Effect of the great resignation

What are the key reasons behind the movement of associates across the US legal market? Discover key findings from Chambers on this and further insights into what factors associates consider for their career moves.

Published on 1 July 2022
Written by Keavy Hunnigal Gaw
Keavy Hunnigal Gaw

Key market trends and reasons behind the movement of associates

In my role as a Research Manager on the Chambers USA team I look after antitrust, environment and real estate sections of the guide, however in this Chambers USA Legal Topics article I share an insight into one of the bigger changes that disrupted the legal market across the US in 2021 and is continuing to be felt in 2022 and beyond; the great resignation.

One of the most interesting stories in the legal market over the past few months has been the effect of the Great Resignation on the legal industry itself.

An analysis of the movement of attorneys across the US legal market

Anecdotally, based on our market-leading research, we have seen exponential increases in the numbers of ranked attorneys moving between firms, however this issue has been most pronounced at the more junior level, as younger partners and associates look to make lateral movements or leave private practice altogether for in-house, governmental, or even non-legal positions. 

This has been of particular interest to Chambers and the Chambers USA team, and for the 2022 edition of the guide, we looked to explore this in more depth using data from our colleagues on the Chambers Associate guide.

The Chambers Associate guide is the product of our anonymously collecting feedback from around 4,000 associates in the USA, largely at AmLaw100 firms, where we ask about their experiences; visit the Chambers Associate website here.

We also ask them about their intentions and their priorities, which has thrown up some interesting results. 

To start with, we asked associates to rank their decision-making priorities when choosing their first firm to begin their legal career. 

The data above shows there was not a significant stratification in the results, but the most popular criteria were the compensation, intellectual challenge and firm culture. 

What factors into an associates decision when choosing which firm is right for their career?

Analysing the two criteria regarding the prestige of the law firm and the work-life balance, associates ranked these as fairly middling concerns when making a decision on their first firm, but when we posed the same question to associates but instead asked the most important criteria to consider when moving to their next firm something changed as shown below.

The most important factor for associates choosing their next firm is most often a question of work-life balance, while associates ranked the prestige of their next firm as their lowest priority. What's been interesting is that compensation, while still a fairly significant factor, is not really attributed much importance. 

Insights into associate intentions for their careers in law

Based on our market research we have discovered over the past year, law firms are offering eye-watering sums to associates in terms of salary and bonuses, but it appears that when associates are looking to make a move, the expected effort is not there.

The survey also asked associates about their intentions over the next 5 years. The results are very interesting, 1 in 3 associates specialising in the life sciences and the securities litigation sectors anonymously told us that they would look to leave their firms within the next two years, with Capital Markets, White-Collar Criminal Defense and International Arbitration also potentially experiencing high attrition rates in future years. 

Inversely, practice areas where attorneys were mostly intending to stay put were in the environment, intellectual property and tax practices. 

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