WSJ.com [paywall]: “At the modern law firm, not all partners are created equal, and data and billings rule – “Four hundred of Kirkland & Ellis LLP’s top lawyers gathered in May at an oceanfront resort in Southern California to toast another banner year. Kirkland was the highest-grossing law firm in the world for the second year running, earning $3.76 billion in revenue. When a slide flashed on the screen, showing the value of the firm’s shares, the partners in the room quickly did the math. They would be taking home $1.75 million to $15 million. Not invited were another 560 partners, who were back at the firm’s 15 offices around the world, working. Though outwardly carrying the same title as those lounging poolside in California, they hold no equity in the firm and generally can expect to make $800,000 at most. While a comfortable living, the salary and its implied second-class status is not the reward many expected after striving to join the venerated partnership. This is life at the modern law firm, where not all partners are created equal, and data and money rule. Being named a partner once meant joining a band of lawyers who jointly tended to longtime clients and took home comfortable, and roughly equal, paychecks. Job security was virtually guaranteed and partners rarely jumped ship. That model, and the culture that grew up around it, is all but dead. Law firms are now often partnerships in name only. Full-time chief executives, some without law degrees, have replaced the senior partner running human resources and accounting. Law firm names have trended toward the shorter and snappier, more befitting a tote bag than a law library. Many firms have expanded rapidly to mirror the growth of their corporate clients, with hundreds of partners spread around the world. The largest, Dentons, recently hit 10,000 lawyers in 78 countries, around a third of them partners.
“Can you be partners with someone you don’t even know?” said legal consultant Aric Press. In the new paradigm, lawyers are expendable, and partners may jump to a competitor for the right amount of money, taking as many clients as possible with them on the way out. Junior lawyers always worked long hours for years before being promoted, but that meant a kind of lifetime tenure. Today, making partner can take more than a decade and still requires scraping for new business. Becoming a partner, the industry saying goes, is like winning a pie-eating contest only to find the prize is more pie…”