Finally, Young Lawyers Have a Reason to Be Happy

Photo by Vinoth Chandar (Flickr/Creative Commons)
By Natalie Kitroeff, Bloomberg News

Pain at U.S. law schools may be putting young American lawyers in good spirits. Those who recently started working at big firms reported their highest levels of satisfaction in a decade, a survey released last week by American Lawyer magazine shows. The report speculated that young attorneys are happy partly because they are scarce, thanks to shrinking classes of law school graduates.

“Today’s third-, fourth- and fifth-year associates are in high demand, making them more secure in their current posts,” wrote the American Lawyer. “The associate shortage is creating an incentive for firms to try to hold on to talent.”

Fewer people applied to and enrolled in law school in 2014 than at any point in the last three decades. Dwindling ranks at the entry level mean that firms are lavishing more attention on young people they have already paid to train. New attorneys appear to be loving that attention.

The publication polled thousands of third-, fourth-, and fifth-year associates at more than 100 of the nation’s largest law firms. Each class of recent attorneys said they were being paid slightly more per billable hour than they got last year, and the third- and fourth-year hires said they were billing more hours overall.

There seems to be a stark difference in the way that men and women in the legal profession approach their jobs. Male associates billed clients for more hours than women did, while women said they clocked 11.5 percent more hours that were not billed to clients than their male peers reported. Men charged $533 per hour, on average, and women took $514. Women made about $1,650 less in base salary than men, and earned $8,000 less in bonuses.

Lawyers at firms on the West Coast, particularly in California, were happier than those living on the East Coast or in London. Orange County, San Diego, Los Angeles, Silicon Valley, and Miami were home to the most upbeat attorneys, who apparently are fine with working in a secondary market, if it includes a beach.

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