In years past, law firms expected business growth as a matter of course. They hired the best associates and anticipated that everyone would become a partner. Associates expected the same. Career satisfaction and firm loyalty were presumed, with minimal attrition expected. But now the increasingly complex and competitive legal marketplace has forever altered the expectations of both law firms and associates. Those old expectations and presumptions are passing.

The hallowed traditions have been broken, often painfully. Firms previously allowed individuality and even an occasional "star turn" of certain associates or partners. Now many firms emphasize the firm culture and image over the individual's qualities. They often expect a team attitude, which places the firm's interests above that of each lawyer. Little allowance is given for individual lifestyle issues. The bottom line has acquired more importance, and consequently, emphasis is placed earlier on associate marketing, productivity, and rainmaking. Unfortunately, the definition of success and professionalism is often dictated solely by the bottom line. No longer is service to clients the only hallmark of a successful associate.
A. Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes

Because of these major changes in the profession, efforts will have to be made to create long-term career satisfaction for current and future associates. Law firms, as well as associates, must be prepared to adopt new alternatives, replacing the outmoded relationships between associate and law firm. This section discusses both the issues that impede and the methods that enhance career satisfaction. It will also examine some of the newer alternatives and suggest means for implementation.


With the current economic market, associates find there is increased intensity of competition with its concomitant pressure to excel and be productive. Yet at the same time, many desire to have a spouse, perhaps raise a family, and lead a semblance of a normal life, including pursuing some non-career related interests. A composite wish list for associates, based on my conversations with thousands of unhappy lawyers, includes the following:
  • To be fully integrated into the law firm, treated with respect for past accomplishments, and given support and effective feedback for future efforts;
  • To receive continuing education, both within and outside of the firm; interesting work, with increasing responsibility as ability warrants; humane and fair working arrangements; good pay; tolerable hours; and additional benefits and bonuses;
  • To be treated as individuals, even allowed to market a specialized practice in a more entrepreneurial style;
  • To identify with the compassionate values of the firm as demonstrated by pro bono commitments, training programs, employee diversity, reasonable billable hours, and part time and family leave policies.

Associates want a balance between professional and personal goals, between economic success and personal satisfaction. A consuming career is no longer enough.