Depending on the size and complexity of a firm, the number of attorneys, their titles and their roles may vary. In addition to attorneys with different roles, there can be anywhere from a few to many different positions in a law firm. With the exception of one person law firms, law firms also employ non-lawyer executives and staff. The number of support staff a law firm employs will also be dependant on the size and complexity of the firm.
Attorney Titles and Roles
Depending on the size of a law firm, there can be one or more attorney that can take on the following roles, in order of hierarchy:
Senior Partner or Managing Partner
A senior or managing partner is the highest level in law firm hierarchy. They are often founding members or senior level lawyers. A lawyer in this role manages the day-to-day operations of the firm. They often head an executive committee that helps to establish and guide the firm’s strategic vision.
A partner is an attorney that is a joint owner and operator of the law firm. They are also called shareholders. There are different structures and types of law firm partnerships. The more common ones include but are not limited to:
– Sole proprietorships, firms with only one attorney
– General partnerships
– Limited liability companies (LLC)
– Limited liability partnerships (LLP)
– Professional associations
Most law firms are structured as two-tiered partnerships with equity and non-equity. Equity partners have an ownership in their firm and when the firm makes more money, so do they. Non-equity partners may have limited voting rights in matters of the firm but are generally paid a fixed salary rather than their salary being partially determined by the profit the law firm makes. Non-equity partners may be promoted to full equity status but they are frequently required to make a capital contribution or buy-in to become a full equity partner.
An associate is an attorney at a law firm that has the possibility of being junior and senior associates, depending on their merit and experience level.
An of counsel attorney is not an employee of a firm but rather, they are an independent contractor for the firm. Some law firms use the terms, counsel, special counsel, or senior counsel, to mean the same thing as of counsel. They are typically, experienced and seasoned, senior attorneys who have extensive experience in a particular area of law. Sometimes they are semi-retired attorneys who used to be partners at the firm they are now an of counsel attorney for. Other of counsel attorneys are hired to supplement the firm’s knowledge base. Most of counsel attorneys work on a part-time basis for a firm and mange their own cases, associates and staff.
Most law firms have at least one, if not many, support staff. Depending on the size and focus of a firm, a law firm may employ secretaries, administrative and executive assistants, receptionists, and paralegals, to name just a few of the support staff that help a law firm run smoothly.
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