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On Happiness Scale, Big Law Partners Rank High (No, Really)

The Careerist

October 21, 2016

Wealthy-looking-men-in-vintage-photo-via-Shutterstock-800x430For those of you who think Big Law partners are miserable, lost souls, I've got news you: They are quite happy, thank you. Plus, they're making bundles of money. And, guess what? Many wouldn't dream of scaling down their practice (and the money) for more free time. In sum, they like what they're doing and how they're doing it.

Maybe that doesn't describe you or the lawyers in your circle. But it fits those who have ascended the ranks—particularly that of equity partnership—at major firms. That's according to Major Lindsey & Africa's 2016 Partner Compensation Survey. (My previous post about the MLA's survey discussed cronyism v. gender bias in partner pay.)

Here's what the MLA survey says about partner satisfaction:

- Taking compensation into account, a whopping 82 percent of partners described themselves as "very," "moderately" or "slightly" satisfied.

- Only 14 percent called themselves "slightly," "moderately" or "very" dissatisfied when factoring in compensation.

- Equity partners are happier: 36 percent of them rate themselves as "very satisfied" while only 15 percent of nonequity partners did the same.

- Equity partners also raked in more money. Median compensation for equity partners was $775,000 versus $325,000 for non-equity.

What's apparent that money correlates with satisfaction. But MLA managing director Jeff Lowe, who headed the survey, says the study also shows that money isn't the sole driving force and that partners fundamentally like what they do: "Even when you take compensation out of consideration, 72 percent said they were satisfied with their lives." He adds, "I thought they were slogging away only for the money, but that's not exactly true."

Maybe they're not doing it just for the money, but many partners wouldn't want to make a penny less either. Asked whether they'd be willing to trade compensation for non-monetary benefits like more time-off, 44 percent of equity partners said no (versus 31 percent of nonequity partners). In fact, the more senior the partners are—and presumably the more they make—the less willing they were to trade money for more free time.

Lowe says this finding was a surprise. "I thought the more senior you got, the more you'd be willing to trade money for other things, but the survey showed the opposite." Is it because older partners had higher standard of living to maintain? Or is it just the most hardcore lawyers who stick with the grueling pace of Big Law? "Who knows?" responds Lowe.

Despite the overall rosy picture that partners paint of themselves, however, there are hints of discontent. For instance, only 28 percent of female partners say they wouldn't trade compensation for other non-monetary benefits. And while 32 percent of male partners say they're "very" satisfied, only 23 percent of female partners say the same thing. In fact, the survey finds that "female partners showed higher levels of dissatisfaction across all categories." (Need I remind you that women barely make 18 percent of all equity partners in the land?)

So it's an awesome time to be a partner in Big Law—if you're a male equity partner.

Like, what else is new?



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One of the things that attracted me to the profession as a law student was that lawyers seemed to genuinely like there work. The McNair firm in SC had a guy at my interview reception who was 85 if he was a day. I thought, "if someone can love a job that much, I want in!" The interesting thing is that the younger lawyers had lower levels of job satisfaction. The billable monster made things less fun, I think...

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About The Careerist

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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