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Philadelphia-Drinker Biddle & Reath is moving more to a two-tiered partner system, according to a recent internal memorandum written by Chairman Alfred W. Putnam Jr. and executive partner Andrew C. Kassner, with the firm “utiliz[ing] the category of salary partner with increased frequency.” The Philadelphia firm first introduced elements of the system in a 2003 document, although at that time it stated that Drinker Biddle would “remain predominantly a single-tier equity partnership.” That’s now changed, according to the new policy statement dated Nov. 22, 2005, and distributed along with the Jan. 11 memo. And, according to the memo, “the limited-equity-partner category has been eliminated, except for current limited-equity partners, who will be transitioned to salary- or equity-partner status over time.” According to the memo on associate compensation and promotion, “the revisions reflect the determination of the partnership that the salary-partner title will be used with increasing frequency in partnership admission, but associates will be considered for admission for equity partnership as well.” As of Oct. 1, 2005, the firm had more than 30 salary partners, according to the memo. According to its Web site, the firm currently has close to 200 partners. The salary-partner tier was originally introduced because of the increase in lateral hires, the expansion and creation of practices, and economic changes in large law firm management, according to the memo. “This trend will continue, and while the firm will advance its most qualified and promising associate candidates directly to equity partner, given the evolution of the practice and business of law, including the increased specialization of practice groups and practice ‘teams,’ the firm will utilize the category of salary partner with increased frequency to address both the short- and long-term economic requirements of practice areas.” Kassner said in an interview that many of the larger firms have created some sort of track system to reach equity partner. Two scenarios The firm outlined two scenarios that would most commonly place an attorney in a salary-partner position. First, the candidate may be part of a practice group that cannot support an additional equity partner, according to the memo. “The goal is to manage the growth of the practice areas,” Kassner said. While he would not specify which practice areas at Drinker Biddle would not be able to handle additional equity partners, Kassner said that the large practice areas with specialized expertise could require partner-level work from a person who is not responsible for retaining and adding clients. He said the same philosophy could be used for smaller, specialized practice areas that have few attorneys. Kassner said the salary-partner tier is an “attractive” way to retain lawyers the firm has spent years developing professionally but who are not ready for, or do not have a practice meriting, an equity partnership. He said that while many large firms have increasingly used the tier to maintain their profits-per-partner margin, that will not be the case at Drinker. Second, the candidate’s practice may be more narrowly focused than the practice of a typical equity-partnership candidate.

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