Good Monday morning! At least I hope it is for some of you, because I continue to be on trial all this week.  Not that I’m complaining but it is putting a serious crimp in my blog update ability.  So, posts will continue to be sporadic for the next 7-10 days as the trial continues.

But luckily, we still have a few more guest posts to sneak in.

Today’s installment is part 2 of a 3 part series by Victoria Pynchon, who I profiled here.  Please check out her blog.  Today’s topic is one addressed to the lawyers who read this blog and how to achieve happiness.

Earlier this month, I used the distribution of household chores as a means of explaining the differences among positional, interest-based or “integrative”, principled, and, distributive negotiation tactics and strategies. This week, I’m not only bringing these techniques into the workplace, I’m bringing them into your workplace – the law firm.

Partner Dissatisfaction and Compensation

Before we negotiate anything, we need to learn what is being negotiated, how those items might be valued, whether certain of those items have more or less value to one bargaining partner than they do to another and, how all of the “stakeholders” will likely respond to any proposed “deal” struck by the partners.

Because we all worked pretty darn hard to arrive here in the first place, I’m gong to first talk about happiness as expressed by associate satisfaction surveys. In doing so, I’m assuming that associate satisfaction and partner satisfaction have the same attributes — challenging work; collegiality; recognition; and, well-being. These are things that do not change as our income changes. Unless money lifts us up out of poverty, the social scientists have now proven what all of the world’s great religions and most pop songs of the latter half of the 20th Century have been telling us all along – Money Can’t Buy It.

The 2001 Texas Bar Association Associate Satisfaction Survey

In 2001 and 2002, the Texas Bar Association published two articles entitled An Empirical Study of Associate Satisfaction, Law Firm Culture and the Effects of Billable Hour Requirements, Part I (here) and II (here). The broad findings included


  • 66 percent of the respondents reported that billable hour pressure had “taken a toll” on their personal lives.

  • When asked to describe the “toll” taken

    • 25% percent reported that they had more trouble sustaining intimate relationship than they had previous to practice

    • 18 percent said they got sick more often than before I worked for their firms

    • Other tolls cited included a lack of time for exercise, vacations, hobbies, and personal interests

    • A large number of respondents described feelings of stress, anxiety, and unhappiness relating to billable hour requirements – 15% reporting that they felt stressed and fatigued “most of the time.”


  • no respondent making $125,000 or more checked “very dissatisfied.”

  • Those who reported that they were “very dissatisfied” made less than $50,000.


  • 39% of respondents said they were interested in changing employers during the next two years”

  • Of those respondents, 22 percent indicated that they were interested in a “non-legal job.”

  • 26% reported that they wished they’d selected a professional other than the law


  • 64% reported that working long hours adversely affected their work


  • 43 % reported that billing and rain-making pressures on partners reduced or eliminated the mentoring and training that they needed or wanted.

These findings not only tell us what is making our associates unhappy (accounting for costly associate-attrition rates) but also what might make them (and us!) happy. Keep these items in mind. We’ll need them when we begin negotiations.


So what’s in the partnership/benefit “pie” other than “profits per partner”?

There are, of course, money-substitutes such as health, life and disability insurance; pensions; and increased or reduced capital contributions.

Then there are the status “perqs” such as corner offices, access to the “best” associates, and, appointment to influential decision-making committees and positions.

Finally, there is the distribution of the obligations (the firm chores) among the partners, some of which lead to the enhancement of one’s individual success and some of which are necessary to the success of the firm as a whole.


Once upon a time in a land far, far away, rainmaking –writing, speaking, schmoozing, lunching, dining, golfing, and the like – to acquire new or keep existing clients — was a firm benefit/obligation equal to other firm tasks such as trying cases, putting in long hours, training and mentoring young associates, engaging in pro bono and community activities and the like. Now that partners can and do walk with their own “portable” books of business, these activities, while temporarily good for the firm, are primarily for the benefit of the individual rain-maker.

The great trial lawyer; the dogged, meticulous deal-maker; the brilliant appellate advocate; the great mentor – these people are good for the firm but, in the absence of a healthy “book of business” not terrific for their individual self-interest. TO function at the highest levels possible, each firm must be composed of all of these parts. The associates must be trained, morale in the office kept high. Summer and first year associates must be interviewed, reviewed, and hired or told to move on. The firm must serve its community and have a hand in the operation of important local, state and national bar and industry associations. Cases must be tried, documents drafted, companies merged, legal research done, memos written, depositions taken, and case strategy developed.

Recently, we have been dividing the partnership pie as if rainmaking were the only truly important task that any lawyer with career-building in mind should undertake. From the perspective of the entire law firm, this is a little like developing only one muscle – say the gluteus maximus – while we allow all the others to weaken.

How we might successfully negotiate partnership rights and obligations with a view toward creating and maintaining a vibrant, happy law firm over the long term, will be the subject of my third and final guest blog.