What Are The Different Positions in a Law Firm?

Positions in a Law Firm

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.  

Partner

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.

Associate

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. 

Of Counsel

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.

Non-Attorney Roles

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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An Overview of Law Careers

Whether you’re just curious or want to the best service for your legal needs, understanding how law firms are structured can be very useful. What are the different positions in a law firm? Common roles are paralegal, Of Counsel, Associate, Partner and Managing Partner.

Paralegal

Paralegal’s don’t have a law degree, but they play an integral role in an organization. They interview clients, complete paperwork and perform secretarial duties. They must have great attention to detail since many of their tasks relate to law cases and excellent multi-tasking abilities to stay organized.

Of Counsel

If attorneys have a good reputation in the community and an esteemed track record, they might offer their services at an “of counsel” basis. These attorneys are independent contractors that work to support a firm’s clients or offer knowledge and advice to the employees of a firm. They often have full control of their cases and work part time. Semi-retired, former partners of a firm make excellent Of Counsel attorneys.

Associate

Associates are often divided into junior and senior levels depending on their experience. They practice law for a firm and often specialize in one area such as criminal defense, bankruptcy, personal injury or immigration. An associate typically works between six and nine years before climbing the ranks to partner.

Partner

Law firm partners partially own and operate a law firm. They commonly partake in a sole proprietorship, which is a firm with one lawyer, general partnership, limited liability companies (LLC’s), professional associations and limited liability partnerships (LLP’s).

Partners have a lot of responsibility to ensure a law firm functions properly. However, they also have the opportunity to make a large income. An equity partner takes a share of a law firm’s profits, while non-equity partners have a salary as well as voting rights for important decisions. Most non-equity partners are promoted to equity partners after a few years after making a capital contribution or buy-in.

Managing Partner

A managing partner is at the top of the hierarchy. Most managing partners are founders of a firm and are heavily invested in its day-to-day operations. They can lead an executive committee comprised of senior partners and manage the employees of their firm. They are also responsible for formulating a strategic vision for their organization.

Whether at the top or the bottom, every role in a law firm is important. Each position provides a service to clients in need and has the potential to be a fulfilling career.