Ah the Good Life: Firms and Keeping Associates Happy

massage2.JPGIt seems that associates are not so grateful to be associates. At least the ones at the corporate or mega firms paying $160,000 plus a year are not so happy. But fear not, as the New York Times reports, law firms serve not only clients but their employees as well. So some firms have “happiness committees” to pick up these abused workers with candied apples and milkshakes when they least expect it. Others allow the use of concierge services to “pick up theater and sports tickets, the dry cleaning, take a car to the repair shop or even choose a Halloween costume.” All of these efforts are aimed at winning the talent war and providing a balanced life. A balanced life? The story reminds me of an on campus interviewed a friend had.

A partner sat across from a law student and told the tale. The firm had suspended the use of messengers to pick up dry cleaning. An associate came in his office and was furious. How dare the firm suspend this service? He had no wife to take care of these details! He worked hard. The partner beamed as he told his quick response: no committee meeting needed; policy revoked; messengers for everyone.

The friend smiled and appreciated the partner’s perspective: “We love and support an associate who gives us her life,” while thinking “Wow, you need a messenger to do your own errands? What kind of job is this?”

Of course megafirms lose talent all the time. And yes, the job is difficult such that high burnout rates are common. But the firms that offer training and a real shot at having a life might keep talent longer. Less pay might even be possible if a firm really cared about giving an associate a life. With the focus on profits per partner and other useless AmLaw criteria that concern will likely be given lip-service only. In addition, the rising cost of law school means that associates will likely want the high pay. Whether the law firm recipe for success means happiness for the young attorney is up for grabs. Still given the changes in training programs (albeit based on client pressures) and the need for happiness committees, maybe it is time to rethink what being an attorney means. One way to start the reflection is to remember there are many who struggle to have jobs and many who work just as hard if not more so to serve their deserving, non-corporate clients. Talent exists in these contexts as well but they battle in wars outside the zone of why didn’t I receive the in-house massage?

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1 Response

  1. Mike Madison says:


    The anecdote reminds me of a comment that I noted here: Entrenched law firm hierarchies persist so long as there is little dissent from the proposition that “all the galley slaves row together.”