The results of the AmLaw 200 Midlevel Associate Survey make for some interesting prognostications about our future. The average composite score from 5,092 associates fell to 3.728, the lowest overall score since 2004, which includes one of the lowest scores–3.96–for the associate’s own firm in recent years. 

While worries about being laid off declined significantly and 72% believed they were on track for partnership, they gave low scores to their benefits and salaries, communication by their firms (especially about becoming partner), depleted staff levels, heavier workloads (double the complaints from last year) and new promotion models. The upshot was that the number of respondents looking for another job nearly doubled to @16% and those who thought they would still be at their firms in 5 years as a partner or senior counsel dropped 9% to 35%–even though twice that percentage considered themselves on a partnership track.

First, it’s important to point out that these are the very associates who weren’t axed over the last few years. They are the lucky ones who kept their jobs, the survivors, or in the old parlance, the "keepers"–the ones that firms are hoping to keep. 

So what do they have to say about their privileged position?  They are more likely than in previous years to want to leave their firm, both now and in the near future.  Why would they leave? Nearly 45% said if they left, it would be for a better work/life balance, a 5% increase from last year. It’s apparent that many feel their workload has been ratcheted up while their salaries and benefits have been put on hold or reduced. And as a Morrison & Foerster associate wrote, “Work/life balance is important to more people than . . . [just] mothers and lazy people.”

It’s easy for firms in this economy to blow off concerns about associate work/life balance and other "soft" benefits, assuming that most associates are white-knuckling any job they have. 

That would be a mistake.  Associate morale still matters and firms will pay a price in the currency of keepers if they are not able to figure out a way to both be profitable and allow their talent to lead reasonably balanced lives.

So here are the top ten firms, where associates are feeling pretty good:

1. Nutter McClennen
2. Thompson Coburn
3. Gibson Dunn
4. Harter Secrest
5. Best Best
6. Dorsey & Whitney
7. Paul Hastings
8. Harris Beach
9. Gibbons
10. Ropes & Gray

And here are the firms that should definitely be worrying about their future:

128. Dechert
129. Armstrong Teasdale
130. White & Case
131. Stroock & Stroock
132. Bryan Cave
133. Winston & Strawn
134. Taft, Stettinius
135. Kaye Scholer
136. Curtis Mallet
137. Blank Rome

And for the full list…