Lockstep 2.0: time to upgrade a trusty model
There seems to be something of a queue forming of firms looking to move away from a rigid lockstep partnership. This trend has been underway for years at mid-tier practices, but it goes further than that. Allen & Overy morphed into a managed lockstep years ago, while Clifford Chance deploys a salaried rank that it uses heavily for flexibility and a super-point pool that it doesn’t. Now it seems that Linklaters and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer – long standard-bearers of lockstep partnership – are exploring means to usher in more flexibility. It’s surely a sensible development. The modern concept of lockstep is a curiously dogmatic thing, in many ways unsuited to the demands of the global law firm. For one, the gap between bottom and top earners is far too narrow to accommodate varying global markets. Lockstep is also out of, well, step with demographic changes, increasing the pressure for older partners to retire due to the punishing workloads that come with plateau earnings. Also problematic is its relationship with profits per equity partner (PEP). Combined slavishly, lockstep and PEP can lead firms to bend their business painfully to achieve arbitrary targets.
There seems to be something of a queue forming of firms looking to move away from a rigid lockstep partnership. This trend has been underway for years at mid-tier practices, but it goes further than that.
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