The Election To Partnership, Law Firms Are Making The Hard Choices (Again)

By Nethani Palmani | Mar 22, 2017 01:40 PM EDT

Law firms think they are being clever when they choose to eliminate the need for hard choices. But sometimes a hard choice is precisely what the situation requires. (Photo : Phil Walter / Getty Images)

Law firms are often being faced with hard choices and one of them is considering elevating associates to partnership. In the past, a partnership decision was an in-or-out decision which is different from now as the firm can defer the partnership decision after a year or two.

Law firms can make the associate a senior counsel and defer a partnership decision for a while or forever. The firms can also make the associate a non-equity partner and leave the former associate in those ranks for a year or a decade, or for a lifetime career.

Another way the law firms can do this is by inventing some other category of non-partner lawyer, and put the associate in that group for a while. According to Above The Law, although the solutions help associates to sustain their jobs, it ends up hurting associates who don't get promoted into the partnership ranks.

However, it's good to consider that a firm is often permitted to make the easy choice to keep the person around without sharing the partnership's wealth. Most law firms naturally choose that route and it keeps everyone either deferred, renamed, moved into the non-equity ranks, or somehow treated in between being an associate and a partner, according to the American Bar Association.

Law firms also make the hard choices in making the decision whether to prosecute a company. Unlike the earlier times, prosecutors now can choose to enter deferred prosecution agreements, or non-prosecution agreements, or perhaps, anything that suffices to show that the prosecutor's office is doing its job. In this case, companies often yield to avoid prosecution and the law may be distorted but everyone goes home sufficiently satisfied.

From the associates' point of view, maintaining hard choices may be in their best interest. In fact, eliminating the need for hard choices may sound much easy for law firms, but it is often a hard choice what the situation requires precisely sometimes.

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