Still Satisfied

For the past five years, Corporate Counsel has surveyed in-house lawyers about their on-the-job contentment. We’ve asked them about a broad range of workplace issues, from the interest level of their work, and perception of in-house lawyers in companies today, to their satisfaction with their outside counsel. This year, for the first time, respondents were permitted to answer anonymously on the magazine’s Web site; some of the 1,010 respondents, including Coburn, agreed to follow-up interviews [see "Methodology: Surveying the In-house Bar"].

We also asked respondents to rate various aspects of their work life on a sliding scale, from “very poor” to “outstanding.” This year 71 percent rated their job satisfaction level as “outstanding” or “above average,” while 85 percent gave the same ratings to the interest level of their work. See “Good People Going Nowhere?”

The responses to the 2003 survey show � as in previous years � that in-house life brings with it a high degree of satisfaction. The work is interesting; corporate counsel respect their law department colleagues and get along well with clients. But there’s one big exception to this generally happy picture. In an open-ended question, we asked whether life has gotten better or worse this past year. Nearly half of the attorneys participating in the survey responded that it was worse. The number one reason they gave was overwork.
“We Asked, You Told”.

Frederick Krebs, executive director of the recently renamed Association of Corporate Counsel, formerly the American Corporate Counsel Association, says he is not surprised by the complaints. He notes that his Washington, D.C., group’s polling of several thousand lawyers also shows that “stress points are showing up.” Still, Krebs emphasizes the good things that come with in-house life, such as teamwork and a close working relationship with clients.

In fact, company lawyers in our survey responded that a large part of their job satisfaction came from the respect they get from their clients. Asked to choose the statement that best describes how corporate clients see their role in a company, 42 percent of in-house lawyers chose “my advice is sought and respected,” 28 percent opted for “I am part of the business team,” and 9 percent agreed that “I am a leading voice in determining strategy.”

Besides respect from the business side, survey respondents said there’s a high degree of collegiality within the legal department. Seventy-four percent rated the relationships within their law departments as “above average” or “excellent,” compared to 77 percent last year, and 70 percent two years ago.
“The Dish On The Departments.”

Midnight Oil

It’s a good thing everyone is getting along. Our 2003 survey indicates that in-house lawyers are spending more time in the office on nights and weekends. Bryan Dempsey, legal affairs director for Houston-based Tgs-Nopec Geophysical Company Lp, for instance, works days, nights, and weekends in the company’s Denver and Houston offices. As the sole lawyer at his 280-employee public company, whose geophysical projects for oil and gas companies involves operating in many international jurisdictions, Dempsey says he’s working harder than ever.

Dempsey now works between three and ten hours every weekend “catching up,” including overseeing compliance with the new Sarbanes-Oxley requirements. He says he rarely worked weekends until recently. As for vacations, Dempsey says he hasn’t taken one since 2000. He took five days off for the birth of his child and returned to find a ten-inch stack of deals to review. “I learned then that I just can’t put this stuff off,” he says. He says he is trying to hire a paralegal to help out.

Concerns about heavy hours and light resources were prominent red lights on the part of this year’s survey that allowed lawyers to write in comments. (See “Staying Put, But Working Harder”.) In addition to the respondents who said life has gotten worse, 41 percent of the in-house lawyers who filled out the survey said they were working more hours this year. Thirty-six percent said budget constraints had a negative impact on their job performance, but only one-third of respondents said they were under pressure to pull more work in-house, as opposed to two-thirds last year. (We also queried corporate counsel about their relationships with outside counsel; see “The Revolution Has Been Postponed.”)

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