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What’s in a title? If it’s “partner” on a lawyer’s business card, it may be less than you think. The proliferation of such titles as “income partner” or “non-equity partner” for lawyers who are not, in fact, partners in the traditional sense continues unabated. Why? “It’s hard to market as an �of counsel’ because sophisticated companies understand the difference,” says Avery Ellis, a recruiter with Mestel & Co. in Washington, D.C. But impressing potential clients with a fancy designation isn’t the only reason for this trend. There’s also pressure to climb in the profits-per-partner rankings. And since non-equity partners aren’t included in the PPP, firms can, thus, keep more money in the hands of fewer lawyers. What follows is a sampling of the various ways firms use titles to define lawyers who are more than associates but less than partners. McDermott Will & Emery: A partner before 30? It’s more likely to happen at McDermott than at most firms, where associates are eligible for promotion to “income partner” after five years. But like sixth- and seventh-year associates at other firms, “income partners” are paid a fixed salary and can pad that by hitting targets for their end-of-year bonus. After 10 years with the firm they’re eligible for promotion to capital, or “equity,” partner � though on rare occasions, the firm reports, a few lawyers make equity partner earlier. McDermott also gives the appellation “of counsel,” but the title is rare, and is generally reserved for retired partners or those with specialized skills. Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld: At Akin Gump it’s not unusual for lawyers to hold three different titles before becoming an equity partner. The firm reports that after five and a half years, associates are eligible for a position called counsel. About three-quarters of the associates up for the promotion make it. According to the firm, the title was added seven years ago as a way of letting lawyers know whether they’re on the partnership track at a relatively early phase in their careers at the firm. After 30 months in that position, lawyers are then eligible to become “non-equity partners,” a position the firm created roughly a decade ago. Those who prove their worth in that role are then considered for an equity role in the firm. Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease: This old-school Columbus, Ohio-based firm has grown to 380 lawyers without ever merging and by keeping a tight rein on its partnership. The firm doesn’t have non-equity partners, and all lateral hires beyond the associate level � even equity partners from other firms � start as of counsel. That’s a title they can’t shed for at least two years. “We are a firm for which becoming partner means a great deal,” says Joseph Lonardo, managing partner of Vorys, Sater’s D.C. and Northern Virginia offices. Winston & Strawn: Chicago firms pioneered the use of multitiered partnerships, and Winston & Strawn is no exception. Of its 900-plus attorneys, the firm reports that 408 are partners � but less than half of that group actually have equity. In its D.C. office, a slight majority of its 140-odd lawyers are listed as partners. But of the 77 partners, nearly two in three don’t have an ownership stake. Williams & Connolly: Nothing’s complicated about this secretive D.C. firm’s partnership: Each partner is an equity partner, and associates typically don’t go up for partnership until at least eight years on board. Williams has just a handful of “of counsel,” a title reserved for part-timers or for those with a very specialized skill. A source with knowledge of the firm says it’s extremely rare for an of counsel attorney to make partner. Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr: Among the many challenges that come with marrying two large firms is merging titles and promotion systems. At Boston-based Hale and Dorr, associates graduated to the title “junior partner” � a non-equity position � before receiving consideration for “senior partner.” At the premerger Wilmer Cutler, associates with five years at the firm were considered for counsel, a senior associate position. From there, the next step was to become a full-equity partner. So whose system won out? Let’s put it this way: If it were a baseball game, the score would have been Nationals 1, Red Sox 0. Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner: The intellectual property firm divides its top lawyers into equity and non-equity partners, though the firm reports that it has “significantly” more partners of the equity variety. Even top lateral hires start at Finnegan as non-equity partners on a fixed salary and must demonstrate an ability to generate business before being considered for a stake in the partnership. Associates typically wait between eight and nine years before gaining consideration for partnership, and of counsel is generally reserved for older lawyers who serve as trainers to others at the firm. Sutherland Asbill & Brennnan: Sutherland changed to a multitiered partnership about three years ago. The firm reports the move was driven in part by the changing legal marketplace. Typically, after seven and a half years with the firm, associates are eligible for a promotion to either counsel or partner. For some, the title of counsel is a long-term position. For others at Sutherland, it’s a steppingstone to partnership, as the firm reports it’s common for both associates and counsel to be promoted to partner. The firm’s new partners are paid a fixed salary and a performance-based bonus. Over a period of years, their compensation then morphs from a guaranteed salary to compensation based on the firm’s profits.

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