Women associates’ job satisfaction spiked after the pandemic broke out. Men’s remained unchanged. Law firms did a good job of delivering on associates’ high expectations for how they would be treated and how well-informed they would be. Men have the same concerns but value these behaviors differently than women associates – resulting in the surge. Overall, associate job satisfaction weighs in as follows:  

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being extremely satisfied and 1, representing you are ready to leave: 

Pre-Pandemic Post-Pandemic
Overall Associate Satisfaction 7.4 7.9
Women Associates 7.0 7.9
Men Associates 7.9 7.9

Women are driving the overall increase in job satisfaction rating, with a 12% jump. In the short-lived but profound post-pandemic world, women have changed their opinions and now equal their male peers in job satisfaction. Here are the factors behind the surge: 

Empathy for Associates 

More than half of all associates believe their firms are showing deep empathy, and another 17% meaningful, if not quite as deep empathy. This is playing out in a number of ways: 

  • Letting associates work from home before the WFH mandates
  • Dealing with individual situations in the shift to WFH
  • Shifting to new practice areas if they are not busy 
  • The commitment to keeping associates

Empathy is ranked higher by women in importance than men – driving much of the higher job satisfaction rating post-pandemic. 

Transparency 

Associates tell us their firms are playing it straight. With only a few exceptions, law firms are talking about their financial condition, their backlog, new work, and what the near future is looking like. Partners are telling associates this pandemic will have little-to-no long-term impact on their career trajectory – and the firm is committed to their associates.     

Breathing Room

The pandemic has the unexpected effect of providing associates with much needed mental breathing room. Associates are finding more time to think about their careers and their direction – something they have been wanting. 

Firms are also relieving stress by giving their associates 10% to 15% wiggle room in their billable hour targets. They are being offered new work. The associates up for partner suggested the upcoming year may not be the best to become a new partner due to the pressure to dig up billable hours in an uncertain economy, and few are expecting a big partner class. 

Like empathy, this ranked higher in importance to women associates. 

More Control Over Their Careers

Associates feel more in control. They believe they have options now and in the future. Associates speak of a sense of security and, for the first time for most, have more flexibility around their work even though the demands are greater.

A Renewed Sense of Importance Around Associates 

To associates, actions speak louder than words. The heightened empathy, dialogue, and transparency do a good job of telling associates they are important. And few things make you more satisfied with your job than making you feel important. 

These Expectations Are Embedded In the New Normal

The good news: associates have new, higher expectations – much like clients – already built into the fabric of the new normal.

Every law firm has the challenge of keeping these job satisfaction levels up and driving them higher. Success demands continuing these behaviors and making even more tangible investments – soft skill training will be the next frontier to prove your commitment, associate skills, and the law firm’s business. Again, one part of the next normal – starting now. 

Be safe. Be well. 

MBR

The MAD Clientist

(BTI interviewed and surveyed 369 law firm associates before and during the pandemic, as recent as last week.) 

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