They’re working a bit less and enjoying it a bit more. They’re more anxious, deeper in debt, and, in their own words, thankful to be so well employed. Taken as a whole, responses to The American Lawyer‘s annual survey of third- and fourth-year associates show overwhelming agreement about what respondents like — their colleagues and the quality of their work — and what they don’t like — the hours and the jerks.

We received responses from 179 firms this year, a new record, but here we report detailed results for only 132. We raised the minimum number of responses from five per firm to 10 — that seemed fairer to all concerned — and some firms didn’t get over the bar. For most questions, we asked associates to answer on a scale of 5 to 1, with 5 being the best possible grade. Some questions are worth more than others: We rank firms based on the average of answers to nine questions. The average firm score was 3.83. Alston & Bird, which finished third last year, led the field this year at 4.33; Clifford Chance, which was third from the bottom last year, finished last this year, with a score of 2.74.

The rankings are important, but they are only part of the story. We looked to the survey’s open-ended questions to identify firms with distinct qualities.

After reading all 3,933 responses, I can assure you that law firms follow Tolstoy’s famous dictum, but for the most part only on the margins. It’s not a surprise that, when asked what they like about their firms, associates across the land responded, “The work and the people.”

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