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US firm Morgan Lewis & Bockius is changing its partnership structure so that senior solicitors can take a stake in the firm sooner.

The Philadelphia-based firm, which has more than 300 partners worldwide, is introducing a two-tier partnership with salaried as well as equity partners.

Tom Sharbaugh, the firm's international managing partner for operations, says the changes are being made so that lawyers can be offered partnership two years earlier than the typical wait which is in excess of nine years' service.

He says: “We have decided to have 'income partners' that would have a fixed allocation of net income as opposed to a floating share of the firm's income, but we will not be implementing it until the end of the summer.

“At the moment people become partners in the ninth year and above, and one of our primary reasons for doing this was to make people partners after seven.”

Sharbaugh says a lot of other firms on the West Coast of the US offer partnership earlier than Morgan Lewis.

He says: “There are a lot of places where we have offices where partners are made up more quickly and our primary goal was to respond to competitive issues. A lot of our associates were concerned about whether they would become partners and were being offered opportunities in other firms.”

An industry source says that the move is a logical one for Morgan Lewis, a firm which traditionally poaches a lot of associates.

He says: “Morgan Lewis has historically hired a lot of people laterally so maybe those people having moved once may be less willing to wait for partnership.”

He adds that the firm's profits have not in the past been as high as some of their competitors, so the change would mean a bit more money going to equity partners.

Mike Kelly, managing partner of the firm's Washington office, says: “This is something we have been looking at with the help of a consultancy for a few years.

“It's been made more difficult because we have a large office in New York where traditional competitors do not do this.”