Best way to make partner? Switch law firms first


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Is unwavering loyalty to a firm – not to mention work ethic, skill and rainmaking ability – the best way to rise to partnership?

An analysis by the Am Law Daily (reg. req.) would suggest that there’s more than one way to climb the ladder. Looking at 50 Am Law 200 firms, the publication found that 59 percent of 499 associates and counsel promoted to partner began their legal careers somewhere else.

For the story, the Am Law Daily quoted former Cravath, Swaine & Moore associate Lezlie Madden, who because of a move, switch firms and rose to partnership at Cozen O’Connor this year, where of 20 lawyers elevated to partner, she and 16 others were laterals.

The analysis is part of American Lawyer’s Midlevel Associates Survey, which will be published in the September issue of the magazine. Among this year’s results are complaints from associates who don’t see a visible career path. “The associates here seem to have given up on partnership,” on Am Law 100 associate is quoted saying. Another noted: “Be open about the fact 90 percent of us will not make partner.”

“I see tons of smart people who don’t make partner,” Joi Bourgeois, a legal careers consultant, is quoted saying. “Either they’re not politically well-placed, or it’s those who don’t have the drive or the understanding that really more than ever, it’s about adding to the business.”

Here’s more of what the survey found this year:

• Of 50 firms reporting a breakdown of homegrown v. laterals in partner classes, only three promoted exclusively from classes that began careers and stayed with one firm. They were: Debevoise & Plimpton; Hughes Hubbard & Reed; and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.

• At least half the new partner class was composed of laterals at 36 firms.

• Laterals accounted for at least 80 percent of new partner classes at six firms.

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