Hiring. It is important to consider carefully how will you hire for the alternative
track positions, what criteria you will use,
and whether you will consider transitions
to and from the partner track.
• Recruiting. Will you hire directly into
the alternative track position? If so, how
will you source candidates? Will you use
cost-free means only, such as Internet
job postings, law school career offices
and referrals? Are there any circumstances under which you would consider using a search firm?
• Hiring criteria. What hiring criteria will
you use for the alternative track positions?
How will it differ from the hiring criteria
you use for partner track associate hires?
• Moves to partner track associate.
The possibility of moving from the
alternative track position to a partner
track associate is another topic that
warrants careful consideration from
the start. If you will consider moving
any alternative track lawyers to partner
track, it is best to define who can initiate that discussion, the circumstances
under which you will consider such
a move, the timing of consideration
and the criteria you will apply. For
example, you may want to make it
easier for former associates to return to
partner track than it is for direct hires
to move to partner track for the first
time. Reminding all stakeholders of
your policy at the time of hire will help
manage everyone’s expectations and
minimize attempts to back-door into a
partner track position.
• Moves from partner track associate.
Will you encourage, permit or require
current partner track associates to
convert to this new status? Commonly
cited concerns are ( 1) blocking work
from partner track associates; and
( 2) forestalling a potential exodus of
high-performing associates looking
for a lifestyle change or silo of under-
performing associates the firm probably
should let go. Other firms use the
alternative track position or program to
manage expectations about the potential
of promotion. Whatever your purpose
or concerns, if this is an option, you will
need to identify who can initiate that
discussion, the circumstances under
which such a move will be considered,
the timing of consideration and the
criteria that will be applied.
Compensation and benefits. How
will you compensate the alternative track
lawyers—on an hourly, per-diem or salary
basis? Who will decide what you will pay
individual alternative track lawyers? What
factors will you consider in setting salary?
Will you establish set salaries or develop
customized agreements based on unique
circumstances? How will the salary scale
compare to the partner track associate
compensation scale? Will the alternative track lawyers be eligible for the same
benefits as partner track associates? Will
the alternative track lawyers be eligible for
bonuses? If so, what will the criteria be?
Who will decide whether you pay a bonus?
Development. Another aspect to consider is how you will maximize the alternative track lawyers’ integration and continued development.
• Training. How will you develop and integrate the alternative track lawyers? Will
you invite them to participate in firm-sponsored CLE or other training programs? If so, will opportunities be limited
in any way? For example, will you permit
your alternative track lawyers to participate in client development training?
• Integration. Will you invite the alternative track lawyers to attend other firm
events? Will they have formal mentors?
• Evaluation. When and how will you
evaluate the alternative track lawyers?
Will you evaluate them at the same time
as partner track associates? Will you use
the same or a different process? Will you
apply the same or different standards?
Transparency. How transparent will
you be about your alternative track positions or program? Will you list alternative
track lawyers’ profiles on your website?
What external advantages, disadvantages or challenges to full versus limited
transparency do you see vis-à-vis clients,
recruits and others within the firm? What
internal advantages, disadvantages or
challenges to full versus limited transparency do you see vis-à-vis clients, recruits
and others within the firm?
• Transparency in titling. Will you list
the alternative track lawyers on your
external website? Will internal and
external titles be identical? Will you
handle former partner track associates
any differently than alternative track
lawyers hired directly into the position?
The legal industry has changed dramatically and few, if any, believe that we are
ever going back to the days when every
associate wanted to be a partner and
many had at least a shot at making it.
There is no better time than now to work
with your professional development
department to design, refine or rethink
your nonpartner complement. As the
need for law firms to adapt to the changing legal landscape grows stronger, so do
the incentives to create carefully crafted
alternative track positions and programs.
They are an important and burgeoning
part of today’s “new normal.” LP
Margaret A. Suender is the firmwide
director of professional development
and recruitment of Pepper Hamilton LLP.
She works in the firm’s Philadelphia