Southern California cities dominate our list of locales in which third-, fourth-, and fifth-year associates rated their firms on our Midlevel Associates Survey. In our ranking, which is limited to cities that have responses from at least five firms, the top third is dominated by neighboring Southern California locales: San Diego, Los Angeles, and Orange County.

San Diego and Los Angeles ranked first and second, respectively with an average score of 4.287 and 4.223. Both cities benefited from the presence of a Paul Hastings office, which ranked number one among law firm offices in each city. Additionally, San Diego benefited from improved showings by Cooley and Morrison & Foerster. Orange County ranked fourth with a score of 4.142.

In third place was Boston, with a score of 4.167. That city is the home office of Nutter McClennen & Fish, the survey’s perennial leader, as well as Goulston & Storrs, which finished in fourth place in our national rankings, and Foley Hoag, which climbed to eighth place from number 23 a year ago. Foley Hoag’s Boston office’s score of 4.408 was slightly higher than its 4.385 national score. In addition, Latham & Watkins’s Boston office recorded a score of 4.708, much higher than Latham’s firmwide score of 4.327.

Rounding out the top seven were, in rank order, Atlanta, the San Francisco Bay Area (including Silicon Valley) and Houston. The bottom eight were, in order, Washington, D.C., Hong Kong, Chicago, Dallas, New York, Philadelphia, London, and Charlotte.

Charlotte, whose 3.594 average score was the lowest of the 15 cities, is home to Robinson Bradshaw & Hinson, which tied for 12th place in our national ranking. But it was hurt by low local-office scores for Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft (3.033), K&L Gates (3.138), and King & Spalding (3.194). In all three cases, the Charlotte offices significantly underperformed the national average of each firm.

In responses to open-ended questions, Charlotte-based respondents voiced a variety of grievances, including the cyclical nature of work, being in the shadow of firm offices in other cities, and being paid salaries lower than those in larger cities. “We shouldn’t pay what regional firms pay,” wrote one, “especially as we bill what the [New York] office bills . . . with a fraction of [that office’s] overhead.