Biglaw, Partner Issues, Partner Profits, Williams & Connolly

A Look at New Partner Classes at Ten Top Firms (and an Open Thread)

Partnership: the proverbial brass ring.

‘Tis the season — for new partner elections at large law firms. Although there are some exceptions, most firms pick and announce their new partner classes around November and December, with partnership effective on January 1 of the following year.

These partnership announcements sometimes contain interesting information, if you read between the lines. As we’ve previously observed, “Partnership decisions often shed light on the current state of a firm, its prospects for the future, and its priorities. How many new partners did a firm make? How does the number of new partners this year compare to past years? In which practice areas did it make new partners? How many of the new partners are women or minorities?”

After the jump, we look at new partner news from ten top firms — perhaps you know some of these law firm superstars (and soon-to-be millionaires)? — and we invite you to discuss the new partners at your firm….

Welcome to the partnership.

Let’s look at the new partner classes at the top 10 most prestigious law firms, as ranked by our friends at Vault:

1. Wachtell Lipton: No new partners this year at the M&A powerhouse, but the firm is so small that partner class size can vary a lot from year to year (two new partners were elected in 2009, while six new partners were elected in 2008). We’ll have a better idea of how WLRK did this year after their bonuses are announced — which should happen any day now, since the holiday party is tonight, and bonuses are usually announced right before or right after the party. (Disclosure: I once worked at Wachtell.)

2. Cravath, Swaine & Moore: The firm that’s widely blamed for anemic associate bonuses also didn’t have a bumper crop of new partners this year. The title of the press release is a little sad: Cravath Announces New Partner. But congrats anyway to litigator Kevin Orsini, the lone new partner at CSM.

3. Sullivan & Cromwell: S&C announced a whopping eight (8!) new partners, up from five last year. Congratulations to:

Max P. Birke (Corporate), resident in the Frankfurt office;
Stephen Ehrenberg (Litigation), resident in the New York office;
C. Andrew Gerlach (Corporate), resident in the New York office;
Keiji Hatano (Corporate), resident in the Tokyo office;
Diane L. McGimsey (Litigation), resident in the Los Angeles office;
Brent J. McIntosh (Litigation), resident in the Washington, D.C. office;
Inosi M. Nyatta (Corporate), resident in the London office; and
Krishna Veeraraghavan (Corporate), resident in the New York office.

The group is quite diverse, geographically, ethnically, and professionally. The new partners are literally all over the map, from Tokyo to London and everywhere in between. A photo of the group would look like a Benetton ad. There are three litigators (up from zero last year).

There are two women — not as many as last year’s four (out of five), but still a goodly number. (The group also contains a member of the Elect, Diane McGimsey (OT 2003 / Thomas), and a law school classmate of mine, Brent McIntosh.)

4. Skadden: Unlike the foregoing firms, Skadden names its new partners in April. This year the firm made six (down slightly from last year’s eight). Congratulations to SASMF’s 2010 partner class:

Brian D. Christiansen — Banking/Regulatory — Washington, D.C.
J. Stephanie Nam — Financial Institutions — New York
P. Anthony Sammi — Patent Litigation — New York
Matthew E. Sloan — Litigation — Los Angeles
David M. Turetsky — Corporate Restructuring — New York
Brandon Van Dyke — Mergers and Acquisitions — New York

Mostly male (except for Nam), and white males at that (except for Sammi, who seems to be South Asian). But diverse in terms of practice areas and cities (to a certain extent; four of the six are from NYC).

5. Davis Polk: Like Skadden, Davis also conducts its partner process before the fourth quarter. The firm elected and announced its new partners back in July. Please give a round of applause — wearing white gloves, ’cause that’s how DPW rolls — to Robert Colby (Securities / D.C.), Elliot Moskowitz (Litigation / New York), Gregory Rowland (Investment Management / New York), and Christopher Schell (Capital Markets / New York, and once upon a time my partner in landlord-tenant clinic at YLS; we successfully tried a case together in Connecticut Superior Court).

