'Tis the season for partner promotions at the nation's law firms, but don't uncork the bubbly just yet. Due to the sagging economy, fewer associates are getting the partnership nod, as more firms have had to reevaluate their staffing needs.
"We'll have more people who qualify to be partner and deserve to be partner, but the firm has a lesser need for additional partners," says one partner at a global firm. "The economic issues that everyone is dealing with are profound. As a firm, you need to look at what is in the pipeline, and how is this going to impact your practice. You look at each candidate for partnership and ask, 'Are they in an area where we need another partner?' "
Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP elected five partners this year, compared with eight last year and 13 in 2006. Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP named eight new partners and two new counsel from its associate ranks, down from eight new partners and 11 counsel in 2007. At other firms, the numbers held steady, including Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP, which elected three new partners this year and last and at Dewey & LeBoeuf LLP, which elected 20 partners this year, on par with 2007. Dewey froze lateral hiring and closed regional offices during the year. Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, meanwhile, named six new partners, compared to five in 2007.
"The partner decision is a very significant one," Dewey chairman Steven Davis says. "You have to view it in a long-term context in terms of the firm's overall objectives. If your organization is going to be flourishing, a key way to do that is by promoting people to partner."
Many of those getting the partner nod this year practice abroad. Cleary's eight new partners include two in Rome and one in Brussels, and Simpson Thacher's five new partners include two in London and one in Beijing. Latham & Watkins LLP's class of 30 partners includes three in Germany, six in London and one in Singapore. Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP's class of seven partners includes a number in Prague and London.