As Part of the Culture, Partners Stayed Put in 2010

The consensus is that the economy is balancing out…it’s on the upswing.  Now that the dust has cleared, it’s easy to look around and see what your options are, again, if you’re an attorney, and especially if you’re a partner. But that wasn’t always the case.   Back in 2010, industry leaders’ thinking was still guarded about 2011. A gathering of industry leaders in New York late last year had  optimistic threads woven into their agenda, but contained a note of caution.

The offices of Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler were the meeting grounds for heads of such established firms as Weil Gotshal & Manges and Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison.  Carter Ledyard & Milburn managing partner Judith Lockhart told the NYLJ: “It’s a slower recovery than everyone would like.”

The managing partners that gathered in mid-September took a straw poll and expressed hope that much of the doom-and-gloom that had gripped the industry since 2008 would vanish. (To illustrate just far things have come, a memorable turning point  was when then-Vice President-Elect Joe Biden said an additional stimulus package would save the economy from “tanking”.)

But that guarded optimism led to renewed conservative thinking.  One illustration of this was that, in 2010, partners tended to stay put, no matter their ambitions.

A New York Times “Courthouse Confidential” entry earlier this year (pointing to an article in the American Lawyer) noted that “far fewer partners” left their current firms than did in 2009.  Some of the reasons tossed around were a) that, due to the fact that so many firms had folded in 2009, there were naturally many more “jumps” that year; b) the too-recent economic instability did not infuse partners with good feelings about switching firms and c) Firms weren’t too eager to extend offers which might be deemed attractive enough to lure partners away.

Also, when you’re not bringing along lucrative financial history—due to the downturn—it makes partners less confident about the numbers they’d be trying to move to the new firm.

“There’s a culture of partners wanting to move when they think they have good numbers to move,” [said Barton J.] Winokur[,] [chairman of Dechert]…adding that partners have not been able to boast that they brought in big business – like $10 million or $20 million – in the down economic years.

A silver lining in the cloud: because some firms have put a hold on promoting partners (due to the downturn), these very firms have been able to lure senior associates, “with a promise of partnership”, noted the Courthouse Confidential piece.

-EM

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