6. Simpson Thacher: Simpson made an impressive seven new partners this year (up from last year’s six, also a healthy number). Kudos to the following (from the press release):

The new partners are: Elizabeth A. Cooper, Igor Fert, Melissa Hutson, Jonathan Karen, Noah M. Leibowitz, Alvaro Gomez de Membrillera and Erik Quarfordt.

Ms. Cooper, Mr. Fert, Ms. Hutson, Mr. Karen, Mr. Leibowitz and Mr. Quarfordt are based in the Firm’s New York office. Mr. Membrillera is based in the Firm’s London office.

STB seems to see its future on the transactional side. Five of the seven new partners are in the corporate department, and a sixth does real estate work for private equity firms. There’s just one litigator — Noah Leibowitz, an IP litigator who was promoted from senior counsel.

7. Weil Gotshal: Weil also picked seven new partners this year. Please join us in congratulating:

Joshua Amsel, New York – Securities Litigation
Jaclyn Cohen, New York – M&A/Private Equity
Danek Freeman, New York – Banking & Finance
Shayla Harlev, Boston – M&A/Private Equity
Michelle Hartmann, Dallas – Complex Commercial Litigation
David Herman, New York – Real Estate
Jaroslaw Kolkowski, Warsaw – Complex Commercial Litigation

Weil’s bankruptcy practice is legendary, but note the absence of bankruptcy partners in this group. Could this be a sign that things are looking up for the economy? Here’s to hoping.

8. Williams & Connolly: It seems the super-elite litigation firm makes its new partners known — publicly, at least — in January. Back in January 2010, the firm announced six new partners: Jessamyn Berniker, Kenneth Brown, Vidya Atre Mirmira, Richmond Moore, Edward Reddington, and Daniel Shanahan.

(If Williams & Connolly’s new partners for 2011 are already out, but just not posted publicly, please feel free to email us with the info.)

9. Cleary Gottlieb: The firm elected four new partners: Sam Bagot (M&A / London), Roger Cooper (litigation / New York), Mike Preston (M&A / Hong Kong), and Yulia Solomakhina (M&A / Russia).

If you’re getting the sense that Cleary has a keen interest in international M&A work and those much-touted high-stakes, cross-border transactions, we won’t disagree with you. Congratulations to this fabulous but far-flung foursome.

10. Covington & Burling: Covington elected six lawyers to partnership. Congrats to Tammy Albarrán (Litigation), Ben Block (Litigation), Sam Ernst (Litigation/Intellectual Property), Keir Gumbs (Corporate/Regulatory), Don Ridings (Litigation/International), and Gary Rubman (Litigation/Regulatory).

That’s a whole lot of litigators — which is nice to see, since transactional types seem to be dominating this year, at least among the ten firms surveyed above. Albarrán and Ernst are based out of San Francisco, while the other four work out of Covington’s D.C. power base. (Disclosure: Covington has done legal work for Above the Law / Breaking Media in the past.)


So there you have it: a quick survey of the new partner classes. Unlike last year, when firms seemed to be shrinking their new partner classes, this year the overall picture seems cautiously optimistic.

Of course, we offer the caveat that this survey has been anecdotal rather than rigorously statistical. We welcome additional information and opinion, as always; we have no problem with being proven wrong.

And this survey has focused on just ten firms. What did your firm do in terms of new partners this year? What practices areas are in the ascendancy, and which ones are on the outs? Are certain offices gaining in power? And what about the diversity of the new partner class?

Feel free to discuss in the comments — or if there’s some particularly juicy backstory about partner picking at your firm that would merit a freestanding story, please email us. Thanks!

P.S. We hope that you appreciated the generally positive nature of this post. We’re happy to be cheerleaders and to offer congratulations — e.g., to new partners, Skadden Fellows, Bristow Fellows, DOJ Honors Program hires, and Supreme Court clerks (hiring update forthcoming).

And we’re happy to give props and praise — e.g., to Maryland Law, Susman Godfrey, and Cahill — provided that such praise has been earned. We call it like it is here at Above the Law.

Earlier: New Partner Watch: No Partnership for You!

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