Recent law grads in hybrid work have highest job satisfaction - survey

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Graduates from the Columbia Law School hold inflatable gavels during the Columbia University commencement ceremony in New York, May 18, 2022. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

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  • 2018 law grads working in the office had higher job satisfaction than those working remotely, new survey found
  • Report also highlighted racial disparities in educational debt load

(Reuters) - A new survey by the National Association for Law Placement and the NALP Foundation has found that fully remote work may be losing some of its appeal — at least for lawyers in the early stage of their careers working across the legal profession. For those working fully remotely, the numbers of recent law grads reporting high levels of satisfaction have slid, from 83% for 2017 grads to 79% for 2018 grads.

Lawyers with hybrid work arrangements were most likely to report high levels of job satisfaction both years — 88% of 2017 law grads and 83% of 2018 did so.

And satisfaction among fully in-person lawyers ticked up on this year’s survey. Among the 2017 graduates working 100% at the office, 81% reported high levels of job satisfaction. That increased slightly to 82% among the 2018 graduates — meaning those working in office reported higher job satisfaction than their former classmates working remotely.Law firms have taken different approaches to remote work as the COVID-19 pandemic wears on. Many have instituted hybrid work arrangements in which lawyers are expected to be in the office two or three days a week. Some have been largely back in office for more than a year. A handful of firms, including Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan and Cooley, is allowing most or all lawyers to work remotely on a permanent basis.

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NALP’s Class of 2018 Study of Law School Employment & Satisfaction, released Monday, is based on survey responses from 1,477 alumni from 30 law schools collected between September and December of 2021. The organizations have conducted surveys of law graduate satisfaction for the past nine years.

Among the 2018 respondents, 51% work at law firms; 14% work in businesses or corporations; and 13% work in government.

This year’s iteration found that 97% of law school alumni were employed and 42% reported being “extremely satisfied” with their current job, down from 45% the previous year.

But the survey also identified racial disparities in debt loads. Overall, 2018 law graduates reported an average of $94,755 in educational debt, most of it from law school. But that average was $123,336 among law graduates of color and $85,397 among white law graduates.

“The differential in debt levels between graduates of color and their white peers is particularly troubling, and ought to give all of us pause,” said NALP Executive Director James Leipold in an announcement of the new study.

Read more:

Cooley to let many attorneys work remotely under office return plan

Quinn Emanuel tells U.S. lawyers they can work from anywhere, forever

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Karen Sloan reports on law firms, law schools, and the business of law. Reach her at karen.sloan@thomsonreuters.com