The American Lawyer’s annual midlevel survey confirms what everyone in the profession already knows: There are persistently high levels of dissatisfaction among associates at large firms. Now for the really bad news: Even the unhappiest respondents are among the lucky ones; they have well-paying legal jobs. Sure, many also have legitimate complaints about their work and the culture in which they perform it—a subject I’ll discuss later. But for perspective, consider the plight of two miserable groups that didn’t get to participate in the survey at all. They would have if they could have, and they figure prominently in many large firms’ insensitivity toward their own unhappy associates.

The first group is law school graduates who can’t find a job requiring a legal degree. Almost half of today’s law school graduates incur more than $100,000 in educational loans to obtain their diplomas. Many believed that law school claims about “98 percent employment rates” and “$160,000 median starting salaries” guaranteed them prestigious and lucrative careers. No one revealed that “employment” could mean waiting tables or working as a greeter at Wal-Mart. Such manipulation is one of many techniques that law schools have used, gaming the system to enhance their U.S. News rankings.

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