Mayer Brown promotions bonanza sparks debate over partner status

Mayer Brown promotions bonanza sparks debate over partner status” />News that Mayer Brown has made up a bumper crop of new partners in London has met with a mixed response in the marketplace, with users of TheLawyer.com engaging in a heated debate about the firm.

As first reported on www.the lawyer.com (29 October), the firm promoted a total of 43 into the partnership worldwide, 10 of whom were in London. This is a marked increase on the past couple of years, with the firm promoting 34 last year and 33 the year before. In London, this year’s 10 promotions tops the number the firm made in the past three years combined.

At face value this is good news and, according to global vice chairman Paul Maher, “It demonstrates Mayer Brown’s clear intention to grow the practice, both through hiring high-profile laterals and also organically”.

However, for one reader, who chose to remain anonymous, the promotions fail to address wider-reaching retention issues within the firm.

“Mayer Brown has made up 43 partners this year, but they’re actually down more than that number for the year as they have actually lost more than 90 partners since the last round of promotions (some involuntarily, most not),” the reader posted. “The failure to get salaried partners through to equity has also meant a further bolt for the door, with a number of partners resigning recently and (according to recruiters) many looking to leave.”

Another poster feels that leverage and staff retention ratios at the firm are an issue, pointing out that Mayer Brown has lost a number of expensively trained lawyers in the past three years.

“They have to ask themselves why. The answers are tough ones: leadership, values and work-life balance are among the foremost,” the blogger said.

According to one former partner, partnership changes made three years ago prompted most of the departures from the firm after Mayer Brown Rowe & Maw adopted the Rowe & Maw tradition of having salaried partners function alongside equity partners.

Prior to the firms’ 2001 merger, legacy US firm Mayer Brown & Platt operated an all-equity partnership. The concept of salaried partners caused controversy, particularly in the US, as some saw it as a way of diluting quality by making up partners that were not up to the job.

The firm has seen a number of high-profile departures in the past few years, with a partnership team led by Richard Linsell heading to Addleshaw Goddard in November 2005, securitisation partner Mark Nicolaides heading to Latham & Watkins in July 2006, and tax partner Charles Elphicke leaving for Hunton & Williams earlier this year.

More recently banking partner Michael Pabst left for Jones Day, while in the US Kenneth Kohler defected to Morrison & Foerster.

That said, Mayer Brown has also been on a hiring spree of late, recruiting industry heavyweights such as corporate rainmaker William Charnley from McDermott Will & Emery and a Barlow Lyde & Gilbert litigation team headed by commercial litigation star Clare Canning.

But this strategy can be controversial. One internet poster said: “Many of the FSPs [fixed-salary partners] are feeling their contributions are not valued (at least internally) and are heading for the door. It seems a shame to bring in expensive laterals and lose homegrown talent.”

However, Mayer Brown’s London managing partner Sean Connolly rejected claims that there was ill-feeling among salaried partners, adding that the firm offered “tremendous opportunities” for its best people.

He added: “Like all firms we have a certain level of turnover of staff but our statistics in this regard are well below our competition. We take very seriously the need to offer all our people the opportunities to realise their potential.”

According to one former partner, the firm ensured only certain people progressed by setting salaried partners a three-year timetable for progression to the equity. This effectively constituted an ‘up or out clause’, but it also presented a compromise for those who believed salaried partners would dilute quality.

But Connolly said: “The time it takes different individuals to make equity partner varies and we judge every person on their merits. Becoming a partner is a very different challenge to being a senior assistant and our intention is that all our newly promoted partners will ultimately succeed and rise to the challenge.”

Refusing to discuss salaries, Connolly dismissed claims that salaried partners are tantamount to glorified senior associates, saying the movement from senior associate to partner is a transitional stage.

“On achieving FSP status we encourage a period of learning different skill sets as we recognise newly promoted partners need support and development to fulfil their potential,” he said. “The two jobs are different and we expect our FSPs to be at the forefront of providing our clients with a quality service and to be key participants in building our future business.

“While we won’t go into salaries at any level, our market research tells us we are competitive.”