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February 17, 2010 3:15 PM

To Dream the Impossible Dream: Making Partner Increasingly Out of Reach

Posted by Brian Baxter

Shrinking revenues, compensation cuts, and layoffs mean that making partner is becoming an increasingly elusive goal for some associates, according to a report by Bloomberg's Carlyn Kolker.

A predicted drop of as much as 10 percent in firm revenues this year (according to a recent survey by the private law firm group at Citi Private Bank) coupled with a decrease in partner promotions at several major Am Law 200 firms has resulted in partners who have "grown reluctant to increase their own ranks by promoting salaried attorneys or even nonequity partners who can get some of their pay from profits," Kolker reports.

Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, Dewey & LeBoeuf, Latham & Watkins, Mayer Brown, and Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, all saw the number of lawyers promoted to partner decrease from a year earlier. Another firm mentioned in Kolker's story, Cravath, Swaine & Moore, made no partner promotions last year, as reported by The Am Law Daily in December. (Click here for a story from sibling publication the New York Law Journal about fewer partner promotions at other firms.)

One firm that has bucked the trend is White & Case, which made headlines less than a year ago for massive layoffs stemming from a firmwide reorganization mandated by chairman Hugh Verrier.

White & Case promoted 33 lawyers to partner this year, Kolker reports, an increase over the 21 promotions made by the firm last year. (The firm has some holes to fill, having recently lost 13 partners to Latham from its London, New York, and Middle East offices.)

Making the grade for partner is no easy process. Besides the requisite billable hours and sizable book of business, one legal consultant told Kolker that prospective partners must pass the so-called Cleveland Airport Rule. The rule itself is simple: would a partner at your firm be comfortable getting stuck at the Cleveland airport with you and not want to self-immolate? (At K&L Gates, this is called the Philadelphia Airport Corollary.)

In all seriousness, new partners are expected to produce. We reached out to one newbie partner this morning from Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz who has been working nearly nonstop on a string of high-profile M&A deals.

Kolker's story details the workload of one associate at Schulte Roth & Zabel who was the firm's only partner promotion in 2009. Daniel Hunter billed 2,382 hours last year in what he called a "tough slog," carving out a niche advising hedge funds on distressed-debt investments.

"When it looked touch and go, I kept telling myself: 'It's not you, it's the economy,'" Hunter told Bloomberg.

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Working for a big law firm is a like a deal with the devil. You have to give up your soul, work long hours on boring working to help the rich exploit the poor. Whether you are defending drug companies that kill and maim thousands, working on M&A deals that will benefit a few and get thousands fired or securitizing bogus mortgages the work does not make you feel good at the end of the day.

Then there is the six figure compensation, but you are really working 2.5 jobs for a salary a college grad could get, all to work in high tax, high cost of living cities that means the big bucks are worth even less. You give up your family and your social life and all those things that make you human, all to be abused by some heartless senior partner that wants you out of the firm as soon as you finish "his" deal so his compensation won't be lowered.

As this article shows you've got a zero chance of making partner at most firms, so why do it. Isn't your life worth more to you than that? Do you really want to become like that partner that you hate?

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