Elite schools, unhappy lawyers?

The American Lawyer recently reported the results of a study titled After the JD, conducted on behalf of the American Bar Foundation.  The study, which tracked 5000 lawyers who began practicing in 2000, found that “new lawyers working for firms of more than 250 lawyers are less satisfied with their jobs than their counterparts in smaller firms,” and that  “[g]raduates 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.”  The authors explain the disparate levels of satisfaction on the basis that graduates of elite schools are “groomed to expect success” whereas lower-tier graduates are more likely to view a job at a large firm as “a coveted reward for hard work . . . not to be squandered.”

Of course, large firms tend to recruit primarily from top law schools, and the authors address the implications of their findings on future hiring opportunities, suggesting that large firms hire more graduates of non-elite schools, improve working conditions, and cut associate pay.  The authors’ conclusion:

[I]f large firms respond to the economic crisis by substantially reducing starting salaries, they will be able to more quickly right themselves financially, hire graduates willing to work for less pay, and perhaps even take a little pressure off partners who face the constant pressure of finding work for associates. If firms lower pay but keep the same misery and engineered attrition for associates, they will get a short-term profit boost. But if lower pay also means a better lifestyle, more instruction and responsibility, and better evaluation, firms can lay the groundwork for success well beyond the end of the current recession.

The full article is worth reading.  Personally, I’m skeptical about seeing sweeping changes along the lines proposed… But I’ll be curious to see whether some aspects (such as further cuts in associate pay in exchange for an “improved” lifestyle for associates) may be implemented.  While the authors have a point that “[t]he general restructuring that takes place in a changing economic landscape creates room for organizational innovation,” large firms’ response to the recent economic challenges (and the fracture lines that culminated in the business crash) suggests that organizational innovation is not necessarily the strong point for the bulk of firms in this category.

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