It’s that time of year, when the largest law firm offices in the state roll out their partner promotion announcements, effective Jan. 1. The numbers of partnership offers themselves are not all that revealing: they have for the most part remained steady, or risen or fallen only modestly, this year compared to last.
“A lot of what you see is a function of timing,” James Shearin, managing partner at Pullman & Comley said. At his Bridgeport-based firm, seven new partners were added in 2013. Of those, five were lateral hires of partners from the education and municipal law practice of Sullivan, Schoen, Campane & Connon and two were promotions of associates from within.
But unlike many firms of its size, no new partners at Pullman & Comley will be elevated at the start of 2014.
Shearin said having no new partners lined up for the new year had nothing to do with five lateral partners being brought in last year. “It’s a function of whether there are lawyers ready for us to elevate [to partner],” he said. “This year, we didn’t have anyone at the stage where they were considered for elevation.”
Shearin added that his firm and “probably a number of firms” are finding “there are fewer people who are sufficiently enamored with the legal profession that they are hanging around that long to become partners.”
For one thing, over the past few years, there have been a “burgeoning” number of offers for in-house attorneys in recent years, which take some would-be partners out of the equation. “Many lawyers that would have stayed in the practice and become partners have left before that point, to go to other jobs or into other professions,” Shearin said. “And as a result, there are fewer people in that 30s to 40s crowd that are interested in being partners.”
Looking a bit closer at who is being promoted at large law offices, and in what practice areas, a few other trends have emerged. One is the fact that increased competition in the legal marketplace is pushing firms toward increased specialization in their decisions over hiring and partnerships.
Also, the growing challenges in bringing in and keeping business are extending the amount of time that it takes for an associate to establish a large enough client base to be named a partner, managing partners said.
“What used to be a three to five-year [track] to partner is now more of a seven to 10-year path,” Elizabeth Stewart, the managing partner of Murtha Cullina, said from her New Haven office. “A large part of what’s driving that is the fact that there are a lot of partners at firms, and older partners who weren’t going anywhere.”
As a result of having an already deep bench of partners at the top of most firms, a national trend has been the creation of non-equity partnerships that don’t offer a financial stake in the firm. “That’s something that’s been going on for quite a while,” Stewart said.
At Murtha, two new Connecticut partners, Keith Varian and Lauren Hopwood, will make the jump to full partner in January. One associate, Dena Castricone, was promoted to counsel effective Jan. 1.
Stewart said she has noticed more firms looking for a diversity of experience when selecting new partners.
“Of our three new partners, none of them came to us as first-job associates,” she said. As at other firms, the decisions by the executive board to approve offers of partnership, and with it a more lucrative share of the firm’s profits, are being made after considering several factors.
In addition to looking at the individual lawyer, and their ability to generate business and get positive outcomes for their clients, partnership committees are considering where the firm needs to grow, and what practice groups would most benefit by adding a partner.
“In two of the areas where we’ve added partners, immigration and ERISA [employee benefits], there are people very near retiring,” Stewart said. “And it’s important that you have someone who is a partner who is ready to take over the reigns.”
Robinson & Cole announced the promotions of two new partners in its Connecticut offices, down from four last year. Additionally, three attorneys were named to counsel positions. The choice of new partners reflects not only the talents of the attorneys selected, but the anticipated growth in their practice areas, which include health law and construction.
“These accomplished lawyers, from varied practice areas in a major market, have all demonstrated a deep knowledge in their respective legal fields and a strong commitment to delivering exceptional service,” said John Lynch, the firm’s managing partner. “Their promotions will strengthen the firm’s client relationships.”
At Bingham McCutchen, the Boston-based firm elevated 10 associates to partner status, including one in Hartford.
“Our clients are involved in complex, cross-border matters, and we continue to build upon our platform providing high-quality legal services worldwide,” said Bingham’s chairman and CEO, Jay Zimmerman. “The addition of these highly qualified lawyers to the partnership further strengthens the firm’s deep bench of talent.”
Dan Papermaster, managing partner of Bingham’s Hartford office, and co-chair of the firm’s Transactional Finance Group, said at least one new partner has been added in the Connecticut office four years’ in a row. This year, that lone promotion in Hartford goes to H. Scott Miller, a member of the firm’s Real Estate Group.
Papermaster said Miller’s promotion is an indication of the Connecticut market’s importance to the national firm. “We view this as an indication that the Hartford office is very well-received and an important part of the firm’s business year in and year out,” Papermaster said.
The naming of a new partner in the real estate practice is also the result of strong growth in that area for the firm. “They had a very productive year,” Papermaster said.
At Wiggin and Dana, the firm extended offers to four partners in Connecticut, one more than last year.
As with other firms, Wiggin partnership offers were viewed as an opportunity to not only reward hard work and success in a lawyer’s practice, but also a strategic benefit to bolster particular practice areas.
Among the promotions, Kevin Budge and Joseph Merschman will become new partners in the litigation practice, while Elliot Kaiman rises to partner in the energy and utilities and real estate practice. Michael Clear, whose practice is in trusts and estates, was also promoted to partner.
Stan Twardy, managing partner at Day Pitney, said the firm conducted its annual partners meeting on October, and decided to promote four Connecticut associates to partner, down from five last year. But firmwide, the number of seven new partners was the highest its been in several years, up from one new partner in 2013.
Twardy said the promotions are a positive sign, especially in light of August layoffs that led to the elimination of 40 staff members firmwide.
“The firm is on a very solid footing to be able to produce these future leaders,” he said.•