When considering their future with the firms that elevated them to the position, the newest generation of law firm partners is keeping their options open. ALM Intelligence’s New Partners Survey reveals that many recently promoted partners have professional ambitions beyond serving their current firms.

Wandering Eyes

The survey, in its sixth edition, measures the attitudes, goals, and training of Am Law 200 lawyers promoted to partner (equity and non-equity) during the prior four years. Among the survey questions, the new partners were asked to identify their primary career goal(s) over the next 10 years. Though multiple responses were permitted, nearly one in three respondents did not identify becoming a “valuable member of your firm’s team” as a primary career goal. Moreover, nearly one in five of the answers given by Big Law’s next generation of leaders explicitly involved doing something (e.g. working as a general counsel, not practicing law, working as a partner at another firm) other than working at their current firm.

New Partner Survey Brief_Figure 1

Feedback Loop

Given the present state of affairs, perhaps the fact that many new partners don’t see themselves as a “lifer” at their current firm should come as no surprise. Lateral partner moves among Am Law 200 firms hit a record high in 2015, a phenomenon that is perpetuated by the firms themselves. In a prior survey of law firms on the subject of lateral partner hiring, ALM Intelligence found 96% of firms felt that “hiring lateral lawyers with a client following” was either “very important” or “moderately important” to their revenue growth strategy. And this is all exacerbated by the behavior of recruiters, many of which promise untold riches to partners and firms alike. An astonishing 92% of respondents to the New Partner survey reported that they have been contacted by a recruiter since their promotion. What’s more, many of the new partners have already experienced at least one move as an associate so changing firms isn’t an entirely foreign experience. Nearly half of the respondents to the survey indicated that they were at another firm previous to the one that promoted them to partner.

Age of Uncertainty

Though the economy is chugging along, influenced by the recent past, anxiety about the future persists. For that reason, it’s reasonable to assume that some of the new partners surveyed eschewed selecting “becoming a valuable member of your firm’s team” as a primary career goal not out of an express desire to leave their current firm, but rather out of a sense of pessimism about the future. This idea is supported by some of the New Partner Survey data as well.

Presently, most of the new partner respondents would appear to be committed to their firms. Ninety-four percent of respondents cited their “commitment to the firm” as either a very important or somewhat important factor in their promotion to partner. Furthermore, nearly 40% of the respondents say their commitment to their current firm has increased since their promotion with only four percent reporting a decrease. This doesn’t seem like a crowd that’s actively planning their exit.

However, when considering the future state of affairs, these new partners aren’t entirely optimistic, and for good reason. Many have been promoted into partner limbo as non-equity partners. In this year’s survey, 68% of the respondents were non-equity partners, an increase of nine percentage points over 2013. Moreover, when thinking about their former peers in the associate ranks, nearly 40% of the new partners surveyed agreed that it is nearly impossible for associates at large firms to become partners. Additionally, nearly one in three of the respondents expects the structure of large firms to change dramatically in the next 10 years.

Whatever the cause, it appears that Big Law’s age of uncertainty is not ending anytime soon.

Agree or disagree? Feel free to reach out at skovalan@alm.com or on LinkedIn.

ALM Intelligence Notes:

  • Shared Services Centers: Dentons is to cut around 25 jobs in the U.K. following its opening of a new support services center in Warsaw, Poland. For more information on shared services centers download ALM Intelligence’s free report.
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