Conn. Firms, Offices Name New Partners For 2014

, The Connecticut Law Tribune

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James Shearin
James Shearin

It's that time of year, when the largest law firm offices in the state roll out their partner promotion announcements, effective Jan. 1. The numbers of partnership offers themselves are not all that revealing: they have for the most part remained steady, or risen or fallen only modestly, this year compared to last.

"A lot of what you see is a function of timing," James Shearin, managing partner at Pullman & Comley said. At his Bridgeport-based firm, seven new partners were added in 2013. Of those, five were lateral hires of partners from the education and municipal law practice of Sullivan, Schoen, Campane & Connon and two were promotions of associates from within.

But unlike many firms of its size, no new partners at Pullman & Comley will be elevated at the start of 2014.

Shearin said having no new partners lined up for the new year had nothing to do with five lateral partners being brought in last year. "It's a function of whether there are lawyers ready for us to elevate [to partner]," he said. "This year, we didn't have anyone at the stage where they were considered for elevation."

Shearin added that his firm and "probably a number of firms" are finding "there are fewer people who are sufficiently enamored with the legal profession that they are hanging around that long to become partners."

For one thing, over the past few years, there have been a "burgeoning" number of offers for in-house attorneys in recent years, which take some would-be partners out of the equation. "Many lawyers that would have stayed in the practice and become partners have left before that point, to go to other jobs or into other professions," Shearin said. "And as a result, there are fewer people in that 30s to 40s crowd that are interested in being partners."

Looking a bit closer at who is being promoted at large law offices, and in what practice areas, a few other trends have emerged. One is the fact that increased competition in the legal marketplace is pushing firms toward increased specialization in their decisions over hiring and partnerships.

Also, the growing challenges in bringing in and keeping business are extending the amount of time that it takes for an associate to establish a large enough client base to be named a partner, managing partners said.

"What used to be a three to five-year [track] to partner is now more of a seven to 10-year path," Elizabeth Stewart, the managing partner of Murtha Cullina, said from her New Haven office. "A large part of what's driving that is the fact that there are a lot of partners at firms, and older partners who weren't going anywhere."

As a result of having an already deep bench of partners at the top of most firms, a national trend has been the creation of non-equity partnerships that don't offer a financial stake in the firm. "That's something that's been going on for quite a while," Stewart said.

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