Woody Fowler knew four years ago that Williams Mullen would have to change its path to partnership.

The Richmond, Virginia-based firm had introduced the position of salaried shareholder, or nonequity partner—a title held by about one-third of its 250 lawyers—nearly a decade earlier, but over time it came to be viewed “too much as a holding area,” Fowler, the firm’s chairman and CEO, remembers. Associates were being given the title after seven years without a clear understanding of what it took to be an owner of the firm, and some of them languished.

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