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The grim trends of plunging morale and droves of junior lawyers quitting the profession has been substantially reversed, according to Legal Week research that shows job satisfaction among UK associates is sharply rising.

Legal Week Intelligence‘s annual Employment Satisfaction Survey found that three years of heavy investment, a stream of quality-of-life initiatives and a little help from the credit crunch have collectively made junior lawyers distinctly happier with their lot.

The report, which canvassed nearly 3,200 UK-based lawyers below partner level, illustrates a reversal of long-term trends that had seen growing numbers of lawyers looking to leave the law.

Only 19% said their ambition was to move out of private practice, down from 31% when this survey was first conducted in 2005. This improvement was more pronounced among women lawyers, who have been widely perceived to be turning away from the profession, with 24% of female respondents aiming to leave private practice, down from 37% three years ago.

In another symbolic finding, the report found junior lawyers’ lack of ambition for partnership has begun to reverse after a three-year decline. Fifty percent of respondents cited partnership at their own firm as their ultimate goal, against 47% last year. Assistants also generally cited partnership as more important than in previous years.

Commenting on the findings, senior lawyers said this showed the value of offering assistants a realistic chance of partnership.

Norton Rose chief executive Peter Martyr commented: “We have been making up a lot of partners quite deliberately recently. We want to encourage ambition among our associates.”

Herbert Smith managing partner David Willis (pictured) said: “If individual partners have got better at explaining their roles and showing to associates where they get a kick out of it, then that enthusiasm for the job will rub off.”

Other findings in the report reinforce the theme of rising satisfaction levels. Key results include:

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