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Law Firm Survey Indicates Partner-Associate Disconnect— and Some Demographic Surprises

Law Firm Survey Indicates Partner-Associate Disconnect— and Some Demographic Surprises

Recently, a massive survey was conducted in which researchers evaluated associate and partnership relationships at the intergenerational level.  The survey gathered data from more than 2,400 partners and associates at various high-end Biglaw and boutique law firms throughout the country.


The results from this survey are quite unexpected, and should shake firms out of complacency with respect to their hiring practices and their attorney-development implementations.


Let’s take a closer look at the survey results and what it means for the future.


Strikingly-Different Perceptions of Colleagues


Perhaps the most shocking result of the survey is just how differently partners and associates view each other in the Biglaw industry.


Statistically, partners have an overall poor view of associates, with 44 percent of partners pointing out that associates are not as skilled as they “used to be” (this number increased to 71 percent for partners between 40 and 50 years old!).  Further, 37 percent of partners believe that associates act too selfishly, and are too focused on their own success and happiness as opposed to what the firm (and clients) need.


Strangely, associates do not seem to harbor the same negativity towards partners.  In fact, the survey showed that 45 percent of associates listed their partner as among their “most liked” aspects of their firm.  Only 9 percent listed their partner as one of the “disliked” aspects of their firm.


Worth noting: this survey was conducted anonymously.


Survey Data Reveals Notable Demographic Trends


In general, the large majority of present associates are not aiming to achieve partner status in their firm — as noted above, 59 percent of survey respondents do not aspire to partner with their current firm (this percentage varied depending on age, with younger respondents increasingly disinterested in becoming a partner).


The percentage of respondents who did not aspire to partner status was highest at the most elite Biglaw firms, with an even larger majority of associates rejecting the path to becoming a partner.


Interestingly, the survey revealed some surprising trends with respect to certain demographic groups.


Black and Latino associates reported a significantly greater interest in becoming a partner with their current firms than White associates.  Though just 42 percent of White associates aspired to partner status, 46 percent of Black associates and an astounding 60 percent of Latino associates aspired to partner status.


Of the group that aspired to partner status with their current firm, female associates were less interested in becoming partner than male associates — coming in at 46 percent.


What Do These Trends Mean for Recruitment?


The data makes a few things clear with respect to recruitment and attorney-development:


Alternatives to the Partnership Track


Clearly, a significant portion of Biglaw associates do not wish to follow the partnership track to its inevitable conclusion.  Given the statistics, it seems that firms would better retain talent by offering legitimate alternatives to the partnership track: one idea that has been floated by industry critics is the possibility of a super-senior associate path with additional pay incentives and responsibilities.


Refocusing Mentorship and Development Efforts


Mentorship opportunities are often squandered by disinterested associates and made inaccessible to those who could benefit the most from such opportunities.  Given the survey data, firms should consider investing more resources into minority-focused mentorship and attorney-development programs, as these investments are much more likely to pay dividends for the firm later on (specifically, Black and Latino attorneys are significantly more interested in pursuing the partnership track).


Build Bridges Across the Divide


The survey data is clear: partners are somewhat flummoxed by younger associates, if not outright negative towards them and their approach to work.  What it reveals, fundamentally, is distrust.  Partners do not necessarily feel that they can “trust” their associates to take on difficult work burdens, and to perform the tasks to a high standard.


This is a divide that must be crossed if teams are to engage fruitfully with one another.  Distrust can be reduced through a focus on “culture fit” when hiring new attorneys, but can also be reduced through team-building efforts.  Promoting polite, but open communication between partners and associates will also lead to significant benefits — after all, associates may not realize that they are performing below expectations.


Contact Garb Jaffe & Associates for Experienced Legal Recruitment Help


Here at Garb Jaffe & Associates, our team of experienced Los Angeles legal recruiters has spent decades working with a range of attorneys — from mid-level associates to senior partners — helping them make a successful transition to a legal position that more closely aligns with their career goals.


We are committed to comprehensive recruitment assistance, and as such, we work closely with attorney-candidates from an early stage in their job search process.  Our legal recruiters provide assistance in the form of mock interviews, resumé editing and rewriting services, identifying potential opportunities, evaluating firms and in-house departments for cultural fit, and more.


Our services come at no cost to the attorney-candidate.  Instead, we are paid by law firms and in-house departments to identify and secure talent that is a “best fit” for both parties.


Ready to connect?  Call us at 310-207-0727 or complete an intake form through our website to schedule a meeting.


We look forward to speaking with you.

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