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The annual associates supplement has historically been one of The American Lawyer‘s most popular publications — eagerly awaited by law students, associates, recruiting directors, and managing partners. But this one is especially intriguing. Because it was conducted early last summer, this survey depicts associates and their firms on the cusp of change. Yes, the economy had cooled, but the chill had only begun to spread to large law firms. Layoffs were still theoretical: The ax had not yet swung, but it could be seen on the horizon. For our respondents, the economic slowdown meant a return to reality. Last year’s midlevel respondents complained about their compensation and dreamed of leaving for in-house jobs at dot-coms. This year’s midlevels were more inclined to express satisfaction both with their pay and their firms in general. The tight job market is certainly one factor. But it also may be that law firms’ long efforts to improve their associate retention and enhance working conditions were finally beginning to pay off. Even in these uncertain times, the vast majority of our 9,526 midlevel and summer associate respondents expressed confidence in their futures and their firms. That’s a tribute to their abilities and training, and also a sign of faith in those who run those firms. Will the associates’ trust prove to be misplaced? The answer to that question will be revealed slowly, over the next 12 months.

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