By Peg Johnston • March 03, 2008•Firms and the Private Sector
There is an very good article in last week's issue of Corporate Counsel magazine titled: Big-Firm Associates: Why They Go and How to Keep Them. I would recommend reading the entire article to anyone who, like me, is always thinking about the retention problem faced by big law firms. The article does not specifically address the problem of retaning women. However, I think the issue that it does address is universal and applies to men and women both. That issue is "[associates'] first professional experience after at least seven years of higher education is too unprofessional and demoralizing [and] that disappointment is a major reason for leaving..."
As I alluded to in earlier posts I have recently had some disheartening conversations with women attorneys in my local area about the issue of work/life balance. I say these conversations were disheartening mostly because of the real bias I have faced towards younger attorneys. I won't say that these conversations have completely broken my spirit but they have definitely made me sit back and re-think whether the fight for better work-life balance is the right one to be fighting. I am sort of feeling like the generation gap can't be breached. I fear that partners (male or female) may be able to recognize that younger attorneys want different things than they did when they were associates but that they will never recognize the differences as valid or honorable, if you will. I am starting to think that we need to be searching for other ways to retain associates, particularly women.
For this reason, I really like this Corporate Counsel article...
[More after the jump]
It briefly describes the many reasons why associates leave law firms and, to be sure, one of them is the completely unbalanced lifestyle. However, the article is really about the fact that big firm attorneys leave because, well because the work sucks. Big firm associates are given boring work, very little responsibility, little to no training, mentoring, guidance, or feedback, and little client interaction. This argument reminds me of my psychology 101 class in college. In the organizational leadership section of the class we learned about the so-called hierarchy of human needs. I don't remember all of the riveting details but remember that the bottom of the pyramid started off with food, water and shelter and that at the top of the pyramid was the higher-order need of self actualization. It order to be satisfied in a job you need to make enough money to meet your basic needs but, after that amount is reached, humans need less money and more responsibility in order to be satisfied with their jobs.
I really think that the article's point is very important. I think associates will leave if the work at big firms sucks and they may very well blame their departure on something else like work/life balance. Afterall, if your professional life is unsatisfying that will make it feel like you are giving too much of yourself to it compared with the other aspects of life that you are trying to balance. On the other hand, if you feel like work is rewarding, challenging, important and interesting, it is easier to stomach long hours and high demands.