In a year when response to Legal affiliate The American Lawyer‘s Summer Associates and Midlevel Associates satisfaction surveys was overwhelmingly positive, several Pennsylvania firms fell in the rankings due to stiff competition from other shops across the country.

However, one local firm that remained at or near the top of both lists for the second year in a row was Philadelphia-based Cozen O’Connor.

The firm’s 10 summer associates gave it straight 5 out of 5 scores across the board, helping it to tie with Boston-based Foley Hoag for first place nationally in the Summer Associates survey.

The firm dropped two spots, from fifth place to seventh place, in the Midlevel Associates rankings, despite seeing its overall score improve slightly from 4.446 in 2012 to 4.476 in 2013.

To put it in perspective, the top-ranked firm on the Midlevel Associates list was Paul Hastings, which received a score of 4.895 from its midlevels.

Vincent R. McGuinness Jr., managing partner of Cozen O’Connor, said the firm was “thrilled” with its performance in both surveys this year.

While Cozen O’Connor was able to remain above the pack, a number of other Pennsylvania firms dropped down one or both of the lists.

Still, even those firms could not necessarily be said to have dissatisfied associates. Rather, more firms across the country saw increases in associate satisfaction from 2012 to 2013, raising the overall bar.

Philadelphia-based Morgan, Lewis & Bockius was the only Pennsylvania firm other than Cozen O’Connor to crack the top 10 on both lists, jumping from number 19 in the 2012 Summer Associates survey to number 9 this year.

Of the nine metrics factored into the aggregate score, summer associates gave the firm its highest marks in the category “overall rating as a place to work” and its lowest marks in “how interesting the work was” and “partner-summer associate interactions.”

Meanwhile, the firm went from number 35 in last year’s Midlevel Associates survey to the 10th spot in this year’s rankings.

Of the 12 metrics firms were graded on by midlevel associates, Morgan Lewis received its highest score in “attitude toward pro bono” and its lowest score in “communication re: partnership.”

Philadelphia-based Drinker Biddle & Reath rose from 27th place in last year’s Summer Associates survey to 14th place on this year’s list.

The firm’s highest score in that survey was a six-way tie between “how interesting the work was,” “how much ‘real’ work was assigned,” “training and guidance,” “full-time associate-summer associate interaction,” “how accurately firm portrayed itself during interviews” and “inclination to accept a full-time associateship.”

Drinker Biddle did drop from number 79 to number 93 in the Midlevel Associates rankings, however, earning its highest score in “associate relations” and its lowest in “communication re: partnership.”

Philadelphia-based Dechert rose from number 101 on the Summer Associates survey last year to number 24 this year, receiving its highest marks in “full-time associate-summer associate interaction” and its lowest in “training and guidance.”

The firm remained at number 123 on the Midlevel Associates list, earning its highest marks in “attitude toward pro bono” and its lowest in “communication re: partnership.”

Philadelphia-based Fox Rothschild, ranked 51st in the 2012 Summer Associates survey, was number 25 on the list for 2013, earning its highest scores in “full-time associate-summer associate interaction,” “how well the firm communicates its goals and expectations” and “how accurately firm portrayed itself during interviews.”

The firm received its lowest score from summer associates in “training and guidance.”

But Fox Rothschild’s drop in the Midlevel Associates rankings was as steep as its climb on the Summer Associates list, going from number 26 last year to number 83 this year, earning its highest marks in “associate relations” and “training and guidance” and its lowest in “benefits and compensation.”

Nearly all of the Pennsylvania firms that ranked below number 25 on both lists dropped down the Summer Associates rankings and climbed the Midlevel Associates rankings.

Philadelphia-based Duane Morris jumped from number 39 on 2012′s Midlevel Associates list to number 31 this year, but fell from third place in the 2012 Summer Associates rankings to number 26 on the 2013 list.

Pittsburgh-based K&L Gates dropped from number 67 to 70 on the Summer Associates list, but rose from 115 to 40 on the Midlevel Associates list.

Philadelphia-based Pepper Hamilton dropped from number 65 to number 82 on the Summer Associates list, but rose from number 103 to 85 in the Midlevel Associates rankings.

Philadelphia-based Blank Rome went from number 25 to number 47 in the Summer Associates rankings, but rose from number 95 to number 64 in the Midlevel Associates rankings.

Philadelphia-based Ballard Spahr dropped from number 40 to number 62 on the Summer Associates list, but climbed from 118 to 102 on the Midlevel Associates list.

The only Pennsylvania firm to rank below number 25 and experience year-over-year drops on both lists was Pittsburgh-based Reed Smith, which fell from number 35 to number 72 on the Summer Associates list and from number 80 to number 86 on the Midlevel Associates list.

Meanwhile, the few firms that were ranked only on the Midlevel Associates list saw significant drops in the rankings.

Philadelphia-based Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young, for example, fell from number 25 to number 96, while Philadelphia-based Saul Ewing dropped from number 57 to number 101.

HOW COZEN DID IT

McGuinness, a Cozen O’Connor lifer who came to the firm as a summer associate himself, said today’s young lawyers are looking for a work environment where teamwork, personal interaction and mentoring by partners all play important roles.

Associates also want to be trained, not just in the law, but in business management and marketing, McGuinness said.

What all of that boils down to for Cozen O’Connor, according to McGuinness, is getting its young associates in front of both senior partners and clients from the beginning.

“We walk the walk” when it comes to professional development, McGuinness said.

Young associates, including summer associates, are not shuttered away doing research at Cozen O’Connor. Instead, McGuinness said, they work with partners and other senior lawyers on client matters.

But in a post-recession era when corporate legal departments are strapped with increasingly tight budgets and consequently are keeping a more watchful eye on how work is staffed, hasn’t it become more difficult to keep less experienced lawyers involved in actual client service?

McGuinness said that while he has encountered some pushback from clients, they’ve generally been receptive to the firm’s efforts to provide real training to its young attorneys.

The key, McGuinness said, is to communicate with the client, rather than simply sending out a bill with a lot of unaccounted-for time.

So, for example, when McGuinness had a young associate work on a matter for a fitness club client of his that involved filing a non-immigrant visa application for a professional athlete, he was upfront with the client that the associate would be meeting with the applicant and filing the actual application.

“The client understood what [the associate's] role was going to be,” McGuinness said. “I explained that the associate was going to be doing a lot of the legwork and the client was pleased that a smart, motivated person was going to do this.”

McGuinness said clients generally appreciate the firm’s efforts to train its young attorneys by providing real client interaction under the supervision of senior partners.

“You end up providing value to the client, if you manage that the right way,” McGuinness said.

Honesty and transparency are also important in the firm’s interactions with its summer associates.

“When new associates enter, we make sure they understand what the firm’s goals are, what our strategic plan is and what our philosophy and management style is,” McGuinness said.

Being candid with entry-level associates ultimately translates to more satisfied midlevel associates, according to McGuinness.

Zack Needles can be contacted at 215-557-2493 or zneedles@alm.com. Follow him on Twitter @ZNeedlesTLI.