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CHICAGO � Jenner & Block, a litigation-focused firm, is shifting between 15 and 20 of its equity partners to nonequity status this year, with some being asked to leave the firm and a smaller number moving voluntarily toward retirement, according to people familiar with the discussions. The firm’s management last month began to move forward with the plan to cut some of the equity partners during the next year or two, the sources said. Jenner has never before taken such a step that affected so many equity partners, they said. The firm has 185 equity partners, according to a list of the highest-grossing law firms published last month by The American Lawyer, an NLJ affiliate. Jenner spokesman Darryl Van Duch declined to comment, saying the firm “doesn’t discuss personnel matters.” Jenner is the latest Chicago firm to push some of its equity partners out the door and follows similar moves by firms across the country. Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw downsized its partner group in March, saying that it was looking to eliminate 45 equity partners to boost its profits-per-equity-partner ratio. Firms are under increasing pressure to keep profits per partner high so they can attract lawyers with lucrative books of business in a competitive market for lateral hires. At the same time, firms are being squeezed on the other end by a steady march of pay raises for new associates. At least six firms last month raised Chicago pay for first-year associates to match earlier New York boosts to $160,000 per year, up from $145,000, and following a rise from $135,000 earlier this year. Jenner is one of the few major Chicago firms that hasn’t raised the pay for first-year associates in the city to $160,000. Jenner, with 467 lawyers, ranked 86th in The National Law Journal‘s 2006 survey of the nation’s 250 largest law firms. It ranked 77th in terms of profits per partner in last month’s The American Lawyer report. The average profit per equity partner at Jenner was $760,000. The firm has lawyers in Washington, New York and Dallas, as well as Chicago. Competition in the industry is rising at a time when the litigation practice area, a strong suit for Jenner, has seen less demand from clients. “The litigation market has been slow and many, many of our big-firm clients haven’t been looking for litigators and they haven’t for months,” said Amy Leafe McCormack, a recruiter and founder of Chicago-based McCormack & Schreiber. In addition, Jenner has lost some senior partners during the past year who took clients with them. They include Jeff Marwil, a bankruptcy and corporate restructuring attorney who left for Chicago’s Winston & Strawn, and Matthew Neumeier, a class action defense lawyer who moved to Washington-based Howrey. Still, Jenner has also been hiring some new attorneys, including former federal prosecutor and now criminal defense attorney Katya Jestin, who joined the firm’s New York office last month. Jenner created a class of nonequity partners in 2005, setting up a two-tier system that is common at many firms. A nonequity partner receives only a salary while an equity partner also receives a share of the firm’s profits. Only equity partners can vote on firm matters.

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