DO YOU HAVE SPECIALIZED PRACTICES THAT CANNOT
SUPPORT A PARTNER PRACTICE BUT ARE NONETHELESS
IMPORTANT PRACTICES TO MAINTAIN AT THE FIRM?
partner track? Fewer associates entering
law firms expect or even want to become
partners. The change of heart may be
due, in part, to their recognition that the
likelihood of making partner is not as
great as it used to be. But younger generations of lawyers also have priorities
outside of law that they are less willing
to sacrifice for their careers. More and
more firms are seeing them lose (or fail to
develop) interest in the business aspects
of practicing law, especially the demands
of client development. As the economic
recovery continues and voluntary associate attrition picks up, law firms will
need to make additional efforts to retain
the talent who understand their clients
and fit well with the culture of their firms
but do not want to settle for work that
does not challenge them.
Alternatively, do you have high-performing partner track associates who, despite
their desire to make partner, do not have,
and most likely will not develop, a partner
profile? Do they meet another business
need? For example, are there associates
who have developed strong relationships
with institutional or other key clients?
Do you want to retain these lawyers even
though you will not be promoting them?
Once you have identified all of the
drivers for change, you can outline everything you hope to achieve when you roll
out your new positions or career tracks.
These goals necessarily will be very specific to your firm’s unique situation.
Structure. What aspects of the partner
track associate position do you want or
need to change?
• The work. How, if at all, will the alter-
native track lawyers’ work differ from
partner track associates’ work? The
answer to this question will depend on
your reasons and goals for creating a
new role. Alternative track lawyers with
a narrow focus in niche practice areas
or serving specific client relationships
may do much the same kind of work as
partner track associates. Others may be
limited to more process driven tasks or
• Billing rates. Will the billing rates for
alternative track lawyers differ from
billing rates for partner track associates?
• Billable hour targets. Will the billable
hour expectations for alternative track
lawyers differ from the billable hour
expectations for partner track associates?
There may be more need for change with
positions that contemplate a significant
amount of nonchargeable work.
• Title. How will you title the alternative track lawyers? Although some
firms use a number of the following
titles for partner track positions, many
more use them for alternative track
positions: staff attorney, staff associate, career associate, senior attorney,
e-discovery lawyer, and policy or special
advisor. One consideration to the title
you select is the existence of any stigma
connected to a title other than associate.
The answer to this question may depend
in part on the type, size and location of
your firm. Depending on your answers
to some of the questions that follow, you
can manage the impact. Advance consideration will allow you to avoid any
unintended consequences of picking a
• Supervision and management. How
will you manage the alternative track
lawyers? Who will supervise their legal
work? The same supervising lawyers as
partner track associates? Other man-
agers? Who will be responsible for
managing the alternative track lawyers
from the professional development
and human resource perspectives? If
the alternative track lawyers will have
opportunity for promotion, who will
manage the promotion process?
• Systems access. Will the alternative
track lawyers require full access to your
document management systems and
client files? If not, are there reasons, professional responsibility or other, to limit
• Infrastructure. Will the alternative track
lawyers sit in an office or a group work
setting? Will they need secretarial support
and, if so, can you provide it?
• Client development expectations.
Will there be any expectation or desire
that the alternative track lawyers engage
in active client development? Depending on the type of position and reason
for designating it as an alternative track,
many, but not all, lawyers moving to
an alternative track position would
welcome relief from the pressures of
Authority to require or approve. If you
want to be careful about managing stakeholders’ expectations, spend an ample
amount of time considering this point.
Who and what will determine whether an
alternative track position is appropriate or
required for a particular situation? What
factors will that individual consider? Type
of work? Billing rate constraints? Practice
group interest? Associate interest? Duration of need? A combination of factors?