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For the third year in a row, we asked in-house lawyers about the quality of their work lives, and they told us in no uncertain terms. Despite the tumbling market, the threat of layoffs, and a proliferation of mergers, they report that they’re basically content practicing law at companies — and that they are much better able to balance work and home than they were while working at law firms. Although the list of companies participating in our Quality of Life Survey has changed every year, the results have been remarkably constant. Thanks to respondents’ consistency, it’s become pretty clear what company lawyers value — and despise. What makes life in-house most enjoyable? In no special order: collegiality within a department, interesting work, and respect from clients. How did lawyers rank their departments on these key ingredients of job satisfaction? When all the survey responses were averaged, 70 percent of the lawyers gave their departments’ collegiality high marks, by choosing 4 or 5 on a scale of 1 (“very poor”) to 5 (“outstanding”). Eighty-three percent similarly praised their relationships with clients. Eighty-three percent said the interest level of their work was either a 4 or a 5. And 85 percent rated their colleagues’ skills highly on the same scale. Reasonable hours and competitive salary make jobs livable. And let’s not forget family-friendly programs like flexible hours, on-site child care, generous vacation time, and respect for individual problems such as illness or family needs. Still, company jobs are far from perfect. This year, one of the big minuses: Plummeting stock prices suddenly made options less of the prize. Without that pot of gold, many of the polled lawyers found base salaries looking pretty skimpy. In fact, gripes about overall compensation were widespread in this year’s survey. Other recurring complaints were about the difficulty of advancing: because of a shortage of opportunities, a lack of clarity about promotion criteria, or a lack of encouragement to move to the business side. Forty-one percent of respondents rated opportunities for advancement at the 4 or 5 level. With competition for company jobs fierce and turnover minimal, room for lawyers to advance is limited. But perceptions of the opportunities for minorities and women were higher, with 63 and 73 percent respectively saying opportunities for these groups were above 3. Many survey respondents worried aloud about job stability and security in a period of economic uncertainty. Finally, stress, heavy workloads, and office politics also prompted negative remarks. And despite promises of flexibility at many companies, only 37 percent of respondents, on average, gave telecommuting provisions at their workplaces high marks. Luckily, the positive comments — what lawyers like best about their particular department and company — still outweighed the negative. Pluses range from friendly work atmosphere to reasonable hours, and from the high caliber of colleagues to interesting work. The most common phrase used to describe what in-housers found best about their jobs was “the people I work with.” Many respondents also touted the “positive,” “respectful,” and “collaborative” relationships they enjoy with clients. The notion of teamwork and a sense of common purpose came up repeatedly in the survey responses. As one lawyer at Intel Corporation wrote: “Great people, great work.” Elizabeth Lentini, assistant general counsel at Northwestern Mutual, succinctly summarized the thoughts of many survey participants when she wrote: “I work on interesting deals in a collegial environment where I feel I am valued. Though I sometimes do work evenings and weekends, that’s not the general expectation.” Like many other lawyers, the 44-year-old Lentini says she went in-house so she would have more time to spend with her family. When she left her law firm four years ago, her two children were 4 and 7 years old. “I’m a working parent who wants to be there for my family,” she says. “That’s the most important thing.” Working at the Milwaukee-based insurance company has given her more control over her schedule, eliminated such additional demands as business development, and allowed her to take work home in the evenings. Having made her decision on the basis of work-family balance, Lentini found that close involvement with clients was an unexpected bonus. “Being such an integral part of the decision-making process is a fun offshoot,” she says. “And understanding the business perspective so thoroughly is very satisfying.” Obviously the biggest risk of going in-house is that your future is tied to fortunes of a company. Even if the law department is the best-run unit in the company, lawyers’ lives will be uncertain, and probably unpleasant, if the business falls on hard times. That’s certainly what lawyers at J. C. Penney Company, Inc., have found. Although many survey respondents grumbled about pay, Penney attorneys rated their satisfaction with their pay the lowest — on average 2 on a scale of 1 (“not much”) to 5 (“a great deal”). UAL Corporation was a close contender for last place though; lawyers there rated their satisfaction with pay at 2.1. The average salary of the eight Penney respondents (out of 32 lawyers in the department) was $107,625. Penney lawyers also reported an average bonus of $8,313. That’s about $30,000 lower than the survey average and the lowest among the companies polled. But again — UAL Corporation rivaled Penney for last place. The average bonus at the airline was just $9,200. Penney also did not match its employees’ 401(k) contributions in 2000. The reason for Penney’s relative stinginess is clear. The company has struggled to retain its niche, squeezed out by high-end retailers and major discounters. “Around ’97, Penney’s hit a wall,” says Eugene McGreal, associate general counsel and managing attorney of Penney’s legal department. “You had a loss situation.” The stock plunged from nearly $70 in mid-1999 to a low of about $8 in January. Not surprisingly, while 88 percent of respondents from the company said they got stock options, none were satisfied with them. Even so, there are pluses to working at the company. “Our in-house lawyers have gotten more trial experience because of the downsizing [in the law department],” says McGreal. Indeed, half of the respondents said that interesting, varied work and trial experience are among the things they liked best about their jobs. And McGreal is optimistic that life at Penney will improve. In September, Allen Questrom was hired as CEO, the first time the company has gone outside for leadership. “You’re going to see a cultural change,” McGreal promises. He has his work cut out: In our survey, Penney was dead last in the number of lawyers who would recommend the company to a friend; only 25 percent said they would. Yet even with this low number thrown into the mix, the surveywide average of those who’d recommend their companies to a friend is a solid 85 percent, and a mere 15 percent said they were on the job market. Taken together, that’s a resounding a vote of confidence for the life of the company lawyer. Related Charts: 2001 Quality of Life Survey “Where They’ve Been, Where They Want To Go” “The Right Balance” “What They Earn”

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