Question & Answer
Spring Ahead, Fall Back?
March 12, 2013
I am a litgation associate at a 40-attorney firm and have accepted an offer from a 600+ lawyer firm in my city. For salary purposes, I will be considered . . . [a fifth year associate]; however, for partnership purposes I will be considered . . . [a fourth year associate].
I tried to negotiate the partnership-class issue, but the firm told me they had made similar offers to other associates and appeared to be non-negotiable on the issue. I also had an offer from another large firm and would not have lost the year towards partnership. I conveyed this fact to the firm whose offer I accepted.
Did I make a mistake in not pressing the issue harder?
Two offers! Seriously, I am impressed. Right now when so many mid-level associates can't seem to get even a hint of an offer, you are such a desirable candidate that you were able to secure two . . . and from two major firms. I love hearing this . . . perhaps things really are turning around at last.
What I don't understand is why you didn't accept the other offer from the firm that was not going to make you wait that extra year for a partnership vote? There must have been a reason that you determined the first firm's offer was the better offer, even with the extra year's wait to be eligible for partnership. My guess is that the first firm is the better firm and the better opportunity for you and your career and there was no contest between the two.
I am impressed that you were proactive and tried to negotiate the partnership class determination. It's so important to feel comfortable enough with a new employer to be able to ask for what you believe is fair. I always counsel people to do so but to be prepared for a negative response, just in case. However, their response to you that this has been their position with other offers to potential employees is fair. After all, even though you apparently were a top-notch candidate, it isn't fair to treat you differently from the other associates that accepted the offer where they had an extra year added on before being considered for partnership. It sounds to me as if this is a firm that cares very much about the morale of their current associates.
There are many, many firms that have specific rules about when an associate is ready to be up for partnership. Perhaps this firm has a three year rule in other words, you have to be associated with the firm for a minimum of three years before you are eligible for partnership. In keeping with that rule, you would need an extra year there if a three year rule is in effect and they don't look at potential partners until they are seventh year associates. By paying you at your actual class year you are not losing any money but since you are going to be a seventh year in two years, you would not be eligible to join the partnership ranks at that time and therefore you would have to wait one more year to be considered in any event.
So, what this all breaks down to is semantics. The bottom line is that they are paying you at your class year's level but you just need to work at this firm for three years before you come up for partnership. This is not as awful as it may seem to you. Think about it this way if you were up for partnership at a 600+ attorney firm in just two years you probably would not have had enough time or the opportunity to meet and work for enough partners for your partnership candidacy to be supported. Two years is a very short period of time to make your abilities shown. That one extra year which, if you are busy and living up to your potential will fly by and it gives you that critical extra period of time to secure the votes that you will need to be elected as a shareholder.
To be fair, this is not such an unusual offer. As a fifth year associate coming over to a new firm, there are many firms that will make this kind of offer. Don't let your pride take over and make you feel as if you have been cheated. In the long run that extra year will work in your favor as you make sure all the partners see that you are definitely partnership material. In a major law firm it would be very difficult to accomplish this in two short years.
Clearly I don't think you made a mistake by not pressing the issue harder. The firm explained why they can't make an exception for you. What could you have said to that? The only thing you could have done is not accept their offer and given the fact that this offer was at a better firm for you than the other offer were you really going to "cut off your nose to spite your face?"
Congratulations on your offer at a great firm. Be happy and, as I always like to say, be the best you can be once you start at your new firm. Those coming three years will fly by (think how fast your first five years have flown by) and hopefully you will write me back then announcing your partnership. Best wishes!
Ann M. Israel