The 2013 Associate Survey

In follow up to our July article on Vault’s Top 25 Associate Quality of Life Rankings, the American Lawyer has now come out with their 2013 Associate Survey. Paul Hastings notched the victory (for a second straight year) with an overall rank of the #1 firm for associates to work. The remainder of the top 10 shook out as follows:

RANK   FIRM                          2012 RANK     +/- CHANGE      RESPONSE RATE
1          Paul Hastings               2                      +1                     94%
2          Nutter McClennen         1                      -1                      67%
3          Robinson Bradshaw      12                     +9                    71%
4          Foley Hoag                    8                      +4                    37%
5          Patterson Belknap         20                     +15                  35%
6          Goulston & Storrs          4                      -2                     77%
7          Cozen O’Connor            5                      -2                     75%
8          Gunderson Dettmer       18                     +10                  45%
9          O’Melveny                      16                     +7                    87%
10         Morgan Lewis                35                     +25                  55%

The rankings were computed based on overall responses in the following areas: how interesting the work is, how satisfying the work is, benefits and compensation, associate relations, partner-associate relations, training and guidance, openness re: finances, communication re: partnership, realistic billable hours, attitude toward pro bono, likelihood of staying two years, and overall rating as a place to work.

Firms named in the top 10 both by Vault and by American Lawyer include: Paul Hastings, Boston-based Foley Hoag, and New York-based Patterson Belknap. Firms ranked in American Lawyer’s Top 10 for each of the past two years include: Paul Hastings, Nutter McClennen, Foley Hoag, Goulston & Storrs, and Cozen O’Connor.

Should Law Firms Test for Talent?

Most companies invest significant time and resources in testing, developing, and coaching their staff. This affords employees in all departments, including in-house counsels, the opportunity to grow personally and professionally. This allows for a better understanding of individual strengths, weaknesses, tension points, and opportunities for growth. It also helps cultivate a stronger culture—as in many cases this allows for tangible sense of mutual investment and commitment.

Surprisingly, a recent article for the American Lawyer by Aric Press describes an interesting finding related to law firm testing—the majority of AmLaw 200 firms do not do much at all in the way of testing, training, or coaching their attorneys. In fact, Press believes law firms have a great deal to learn from their clients in terms of recruiting and developing their valuable assets. Press notes this “seems odd” given that “firms now hire fewer associates” which means their margin for error has gotten significantly smaller.

There are a few law firms that utilize predictive testing, including Dechert and McKenna Long & Aldridge. However, as Press notes, these firms seem to be few and far between. Most firms tend to take a strong and negative perspective towards predictive testing. The question is, what explains this? Are firms right in not doing so, or should they reverse course to become more like their clients?

One explanation cited by many is the imperfect nature of talent testing. As one expert Press interviewed suggests, most psychological and emotional intelligence tests are capable of accounting for “roughly half” of a person’s behaviors. In this sense it becomes a glass half-empty, glass-half full debate as some tend to insist that 50/50 is unfavorable, while others believe it is better to know something than nothing.

Generally the tests indicate lawyers on the whole have “high skepticism, need for autonomy, abstract reasoning skills, and urgency, but low sociability and resilience”. However, as Press notes, the predictive value and benefit for law firms “comes with the exploration of the other traits. What’s your particular mix of aggressiveness, creativity, ego-drive, empathy, gregariousness, and the rest? And how do your values—tradition, pragmatism, achievement, etc.—align with your personality traits and your emotional intelligence scores?” Such information, if revealed, can be useful in determining things like fit, compatibility, and role.

Examples of tests that are frequently used by companies across sectors include the Caliper test (attitude questions and number pattern problems), Myers-Briggs (personality, thinker vs. feeler, etc.), and the Troutwine Athletic Profile (traits, used by NFL Teams in judging talent at the Draft Combine). Similarly, a recent book by Tom Rath, StrengthsFinder, published in conjunction with Clifton and Gallup hones in on the concept of strengths. Rath’s firm belief is that more important than improving one’s weaknesses is the idea of playing to and structuring around one’s strengths.

It remains to be seen whether law firms will make use of talent testing and coaching. The question in the meantime seems to be, why not?