Titles at Law Firms

Different lawyers at different kinds of firms will take different amounts of time to make partner at a law firm. A lawyer who starts their own law firm directly out of law school will likely be a partner in it from the get go, whereas for many lawyers, it will take them anywhere from 4-20 years of working at one firm to make partner, and some lawyers never make it to the level of partner. As well, there are different kinds of partners at different kinds of firms

Law Firm Titles

Law firms usually use titles that denote a lawyer’s particular position in the firm’s hierarchy of lawyers. While different law firms use different terminology and differ in the number of positions their firms employ, the following is a general overview of the terminology that firms often use to denote a lawyer’s level:

Summer Associate

Summer associates are often referred to as law clerks or summer clerks. These positions can be well-paid or unpaid. Law firms use these positions as a tool to help them find talented new lawyers with lots of potential.


An associate is the lowest level of lawyer at a law firm. They usually have 0 – 4 years of experience. Sometimes lawyers in this role are called junior associates.

Senior Associate

Many firms note when an associate has been at their firm for a more than a certain amount of time but before they get out of the associate attorney role altogether. Some law firms use different titles for lawyers at this level such as, principal associate or managing associate.


The types and structures of law firm partnerships can vary but lawyers who make it to partner are usually either equity partners or non-equity partners. Equity partners have an ownership stake in their firm and they share in its profits. Non-equity partners may be vested with limited voting rights in the firm but they are generally paid a fixed salary regardless of how well the firm does. Non-equity partners are often promoted to equity partner. Equity partners may also be referred to as shareholders. Some of the more common kinds of partnerships include sole proprietorships (firms with only one attorney), general partnerships, limited liability companies (LLCs), professional associations, and limited liability Partnerships (LLPs).

Of Counsel, Counsel or Special Counsel

Of counsel attorneys, often called counsel or special counsel, are not employees of a firm. They are independent contractors and even though they may do a significant amount of independent contract work so that it appears that they work at the firm, they are not actual employees. Lawyers in these roles are usually very experienced and have strong reputations in their field and in the legal community at large. They are often semi-retired lawyers who used to be partners whereas others are hired as needed to augment the knowledge base of the firm.

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