(Credit: ALM)

The largest firms in Texas promoted fewer new partnersin Texas this year compared with 2016, a lingering result of smaller first-year classes in years when firms tried to cope with the financial crisis of 2007-2008.

Nineteen of the 25 firms with the most lawyers in Texas made 75 new Texas partners for 2017, compared with 107 the year before. That’s a 29.9 percent decline for those 19 firms that have announced their new partners. In 2016, 23 of the 25 largest firms in Texas made 128 new partners, compared with 101 at those firms the previous year, a 26.7 percent improvement.

Bob Jewell, managing partner of Andrews Kurth Kenyon, said the number of new partners this year in Texas was likely affected by a downturn in hiring during the financial crisis. “Classes were smaller. Some people were deferring start dates,” he said.

The size of first-year associate classes at the biggest Texas firms declined in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 when compared with the previous year, before gaining in 2012, Texas Lawyer reported in 2012.

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While the numbers of new Texas partners are lower in 2017, the 19 firms promoted slightly more women and minority lawyers to partner in Texas. For 2017, 34.7 percent of the 75 new Texas partners are women and 10.7 percent of the new partners are minorities. In 2016, the percentages were 31.3 percent for women and 10.2 percent for minorities.

Thirteen of the 19 firms made fewer new partners in Texas in 2017, compared with 2016, while four made more new Texas partners and the numbers were unchanged at two firms.

Norton Rose Fulbright announced nine new partners in Texas in 2017, compared with 10 the year before, the largest group among the firms. George Scofield, a partner in San Antonio who is U.S. vice chair, said, “Norton Rose Fulbright has more lawyers in Texas than any other firm, so you would naturally suspect we would have one of the larger, if not the largest, new partner classes,” Scofield said. He notes that Texas is an important market for the firm and the new partners work at all of the firm’s Texas offices—Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio.

New partner statistics from several firms are not included in this report because their new partner elections or announcements were scheduled after press time on Feb. 3. Those firms include Gardere Wynne Sewell, Greenberg Traurig, Munsch Hardt Kopf & Harr, Jackson Walker, Thompson & Knight and Winstead.

At Bracewell, both of the firms’ new Texas partners are women and McKool Smith’s new Texas partner for 2017 is a woman. At Haynes and Boone, four of the six new Texas partners are women, and at Strasburger & Price, four of seven new Texas partner are women. Strasburger’s new women partners include Deborah Di Filippo of San Antonio, who graduated from law school in 1984, and Stephanie Gaston, who was promoted while on maternity leave.

Strasburger also made the most new minority partners among the 19 firms, with two.

Gaston said Betsy Kamin, the partner in charge of the firm’s Houston office, called her at home to tell her about her promotion. Gaston said her second daughter was just two weeks old when she received the news. She celebrated at home with a quiet dinner with her husband and two daughters.

Gaston, who joined Strasburger as a lateral associate in 2013, said she believes her efforts to market herself and the firm to current and prospective clients helped her make partner. She does employment and civil litigation. Gaston said the fact that four of the firm’s new partners are women and two are minorities shows Strasburger’s commitment to diversity.

Di Filippo said she joined Strasburger as a lateral in 2001, and because she has four children, worked a reduced-hours schedule until about two years ago when her youngest entered college. “This firm was very receptive to the reduced-hours alternative … extremely supportive from what I have found of women and alternative ways to get to partnership and I was enabled by the firm to be on a long partnership track,” she said.

She said her situation at Strasburger, and at previous firms that also allowed her to work a reduced-hours schedule, has made her career a “joy.” She says two women partners in the Strasburger office in San Antonio called her Jan. 24 to tell her about the partner promotion. To celebrate, she went home and called her kids, who range in age from 21 to 28, to give them the news.

Porter Hedges posted the largest percentage increase in new partners, with five lawyers promoted in 2017, compared with two the previous year. The firm’s managing partner, Rob Reedy, said it is a larger-than-normal new partner class, but the associates up for partner were “terrific candidates” who made it very easy for the partners to promote them.

Reedy notes that four of the five new partners have spent their entire careers at Porter Hedges. All are men, but Reedy said that was happenstance, because the firm has promoted women to partner the last several years.

Andrews Kurth Kenyon made three new partners in Texas this year, compared with nine in 2016. The three new partners this year in Texas are male, while six of the nine in 2016 are women.

Jewell, the Andrews Kurth managing partner, said the firm looks at diversity over several years, and it is “timing” that this year’s Texas partners are all men when six of nine in Texas in 2016 were women. “I look at it over a period of several years. Are we being balanced?” Jewell said.

Of the new partners, the largest group, 29, graduated from law school in 2008. Another 20 graduated in 2007.

Most of the new partners graduated from Texas law schools, and the University of Texas School of Law had the most graduates among the 2017 new partner class.

Litigation and corporate and securities are the two most common practice areas for the new partners.