have a negative impact on mental health, and no amount of wellness webinars or weekly wellness emails are going to change that.”

Another area of ​​concern for mid-levels was the availability of hybrid or remote work arrangements. Of the approximately 300 employees who raised the issue, nearly all said they enjoy the flexibility these opportunities offer, and many would like even more flexibility. The call for employees to return to the office has met with resentment. Here is just one example:

A McDermott Will & Emery employee noted that the company happened to stop distributing a satisfaction survey around the time it began asking employees to return to the office. “The employee’s mental health is more important than trying to impress Jamie Dimon by forcing everyone back into the office,” the employee said. “They waste our time and money, make us less productive and unhappy, and there’s no benefit.”

So let’s get to the rankings. The full list is available here, but these are the companies that make the top 25 in terms of median satisfaction:

  1. Paul Hastings
  2. McDermott Will & Emery
  3. Bakers & innkeepers
  4. O’Melveny & Myers
  5. Gibson Dunn
  6. Schnell & Wilmer
  7. Morgan Lewis
  8. Empty Rome
  9. Ropes & Grey
  10. Orrik
  11. Robin Kaplan
  12. Buckley
  13. Linklater
  14. Foley Hoag
  15. Clifford Chance
  16. Debevoise
  17. Fried Frank
  18. dechert
  19. Hughes Hubbard & Reed
  20. Cadwaader
  21. Winston & Strawn
  22. Cooley
  23. Akin Gump
  24. Goulston & Storrs
  25. proskauer

Congratulations to all the companies that made it onto the list! And congratulations to the middle tiers who have jobs they’re relatively happy with, all things considered.

Midlevel dish on what law firms are doing right and wrong [American Lawyer]
The 2022 Midlevel Associates Survey: The Ranking [American Lawyer]


Staci ZaretskyStaci Zaretsky is Senior Editor at Above the Law, where she has worked since 2011. She’d love to hear from you, so please email her with any tips, questions, comments, or criticism. you can follow her Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.

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