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Law Practice Management

Associates are happier with more responsibility, firm’s founding partner says

Posted Feb 5, 2014 7:20 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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BigLaw firms are taking the wrong tack when they create lower-paid apprenticeship tracks with more training and less responsibility, according to Susman Godfrey’s founding partner, Stephen Susman.

New associates need more responsibility, not less, Susman argued in a recent essay for the Careerist. He outlined five ways his firm develops its associates. They are:

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File photo of Stephen Susman.

1) Send associates to court. “Our firm has a rule,” Susman writes. “If you go to court, you get to stand up. And if you write it, you get to speak it in court. New associates like that.”

2) Staff cases “leanly,” a policy that gives more opportunities to associates.

3) Give associates the same vote as partners. “And we vote on everything,” Susman says. “Each week, all firm attorneys participate in a telephone meeting where we decide whether to take on contingent fee cases, fixed-fee cases, and pro bono cases. Every lawyer receives a short memo in advance from the attorney proposing to take the case, and after a discussion, all attorneys vote. Associates never hesitate to vote against a case proposed by a partner: I’ve had a number of cases that I proposed get rejected because I couldn’t get the requisite majority vote.”

4) Give associates the law firm’s financial information. “At Susman Godfrey, associates review the firm’s monthly financial statements, have access to partner compensation information, and receive copies of the minutes of all executive committee meetings,” Susman says. “Smart people with big egos don’t mind living by rules that they’ve had a hand in creating.”

5) Convey the fun of being a trial attorney.

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