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It's Not Always Sunny in Philadelphia

Vivia Chen

September 20, 2012

Danny_Devito_©Fox-TVSlaving away in Big Law is not known as nirvana. But some lawyers do seem to have a better time at it than others. Besides the obvious incentives—lots of moolah and prestige—what else goes into the lawyer happiness equation? Well, how about location?

So which cities boast the most satisfied and most miserable lawyers? That depends on whether you're an associate or partner. Let's look at the two groups:

1. For partners, legal search consultant Major, Lindsey & Africa offers a joy meter based on compensation. According to MLA's 2012 partner compensation survey, cities where 33 percent or more of the partners described themselves as "Very Satisfied" include:

Seattle ($532,000 average compensation)

Dallas ($768,000)

San Francisco ($723,000)

Silicon Valley ($1,200,000)

Not far behind on this "Very Satisfied" list are Houston ($791,000), New York ($1,020,000), and Atlanta ($683,000).

With the exception of Seattle, the cities on this list are homes to firms with pretty high compensation numbers—suggesting that happiness is tied to money. So even though Seattle partners aren't making as much, it seems they are okay with that (is it the neo-hippie culture or the superior coffee that makes them so much more mellow?).

Which brings us to Philadelphia, the city with the lowest "Very Satisfied" rating (16 percent) and the lowest average compensation ($478,000) in the MLA survey. Moreover, Philly has one of the highest rates of partners who describe themselves as either "Not at All Satisfied or Not Very Satisfied" (28 percent).

So it looks like partners there aren't making a lot of money, and they're mad as hell about it. Plus the coffee isn't nearly as good as Seattle's. Poor Philly.

2. To gauge associate satisfaction, take a look at The American Lawyer's interactive happiness map (it rates 41 cities), which is based on Am Law's midlevel associates survey. The top five places for happy associates are:

1. Wilmington

2. Phoenix

3. Miami

4. San Diego

5. Broomfield, Colorado (yep, I've never heard of it either).

I can understand the appeal of most of the cities on that top five list (sunny weather, good outdoor activities), but Wilmington? I can only assume it's heady to work in the largest city of the state where 60 percent of all Fortune 500 companies get incorporated.

And which cities are the bottom five? Well, it's not the big, mean places like New York, which came in 27th, or Washington, D.C. (23rd place), or Los Angeles (seventh place). No sirree. The worst five places to work are actually in much smaller, quainter places:

1. Louisville (last place—41st rank)

2. Raleigh (40th)

3. Columbus (39th)

4. Charlotte, North Carolina (38th)

5. Florham Park, New Jersey (37th)

You'd think that if you gave up excitement and big money for a more low-key place, you'd at least be satisfied with the quality of life. But who knew there could be so much discontent in Columbus or Florham Park? (Philly, by the way, didn't score that well with associates either; it's in 34th place.)

My advice: If you're going to be unhappy as a lawyer, you might as well sulk in a city with some real edge like New York (which, by the way, was just named as the filthiest city in the country by Travel & Leisure magazine—yay!).

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Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? Email The Careerist's chief blogger, Vivia Chen, at VChen@alm.com.



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The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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