On a Tuesday morning in March, the partners of Goulston & Storrs were gathered in a glass-walled conference room in the converted warehouse overlooking Boston Harbor that serves as the firm’s headquarters. Partners from Washington, D.C., and New York were hooked in by video. The pressing item on the day’s agenda, recalls Kitt Sawitsky, Goulston’s co-managing partner (“co-director,” in Goulston’s terminology), was associate salaries. Would Goulston succumb to the pressure to match New York rates, or stick to traditional Boston levels — about $15,000 a year lower? With 85 partners in on the discussion, there was no quick answer. Fifteen different partners chimed in before the group finally reached consensus: Stick to Boston rates.
It was a typical decision-making process at a typical monthly directors meeting at Goulston & Storrs, where major firm decisions, from associate salaries to lateral hires, are made by the entire partnership, often after long, grueling discussions. That old-fashioned approach has its undeniable inefficiencies, yet Goulston appears to have turned it into a viable business model. It’s a model characterized by team-oriented client service; low associate-to-partner leverage; a base of real estate clients augmented by growing middle-market private equity, corporate and litigation practices; and valuable lateral hires drawn to the firm for its traditional values. Goulston, a newcomer to The Am Law 200, generates slightly lower revenue and significantly lower profits per partner than other large Boston firms — in 2006, its RPL was $635,000 and PPP was $560,000, compared to Boston averages of $745,000 and $1 million. But Goulston lawyers say they’re happy to trade profits for collegiality — and, by the way, they’re doing very nicely.
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