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More than 4,000 associates responded to The American Lawyer magazine for its latest Midlevel Associates Survey, giving the inside scoop on what life is really like at nearly 200 top law firms. Which firms offer the highest compensation and the most family-friendly policies? Where are associates so satisfied that they’re apt to stick around for the long haul? And which firm jumped from dead last in the prior survey to better than halfway up the ladder?
A Winning Formula In this year’s Midlevel Associates Survey, Arnold & Porter earned the highest score of any Am Law 100 firm, and the third-highest overall. Associates particularly love the firm’s family-friendly approach, but it also scored especially well on training, guidance and interesting or satisfying work. And while the firm’s scores jumped this past year, the changes didn’t come overnight. Managing partner James Sandman says the firm has been laying the groundwork for a long time. Having a Life, Too Family leave and vacation time. Support for pro bono work. A humane attitude toward billable hours, combined with management openness. Why is Washington, D.C.-based Arent Fox ranked fourth in the Midlevel Associates Survey, up from 28th last year? Managing partner William Charyk sums up why associates — and partners — are so happy: “We treat them like adults.” Northern Light When Dietrich King realized that his 110-lawyer firm’s 12 third- and fourth-year associates just barely qualified it to be listed in the Midlevel Associates Survey, he urged firm leaders to participate. They must be glad they did. All 12 midlevel associates responded, making Rochester, N.Y.’s Harter, Secrest & Emery the survey’s top-ranked firm. Luckily, the secrets of its success aren’t unique to smaller firms. The Inflation Temptation What have you done for your client in the past six minutes? Or was it 12 minutes? Like surfing the Internet during a conference call, bill padding is the sort of activity that many lawyers do, but few admit to. In this year’s Midlevel Associates Survey, however, 160 associates from 79 law firms — or about 4 percent of respondents — report that inflating their hours on time sheets is an accepted practice at their firms. Is the billable hours system itself the problem? And the Most Improved Score Goes to… Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld showed the most improvement since the last associate survey, achieving a firmwide score of 3.742, up from 2.808 in 2003. The firm’s overall rank shot up from 159 (out of 159) to 65 (out of 148). See how the firm rated on more than 30 key questions. Midlevel Associates Survey: How It’s Done Any firm may participate in the Midlevel Associates Survey. Eligible midlevels are third- or fourth-year associates. This year’s report is based on responses from 4,334 midlevels at 181 participating firms. A firm’s national score is based on points such as work satisfaction, compensation, relations with associates and partners, training, openness, billable hours, the firm’s attitude toward pro bono work and the likelihood of the associate being at the firm in two years.
Related charts: Free registration required: Associate Survey Responses: Firms Listed A to Z The Best Places to Work (National rankings) Comparing Apples to Apples (Rankings by firm size) The Midlevels Speak The Local Picture (Rankings by city)

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