• Gerard Petersen

What lurks beneath the stats of lawyer dissatisfaction? Might it be that Lawyers are humans too?

I recently saw this article pop up on my feed and the alarmist headline naturally caught my eye - https://www.lawyersweekly.com.au/biglaw/26349-satisfaction-with-law-firms-at-five-year-low?

I thought the stats mentioned were interesting. Whilst not having paid for and read the whole survey & analysis, some top-of-mind observations are these:

- Dissatisfaction levels mirror my daily conversations with lawyers

- Not surprising that over 65’s are most satisfied, coming to the end of their career journey they have a better, wiser perspective on life & career

- Youthful energy & enthusiasm, positivity & ambition about their career in the law accounts for those aged 18-25 being quite satisfied

- An increased level of dissatisfaction in the 35-45 age bracket reflects the career and life challenges that naturally befall mid-career & mid-life and this phase of introspection.

- Interestingly, the 55-64 age group are the second least satisfied. At an age where popular theory would suggest a lawyer has “made it” in their career and are/have been “successful”, the stats suggest otherwise, as does my anecdotal evidence. I wonder how many of this age group feel like their work now feels like a soulless slog and rue some of the career, financial, personal & familial choices they made along the way. They clearly aren't working because they are happy and love what they do. 

- And most interestingly are those aged 26-34, being most dissatisfied. These are the future leaders of our law firms and legal functions, a group who historically set their sights firmly (and admittedly, often blindly) on knuckling down and building their legal careers, following a well-trodden path. Is it perhaps that these lawyers, unhappy with the traditional role models amongst current leaders and anxious about how to navigate a successful legal career, are having an early existential career crisis? Asking the sort of career & life questions about what’s important, those traditionally reserved for mid-life & mid-career lawyers. Is 30 now the old 40 in legal careers? I starting to suspect so.

For mine, coming from the coalface, much of the dissatisfaction I hear stems from the cursory, superficial, performance-focussed manner that most law firms continue to engage with their lawyers, the humans who they often refer to as their “greatest asset” on their website. There is a genuine feeling that the vast majority of firms just don’t give a f*ck. 

There seems to be a fear within firms of engaging with their people at a more human level. This inability to show genuine interest, care and concern in the personal, professional, familial and financial welfare of its lawyers will make any individual feel like a commodity and less than satisfied. 


After all, if a firm doesn’t understand what’s important to an individual in their career and life, how can they possibly keep them happy and help them succeed in either ? Which makes me wonder whether many firms really genuinely do.

These “human” conversations are not easy to have, few are equipped to have them and most shy away from them for that reason, but they are important if any firm is interested in increasing the satisfaction levels of their lawyers.

If they are serious, I see a real opportunity for law firms here.  

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