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Like all law firm partners, Kritzer & Levick’s Joseph D. Wargo prefers to take the long view in partnership decisions. The day-to-day vagaries of a skittish economy shouldn’t dictate the way a firm stocks its partner roster for the years ahead. Still, law firms aren’t untouched by the economic uncertainty plaguing many of their clients. “Law firms are not immune from the supply and demand economies,” he concedes. “The economy is always a factor.” The most recent to be promoted to partner at 71-lawyer Kritzer & Levick were two real estate lawyers in 1999. Wargo adds, though, that the firm hasn’t had many lawyers who were eligible for partnership. When the Atlanta-based firm does consider partnership promotions, he says, corporate attorneys, who are only thinly insulated from the recession that is buffeting client companies, will find it harder to make the cut. Prospects will be better for litigation attorneys, he adds, because suits never take a break. A sampling of managing partners indicates Atlanta firms are taking a harder look at promotions, but the economy has yet to dampen prospects for most internal partner candidates. LATERAL PARTNER MOVES For lateral candidates, as always, it’s all about the money. Prospective partners who carry business with them always will be courted. At Morris, Manning & Martin, three lawyers were promoted to partner earlier this month compared to four this time last year. Managing partner Robert E. Saudek says the net number of partners grew by one from Jan. 1, 2001, to Jan. 1, 2002, for a total of 60. Last year, Morris Manning dismissed about 12 associates and of counsels — about 7.6 percent of the firm’s then 152-lawyer headcount. That’s about twice as many as usually are dismissed annually. At the time, Saudek said the dismissals were part of a cost-cutting effort to weather the economic climate. The dismissals were just part of the firm’s belt-tightening strategy, Saudek said in November. The plan also includes reducing “frills” such as a partner retreat, retooling the responsibilities of corporate associates, and allowing a few lawyers to take sabbaticals at reduced salaries. But Saudek insists the economy doesn’t affect partner promotions at Morris Manning. In part, that’s because the firm’s hiring model is to bring a “good dose” of partners in laterally rather than through internal promotion. Alston & Bird managing partner Ben F. Johnson III says his firm takes the long view in partner promotions, even in a slow economy. Alston & Bird promoted 16 to partner this year, compared to 18 last year. In addition to the promotions, the firm had a net gain of 13 partners over the past year. Alston also added lateral partners — for a total of 244 — when it merged with New York’s Walter, Conston, Alexander & Green last January and from arrivals throughout the year. Long Aldridge & Norman, with seven new partners, boasts the largest new partner class in the firm’s 28-year history. The firm had a net gain of eight partners — from 74 to 82 — in 2001. When the firm merged with the Red Hot Law Group of Ashley LLC, it gained one equity partner and two nonequities. Jeffrey K. Haidet, Long Aldridge’s president and chief operating officer, explains the generous number of promotions: The firm “had a good year.” He wouldn’t be more specific. At Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker, partner evaluation committee chairman W. Andrew Scott says the economic climate doesn’t factor into making partner promotions. The firm views partnership election as permanent decisions that are not affected by a “temporary economic downturn,” Scott says. The 800-attorney firm promoted six to partnership this year. Of the six, four are corporate lawyers. In 2001, the firm promoted nine attorneys to partnership. The firm didn’t consider the fact that some promotion candidates worked in relatively slower areas, Scott says. He adds that for all partner promotions, the firm looks at an attorney’s legal skills, management capabilities and demonstrated potential for business production. T. Ryan Mock Jr., managing partner of 61-lawyer Hawkins & Parnell, says his firm elected only one partner this year, but adds that’s not unusual. His litigation firm had its best year ever in 2001, Mock says. He won’t reveal revenue numbers, but he says litigation work hasn’t been affected by the unfavorable economy. The same holds true for 53-lawyer Carlock, Copeland, Semler & Stair, says managing partner Frederick M. Valz III. While his firm elected no new partners this year, that decision was unrelated to the economy, Valz says. None of the firm’s associates had enough seniority to be eligible for partnership, he says. The Carlock firm experienced high turnover when salaries for first-year associates at Atlanta’s largest firms reached $100,000 in 2000, he adds. Valz says his firm pays less than $100,000 to first-years but wouldn’t be more specific. GETTING MORE PRACTICAL Lee Ann Bellon is one of the sought-after matchmakers for restless associates and partners alike. Bellon, president of Atlanta-based Bellon & Associates, says about 20 percent to 25 percent of her placements this past year have been partner-level. Despite the slow economy, Bellon says she’s placing partners in law firms now at about the same pace as in 2000. However, she says associate placements have slowed. Bellon says she also is placing more nonequity partners as firms become less willing to take a chance bestowing equity partnership on lawyers who aren’t certain to be rainmakers. Try-before-you-buy is becoming more typical because law firms must assess a partner’s contribution before granting equity status, she says. “All of these law firms and lawyers are becoming more pragmatic businesspeople,” she says. “Everybody’s gotten more practical.” Paul M. Talmadge Jr., president of The Partners Group, a legal recruiter, and former managing partner of now-defunct Hurt, Richardson, Garner, Todd & Cadenhead, says that since the recession began, about six senior associates who were passed over for nonequity partner have come to him seeking new employment. These people are seeking partnerships — or more money — elsewhere, he says. But Talmadge says internal partner promotions in Atlanta aren’t as affected by the recession as other legal markets, such as Chicago, Houston and Silicon Valley. Talmadge estimates that about 20 percent of his business consists of partner placements. That’s up from almost no partner placements for the last two years. He says partners with “real good portables” — clients who will follow them — are looking for better economic environments or larger firms to expand their business. And, Talmadge adds, “We see a lot of nonequity partners with a decent base of portable business who are concerned with whether they’re going to make equity partner,” at their old firms. Linda Sloan-Young, president of Atlanta legal recruiter Hughes & Sloan Inc., agrees that partners with a book of business have an easier time finding work in a down economy. “It’s a buyer’s market, but if you show that you have been and you can be a rainmaker, it’s a good time to be looking,” Sloan-Young says. Sloan-Young says she found work for only two more partners in 2001 than in 2000. Lateral partner placements represent about 10 percent of her business, she says, and another 10 percent comes from placing law firm partners in corporate legal departments. Sloan-Young says firms are trying simultaneously to hedge their commitments and to hold on to promising associates by offering nonequity partnerships. Again, proven ability to bring in business is the key to promotion, she says.

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