Being named a partner at a law firm once meant joining a band of lawyers who jointly tended to longtime clients and took home comfortable, and roughly equal, paychecks. Job security was virtually guaranteed and partners rarely jumped ship.
That model and the culture that grew up around it is all but dead, The Wall Street Journal reports.
Law firms are now often partnerships in name only. Full-time chief executives, some without law degrees, have replaced the senior partner running human resources and accounting, and many firms have expanded rapidly to mirror the growth of their corporate clients, with hundreds of partners spread around the world.
Junior lawyers have always worked long hours for years before being promoted, but that meant a kind of lifetime tenure. Today, making partner can take more than a decade and still requires scraping for new business.
A few decades ago, partner titles were handed out largely on the basis of being technically proficient. Now, being a business generator is a crucial component. Janice Mac Avoy, a Fried Frank partner, said when she earned the partner title 23 years ago, the business model was “wait for the phone to ring” and do a good job for the client on the other end.
When a partner suggested a lawyer being considered for promotion had great contacts and could generate new business, she recalls a fellow partner saying, “You know that’s not an appropriate consideration.”
On top of the new expectations, as firms compete to keep profits rising for those at the top, lawyers further down the ladder are sometimes getting left behind. To keep morale up, they’ve created roles like “non-equity partners” who don’t share firm profits.