IzziesGal wrote:This is not true at all. I worked in the V15 for two years before law school on the business side, and "of counsel" was the firm's consolation prize for not making partner. Whenever someone was promoted to "of counsel," everyone knew what it meant - they would either stay as "of counsel" forever, or leave and hopefully get promoted to partner at another firm. This was industry standard, at least in 2007-2009 in NY among the top firms. It's typically a kiss of death if you have partner track dreams. You're too good to remain an associate for 8 years, but not good enough to make millions as a partner.
Your limited experience at a V15 is not indicative of what is considered "common."
1. Wachtell: 18 "of counsel" (almost all former partners)
2. Cravath: 1 "of counsel"; 2 "special counsel"; 9 "senior counsel" (all former partners)
3. Skadden: 37 "of counsel" (several are former partners, some are not, for some it's unclear)
4. Sul Crom: 23 "of counsel" (most, if not all, of whom are former partners)
5. Davis Polk: 0 "of counsel"; 1 "general counsel" (former partner); 39 "senior counsel" (no info re: former partnership)
You can go through the rest of the "V15" if you want, the results will be similar. As other posters made clear, every firm is different and the term "of counsel
" (or at some firms "special counsel") is often but certainly not always used to refer to former partners who advise and handle matters on behalf of the firm. tl;dr version:
Check you ABA definition of "of counsel":
ABA Formal Op. 90-357 wrote:(1) the "part-time practitioner, who practices law in association with a firm, but on basis different from that of the mainstream lawyers in the firm"; (2) a retired partner of the firm who is available for consultation; (3) a lawyer, usually a lateral hire, brought into the firm with the expectation that the lawyer will shortly become a partner; and (4) a lawyer who occupies a permanent senior position in the firm with no expectation of becoming a partner.
Is it the only definition? No. Is it "common"? Yes.