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New partner promotions at large Texas firms held steady in 2003 as the firms made some big strides in diversifying their partnership ranks by promoting higher percentages of women and minority lawyers. Nineteen of the 25 largest firms in Texas made 124 new partners this year, down 2.4 percent from the 127 new partners at the same group of firms in 2002. But 30.6 percent of the new partners this year are women, and 15.3 percent are minorities, percentages that are improved from Texas Lawyer‘s New Partners Survey a year ago. The promotion of 124 associates to partner or shareholder in large Texas firms comes at a time when the economy is uncertain, unemployment is up, the stock market is struggling and the country is likely moving toward a war with Iraq. But those conditions outside the walls of the firms seemingly don’t have as much of a role in determining the numbers of new partners as the quality of the lawyers and their potential to bring business into the firm. “All Texas-based firms pride themselves on admitting to the partnership those who deserve to be admitted. It would take, in my opinion, economic conditions far more severe to make firms who feel that way change their policy,” says Howard Ayers, managing partner of Andrews & Kurth, which promoted 16 lawyers to partner in January. Ayers says firms invest in their future by promoting associates to partner. He says, “Those individuals that we are admitting today, 10 to 15 years from now will be the backbone of the firm.” “The economy really is ultimately pretty irrelevant on that issue. For us, it’s much more of an individual evaluation of performance,” says Thomas Helfand, a member of the executive committee at Winstead Sechrest & Minick. While the overall number of new partners is up overall at the 19 large Texas firms, only five of them made more new partners this year than in 2002, and 11 of them made fewer partners. Three firms made the same number of new partners. Andrews & Kurth made the most new partners — 16 in 2003 compared to seven the year before. Other firms with double-digit numbers of new partners in 2003 are Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld with 15 new partners, Vinson & Elkins with 11, Winstead Sechrest & Minick with 10 and Baker Botts with 13. The statistics include associates or the equivalent who are promoted into the partner or shareholders ranks; they don’t include lateral hires who had been partners or the equivalent at a previous job. Andrews and Kurth saw the biggest jump in numbers of new partners, up 129 percent from 2002, but Locke Liddell & Sapp promoted nine lawyers to partner this year, compared to four a year before, for a 125 percent increase. Ayers at Andrews & Kurth and Bryan Goolsby, managing partner of Locke Liddell, say they don’t consider the size of the partnership ranks when deciding who to promote, but do look at the performance of the associates and their potential. “We look at who they are and what they have accomplished. These are the people who were top-quality lawyers who had the ability to build their practice,” Goolsby says. That doesn’t mean the veteran partners in Andrews & Kurth were oblivious to the size of the firm’s new partner class, Ayers says. But he says an open partnership is part of the firm’s culture, and the large group of associates up for partner in 2003 were all outstanding and of “essentially indistinguishable quality.” He suggests that firms with huge classes of new partners are doing a good job at recruiting and retaining associates. RETENTION ISSUES The improving percentages of women and minority lawyers suggest, as well, that firms are doing a better job at retaining women and minority lawyers. According to information provided by the firms, 38 of the 124 new partners this year are women, slightly more than three of every 10. That’s an improvement over statistics from 2002, when women comprised 25.6 percent of the 120 new partners at 18 firms included in Texas Lawyer‘s New Partner Survey a year ago. The improvement in minority lawyers is even more impressive, with 19 ethnic minorities among this year’s 124 new partners, for 15.3 percent of the total, up from 10.8 percent in last year’s report. According to the State Bar of Texas, 28 percent of the Bar members in Texas are women and 12.5 percent are racial and ethnic minorities. Helfand, the Winstead lawyer, says retention is the key to improving the statistics of women and minority lawyers. “What’s important is more women and minorities still at the firms after five, six, seven, eight, nine years, whatever it is, and being in that zone of being considered for partner or shareholder,” he says. “We’re definitely making progress, says Iris Hefter Robinson, chairwoman of the Bar’s Women in the Profession Committee. Robinson, of Robinson Waldrop in Houston, says that while she’s pleased to see that women are continuing to make inroads into the partnership ranks, she is more impressed by the news that 15.3 percent of the new partners at the 19 large Texas firms are minorities, particularly in a down economy. She says that in past recessions, the women and minority lawyers have been the ones most likely to suffer layoffs or reduced opportunities. Four of five new partners in Strasburger & Price are women and the other is a minority. New Strasburger partner Francine Breckenridge says the firm’s culture provides opportunities for women, as evidenced by the four new female partners. She joined the firm in 2001, moving from Sheinfeld, Maley & Kay, which was then breaking up and closed its doors in July 2001. Breckenridge, a partner in the firm’s Austin office, says the firm is able to keep its female lawyers because it accommodates a variety of work schedules. Susan Vincent is another new partner in Strasburger. Breckenridge and Vincent were the only two new partners elected in the Austin office. Kirk Sniff, Strasburger’s managing partner, says the makeup of the new partner class reflects the firm’s improved diversity. “It’s the talent pool that we are drawing from in the law schools,” he says. But in the case of Strasburger’s new partners this year, Sniff says none of them spent their entire associate careers at the firm. He says new partner Ramiro Rangel, a Mexican national in the firm’s Mexico City office, is close to being “homegrown.” Sniff says Rangel was an associate with the Dallas office for six years (actually a foreign legal consultant) and then moved to a small firm in Mexico City before rejoining Strasburger last year in Mexico City. POPULAR PRACTICE AREA Litigation is by far the most popular practice area for the new partners, with 48 of the 124 new partners, 38.7 percent of them, involved in trial work. That’s not surprising since litigation is traditionally a strong practice area in a down economy. As in 2002, corporate and securities was the second most popular section for the new partners — 13 of the 124 new partners this year. Intellectual property and labor and employment also were well represented among the new partners, while a single lawyer represents franchise, immigration and estate planning in the mix of practice areas. Slightly more than half of the new partners, 62 of the 124 new partners, graduated from Texas law schools. The University of Texas School of Law was the most common school, accounting for 28 of the new partners. The University of Houston Law Center is the next most popular, with 12 graduates making partner at the 19 large Texas firms this year. While graduates of five other Texas law schools are among the new partners at the large Texas firms, none of the new partners graduated from Texas Southern University Thurgood Marshall School of Law or Texas Wesleyan University School of Law. Harvard Law School, the University of Virginia School of Law and Georgetown University Law Center each had six new partners this year. The majority of the new partners graduated from law school from 1992 through 1995, reflecting partnerships tracks ranging from seven to 10 years. The group includes 11 who graduated in 1992, 17 in 1993, 37 in 1994 and 39 in 1995. At least one of the new partners didn’t stick around to take advantage of his fancy new title at his firm. Stephen Fox, who was promoted this year to equity shareholder in Jenkens & Gilchrist in Dallas, joined Fish & Richardson in Dallas on Feb. 4, where he will help build a labor and employment practice. Fox, who spent 15 years at Jenkens and joined right out of law school, says it was simply a job he couldn’t pass up because labor and employment is a new practice area for Fish & Richardson. Fox says he has known Thomas Melsheimer, managing principal of the firm’s Dallas office, since they competed in high school debate and both attended the University of Notre Dame. “It was fortuitous in terms of timing. It was just a terrific opportunity for me at Fish,” he says. Fox says an associate from Jenkens, Jason Ross, will join him at Fish & Richardson later this month.
Related charts: New Partners 2003 New Partners’ Law Schools New Partners’ Practice Areas

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