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Lateral associates coming to many Connecticut firms may still routinely be held to four-year waiting periods before they are eligible for partnership, no matter if they are seven or eight years out of law school. But with the increased mobility of the profession and the demand for experienced attorneys higher than ever, that rule is no longer as inflexible as it once was. Though no Connecticut firm that employs a so-called “four-year rule” has announced it is doing away with the policy, some admitted that they have broke from tradition on occasion, or would if their competitors were the first to start the ball rolling. New Haven’s Wiggin & Dana, according to managing partner Noel E. Hanf, is on the verge of making its first such exception for an associate who came to the firm after practicing in New York for more than eight years. The associate is expected to come up for partnership after only two years at Wiggin, Hanf revealed last week. “People are more mobile at more senior levels,” he maintained. The firm’s decision to sway from its longstanding four-year rule, Hanf added, is merely a reflection of that trend. Still, he insisted that future departures will be made only under “rare circumstances.” Similar waiting periods for lateral associates are solidly in place at Pullman & Comley and Tyler Cooper & Alcorn, according to the firms’ hiring partners. But, noted Pullman’s Elizabeth J. Austin: “There are always exceptions to that rule.” Thomas S. Marrion, of Tyler Cooper & Alcorn’s Hartford office, said such waiting periods provide both sides with an opportunity to get acquainted with one another. “We like to know [lateral associates] both as lawyers and as people before we vote to make them partner.” Still Marrion acknowledged that nothing is set in stone, and that that the New Haven-based firm would consider changing the policy if it felt the rule put it at a competitive disadvantage in recruiting laterals. EARLY ENTRIES Other firms claim they aren’t nearly so structured when it comes to the length of time that lateral associates must wait before they are eligible for partnership consideration. “Making someone wait four years just because you told them they had to wait that long is really kind of silly,” proclaimed Peter A. Giuliani, executive director at Stamford-based Cummings & Lockwood. The firm, Giuliani said, recently bestowed income-partner status on an experienced intellectual property lawyer who came to C&L as a lateral associate a little more than a year beforehand. [Income partner is a position that all associates at Cummings & Lockwood must attain before they can become members of the firm's equity tier.] The decision came mid-year, instead of year-end when partnership decisions are usually made, he noted. Such early entries into the firm’s upper levels, however, are rare, according to Giuliani. In this case, the associate “was already functioning as a partner,” he said. To reach income partner status, lawyers at the firm usually must have demonstrated their abilities to develop business. As a lateral associate, “it’s hard to do that,” said Giuliani, “unless you’re real lucky and some client with your previous firm followed you.” Hartford’s Murtha Cullina also doesn’t hold laterals to a set waiting period, and has occasionally brought experienced attorneys in as “counsel” and considered them for partnership a year or two later, said its managing partner, Paul R. McCary. Such exceptions, however, are made no more frequently than five years ago, McCary insisted. Murtha didn’t increase the average waiting period for lateral associates back when it was a buyer’s market, he said. “And we haven’t gone the other way,” McCary added, now that the market has flip-flopped.

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