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Almost across the board, Washington’s largest law firms report making as many partners, or more, in 2002 as they did in 2001 — and that the struggling economy was not a major factor in their decision-making. What is unclear is how many new partners are sharing in the profits. In the past, a sluggish economy has caused firms to reduce the number of people they promote to partner. This time, managing partners say, they are taking a long-range view of their firm’s future. Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld added 15 new partners, including two in the District, up from a total of 12 in 2001. “This is a long-term decision,” says Rick Burdick, partner in charge of Akin Gump’s Washington office. Referring to the newly minted partners, he notes, “There will be five more economic cycles before their careers are over.” Burdick sounds like the leaders of several other D.C. offices when he says that countercyclical practices, such as bankruptcy, insurance, and tax, are making up for a drop-off in work in other areas. “The transactional practice may be down from previous years,” says Burdick, “but litigation and financial restructuring are up.” While the number of new partners is generally up, most managing partners decline to divulge how many have nonequity status. At least two managing partners and several outside consultants believe firms are hedging their bets by limiting the number of people joining the equity ranks. “Firms are offering what they can,” says Stuart TenHoor of D.C. legal recruiting firm TenHoor & Helffrich. “They want to give associates an increase in status but not necessarily any more money.” When it comes to deciding who gets a promotion, managing partners say they try to look past which areas are doing well at the moment and other ephemeral economic indicators. “We wouldn’t let a short-term drop in the economy cause us to pass up someone who in the long-term will benefit the firm,” says Steptoe & Johnson Chairman J.A. “Lon” Bouknight Jr. Steptoe made four new partners in 2002, one each in international trade, tax, labor and employment, and toxic torts, up from a total of two new partners in 2001. LOWERED EXPECTATIONS Others say that while current profits and revenues aren’t stopping them from making partners, the struggling economy is forcing them to adjust their expectations for how well the new partners can perform. “There’s heightened thinking now about the prospects for a partner to be economically successful,” says Stuart Pape, managing partner at Patton Boggs. “The current market condition doesn’t allow you to assume that a new partner will do as well.” Pape says if a firm is looking for immediate economic impact in the hottest practice areas, it might have to look outside its own offices. “There are areas you target for growth,” he says, “but you don’t do that by promoting from associate to partner. Instead, you go after people laterally.” Patton Boggs promoted three new partners in 2002, the same as in the previous year. Covington & Burling’s Andrew Friedman, who is the firm’s practice development partner, echoes that sentiment, pointing out that while counter-cyclical practice areas “smooth out rough spots,” they do not determine which associates will be promoted to partner. His firm, which does not have nonequity partners, made eight new partners last year, up one from 2001. Three of that crop — Catherine Dargan, Michael Francese, and Eric Dodson Greenberg — come from the firm’s corporate, tax, and benefits practice. Managing partners are also wary of rewarding lawyers in the best-performing practice areas at the expense of people doing solid work elsewhere within the firm. Warren Gorrell, managing partner at Hogan & Hartson, acknowledges that any new partner must “have a sustainable practice, and if someone’s practice area is under pressure today, it’s harder to have a sustainable practice.” Still, he points out, the slowdown in corporate work did not stop the firm from tapping two new partners from that group among the 10 promoted to nonequity partner firmwide. At Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering, each of the firm’s four new partners handles litigation or regulatory work. Arent Fox Kintner Plotkin & Kahn elected two new associates, one in litigation and one in regulatory work. Wiley Rein & Fielding tapped four associates and one counsel for promotion, the same number as in 2001. Perhaps the most extreme swings were at Dickstein Shapiro Morin & Oshinsky and Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner. The intellectual property firm Finnegan Henderson made just five new partner in 2002, down from 12 the previous year. Managing partner Christopher Foley says the drop-off is a result of lateral additions joining the firm last year and a relatively small class of associates eligible for partnership this year. Dickstein celebrated a good year by naming six new nonequity partners, compared with one equity and one nonequity in 2001. Similarly, Swidler Berlin Shereff Friedman made seven new nonequity partners, up from three the previous year. “Look at the time someone has put in to get to the point of being considered for partner,” says managing partner Barry Direnfeld, “and you’re going to make that decision based on a down year in the economy? You can’t run a long-term business like that.” Related item: D.C.’s New Partners 2003

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