Fewer associates are winning promotion to partnership this year, a trend industry experts say is a result of the economic downturn.

This month, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton elected four new partners firmwide, half as many as in 2008, while Latham & Watkins cut its firmwide promotions 25 percent to 23. Ropes & Gray named one third fewer with eight new partners, while Proskauer Rose named four to partnership, one less than in 2008. Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, the most profitable firm in the country, this month named two new partners, down from six last year.

Consultants say the trend likely is a reflection of the financial condition law firms have found themselves in, with demand for legal services down and profits falling. Making partner had already become tougher in recent years, Dan DiPietro, advisory head at Citi Private Bank’s law firm group, said via e-mail. With the recession, he added, “the bar has been raised on what it means to become an equity partner and to stay an equity partner.”

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