Carrie Heller, president of legal recruitment firm the Heller Group, says associates at firms of all sizes are feeling the pressure to bring money into the firm. “Most firms, even larger ones, are zoning in on the ability to generate business earlier and earlier,” she says. “Maybe not in the first year, but certainly by the fifth year, they’re trying to teach mid-level associates how to market themselves and think about what they have to do to be viewed as someone who can generate business.”

According to our survey, the only people causing managing partners as much grief in the compensation department as their associates are their co-owners. “Partner inequities” and “partner percentages” were common headaches cited by respondents. Heller says the profit allocation problem has been around as long as there have been law firms. “I’ve been hearing that forever, and I think always will,” she says. “In good times when everyone is making money, it’s less of an issue. Even then, you might think you deserve a bit more of the pie. In bad times, you become very aware of what everyone else is making.”

Luckily, this year was a good one for most partners according to the survey, with 51 per cent of firms reporting an increase in partners’ earnings in the last year. However, reminders of the delicacy of the market recovery are never too far away. Around nine per cent of firms de-equitized partners in the last year, while the Heenan Blaikie LLP collapse (read more in this month’s cover story) is fresh in everyone’s minds. “That really hit home for so many people. A lot of people have taken a step back, and had a good look at their own firms. There’s a recognition that if it could happen to such a well-regarded and well-established firm, it could happen to anyone,” says Heller.

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