LINKLATERS has been trying to make sure that its introduction of a global management level of counsel last year was not simply a way of fobbing off associates who did not make the grade to join the partnership.
The magic circle firm showed this through its latest round of partner promotions, in which a total of 28 lawyers were made up - five of them were counsel, the position between managing associate and partner.
Linklaters HR director Jill King says promoting partners from counsel will continue and is likely to rise as the firm has changed its selection procedure to mirror the partnership process.
"Counsel is both an alternative to partnership as well as a stepping stone to becoming a partner, which is why we've made changes to the selection, to strengthen the status of the role," explains King.
She says the new selection process will see counsel candidates have to make a business case in the same way as lawyers who apply to become partner. They will also have to go through similar rigorous interviews the partners. The applications will then go through the selection committee - again mirroring exactly the partner selection process.
Among the skills potential counsel need to demonstrate is that they have significant technical expertise and can build new client relationships, as well as maintain existing ones.
"They also need to have leadership qualities," says King. "Some lawyers will work alongside partners and have a leadership role in that practice, while others will be the leaders in the absence of a partner. So, you can see, this is a very privileged position."
King adds that once a lawyer has secured their post as counsel, the experience gleaned in that job lays the building blocks for them to become a partner.
Before the introduction of the counsel role in May last year, Linklaters did have consultants and counsels, but only on a regional ad-hoc basis. The firm, however, felt those roles needed to be harmonised under the single name of counsel.
"The jump from associate to partner for some lawyers can be too much in one go, which is why counsel is the perfect step up before trying to cross that final hurdle into the partnership," says King.
The firm has also introduced inductions for counsel, which mirror the initiations for new partners. The first two-day workshop for counsel took place two weeks ago in Chantilly, France and was attended by 29 new counsel from across 14 countries.
"At the induction we had John Tucker [Americas managing partner] speak and had many of our regular speakers at the partner inductions talk to the counsel about their role and how they can contribute to Linklaters' success," says King. "Also, it provided a forum to discuss the firm's strategy, development skills and meet other counsel. Hopefully we'll see that they set up their own networks."
The counsel post may have only just entered its second year, but it has already solidified its position in Linklaters' management structure. In the future one might expect the majority of Linklaters' home-grown partners to have been counsel before getting that final accolade of joining the partnership.