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At the ripe old age of 30, Richard E. “Chip” Thompson II is the youngest of Atlanta, Ga.-based Troutman Sanders’ newly minted partners. He’s also the sole beneficiary so far of Troutman’s decision to junk its seven-year-plus partnership track. Of the 17 new partners, only Thompson would have been ineligible under the old system. So does Thompson signify the wave of the future? Are partners getting younger? No, say some attorneys who believe fundamentals like experience, legal expertise and hard work still count for something. Thompson, who admits to “working harder than your average bear,” is the exception to the age rule. Michael H. Trotter, a partner at Atlanta’s Kilpatrick Stockton and author of “Profit and the Practice of Law: What’s Happened to the Legal Profession” (University of Georgia Press, 1997), says partners aren’t getting any younger. The “time in grade of an associate” before making partner hasn’t changed, Trotter says. Generally, Trotter says, the partnership track has changed little over the years. “If they do the track the most expeditious way and if they’re an associate for seven or eight years,” associates usually will become partners, he says. TRACK’S GETTING LONGER? In fact, Trotter says, the partnership track has become even longer. In the early 1960s, he says, it took five and a half to six years to make partner. One reason, he says, is an increasing demand for associates to be more specialized in their particular area of practice. “Becoming a partner is not just an award for the individual lawyer, but it’s a stamp of approval” on the lawyer’s ability, Trotter says. “And it takes time to develop the knowledge and maturity” necessary to develop the requisite skills, he says. When a firm opts to abolish its partnership track, Trotter says, it’s a “marketing ploy. I think it’s essentially a gimmick.” Trotter says an associate rarely is ready for early partnership. “Some superstars who walk in the first day seeming to know how it all works — they’re usually ready sooner,” he says. “It used to be a real big issue whether you would move them forward. I don’t think that can change very much.” Mastering partnership, Trotter says, requires assimilating legal as well as human resource skills. That usually takes a long time, he says. But, he notes, “If you’re a one-in-one-thousand superstar, you may be able to move up one or two years earlier.” THE FLIP SIDE Trotter also notes that New York firm Anderson, Kill & Olick, which treats all of its lawyers as partners, may have suffered because of its nontraditional structure. “Being a partner … is a rank,” Trotter says. “It’s like being a general in the army, if you will, and you’re holding out as having experienced, mature people available to counsel your clients.” When a firm sends a newly minted attorney called a “partner” to a client, “It’s a pretty rare client that can’t tell the difference,” Trotter says. “It cheapens the value of the designation and the worth to the people who are real partners in the firm to have them having the same rank as privates first class.” Atlanta’s Alston & Bird partner Sidney J. Nurkin agrees that the designation of “partner” must continue to promise clients a high level of expertise. But he does see trends emerging in recent years: � The biggest firms “have grown in prestige” and are more national and international in scope. This means making partner now has an increased status because Atlanta law firms have become part of the “national legal scene,” he says. � Expectations have grown for young partners to be more “entrepreneurial.” The economy of the law, he says, now forces young partners to focus on building a practice. An example: Some are becoming “service partners,” attending to client needs, so the more senior partners can be freed up to generate new business, he says. � Law in Atlanta is becoming more sophisticated, requiring younger partners to become more business savvy. Two or three decades ago, Nurkin says, some transactions were only performed in New York. “Every day I do stuff that I only dreamed of” as a young lawyer. � Previously, lawyers outside New York may have done only one or two large mergers and acquisitions or IPOs a year, Nurkin says. Now Atlanta firms are doing dozens, he says. � Being a partner no longer is a lifetime position. “It used to be that you made partner at a firm and stayed there until you retired,” Nurkin says. Now, partners are “in and out of industry and in and out of government.” Partners are in great demand, and there are more job opportunities for them, he says. � Anthony B. Askew, an IP partner at Kilpatrick Stockton and former name partner at Jones & Askew, says partnerships have become more diverse over his 36-year career. “Let’s be realistic. In 1960, partners were essentially white men.” Partners from diverse backgrounds, Askew says, “bring all sorts of different ideas to the firm and the practices.” CHANGES GALORE C.B. Rogers, name partner at Atlanta’s Rogers & Hardin and a member of the Georgia Bar since 1953, says one of the main differences has been in economics. Hourly rates, salaries, expenses and per-partner revenues are higher than they were 30 years ago, he says. Public analysis of firms also is much higher, he says. Thirty years ago, if a newspaper had asked a firm to divulge its revenue, it “would have looked for some nearby mental institution” to accommodate the journalist, Rogers says. Now, he says, “we practice law in sort of a goldfish bowl.” Where a client once had to ask an attorney about hourly rates, that same client now can access records of a firm’s settlements and awards and determine rates firsthand. There’s also more “business-like analysis going into choice of counsel and change of counsel,” Rogers says. A client, who in 1970 likely would have hired a respected, prominent attorney at a large firm, now might hold a “beauty contest,” inviting several lawyers to present their plans and fees before choosing a counsel. There is “less firm loyalty,” Rogers says. RAINMAKING Atlanta-based Morris, Manning & Martin name partner Joseph R. Manning says, in his 35-year career, he’s seen rainmaking superseded as a criterion for partnership by exceptional legal skills and an ability to manage client relationships. Social and business connections also used to be more of an issue for partnership, Manning says. At the largest firms, “Part of the mix of generating business was what clubs you belonged to.” Louise M. Wells says she was a rare breed among city firms when she became the first female partner at Morris Manning in 1983. And while Morris, Manning’s managing partner Robert E. Saudek says the firm still has only nine female partners, of the six new partners effective Jan. 1, three are women. Wells says one trend she has noticed is the increased number of what she calls “reduced hours” partnerships. Many female attorneys in the ’80s weren’t considered for partner if they worked part-time, she says. Now, that’s changed, Wells says. On the other hand, Troutman Sanders partner Norman L. Underwood, who was admitted to the Georgia Bar in 1965, says he hasn’t seen any fundamental changes in the requirements for partnership. “We obviously have more gender diversity now,” says Underwood. But “I think the fundamentals of what a law firm is looking for in a partnership are the same.” Firms examine an associate’s legal skills and ability to relate well with clients when considering a partnership promotion, he says. He notes that the end of Troutman’s partnership track signifies a return to those fundamentals, instead of relying on a set number of years of experience.

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