Greenberg Glusker tries out associate practice chair position

By Ameera Butt
Daily Journal Staff Writer

When Kenneth D. Basin’s supervisors at Greenberg Glusker Fields Claman & Machtinger LLP gave him a load of new responsibilities last week, they also handed the fifth-year associate a new title – associate chair of the firm’s entertainment group.

The firm is one of a growing number beginning to thrust associates into bigger leadership roles to give them more responsibility and authority and to help retain young talent in an era of frequent departures and law firm shuffling. Others, including Latham & Watkins LLP, are giving associates more say about promotion, compensation and other decisions. Such moves also help groom associates for future higher leadership positions at firms, according to legal observers.

Stephen Smith, who became managing partner of Los Angeles-based Greenberg Glusker a year and a half ago, said he came up with the idea for Basin’s position about two years ago, but it didn’t come to fruition because the firm brought in a new practice group in the corporate department.

“When Matt Galsor was elevated to chair of [the] entertainment department, we had a discussion about Ken, and we both thought it was a brilliant idea to have Ken basically be the co-practice group leader,” Smith said. “The idea is for Ken to do everything Matt does and shadow Matt and help Matt run the department.

Smith added, “Why shouldn’t we give associates training or hands-on responsibility that we think have an aptitude for it in their firm? But we can and have identified that aptitude in Ken. He could be me someday at this firm.

Galsor said he and Basin will share a lot of responsibilities, including running the department and interacting with other sections of the firm.

“He will have a lot of management-type responsibilities. It’s not just a title. He’ll have a lot of input on areas to grow and business to develop, Galsor said.

Basin, a transactional attorney, represents actors, directors and producers in their dealings with studios, networks and production companies. He is also editor-in-chief of Greenberg Glusker’s “Law Law Land” blog.

“For me this is just kind of the latest manifestation of what the firm’s strengths [have] been, which is showing commitment to younger associates generally and to me personally,” Basin said. “I think this is a way they strongly send a message [saying], ‘Thank you for being here for your entire career so far.'” Courtney A. Goldstein, a partner at legal recruiting firm Major, Lindsey & Africa, said Basin’s promotion was the first time she’d heard a law firm give an associate such a title. She expects other firms to follow suit.

“I think it makes a lot of sense in terms of investing and adding a value proposition so the attorneys feel like they’re being properly leveraged and supported by their mentors,” she said. “It definitely has more to do with a role in responsibility and an opportunity to gain managerial and delegation skills as you progress towards partnership.

Goldstein said many firms historically have given associates tastes of leadership, including letting them have a say in summer associate programs or hiring. Such efforts increase the chance they’ll want to stick around, she said.

“I think it plays a factor because there’s a natural attrition … [in a] large, small or boutique [firm], Goldstein said. “I applaud partners and management committees who take talented young attorneys who they can invest in.

Barbara Levenson, a recruiter with Levenson Schweitzer Inc., said such opportunities present unique advantages for associates.

“These types of positions certainly offer an opportunity for somebody who is very committed at a younger stage to make that known,” Levenson said. “There are other people who want this but aren’t getting chosen.

Latham & Watkins is among other firms that offer associates leadership positions in certain committees. The firm has an “associates committee comprised of 50 partners and associates.

“They have a number of management functions, said Frank Pizzurro, spokesman for the firm. “For example, they make recommendations for promotions to partner from the associate ranks.

They make certain recommendations about compensation and bonuses.

Sanford “Sandy” Lechtick, founder of legal search firm Esquire Inc., said senior lawyers and executives generally find it difficult to either promote their replacement, which may dislodge them, or give up power.

“The gray hairs look to promote those who might perhaps take over their position. A lot of top firms have really been a bit late to the parade to promote their up and comers,” he said. “The converse is that the firms that are doing really well are a bit more proactive in promoting up and comers and in having some of the senior partners step aside.

Lechtick said Greenberg Glusker’s associate promotions are a “combination of evolution and survival.” For years, he said, the firm been known for the prowess of big-name partners such as entertainment heavyweight Bert Fields.

“When you think of Greenberg Glusker, it’s almost always, ‘Oh, isn’t that Bert Fields’ firm?'” Lechtick said.

“As they like to say, guys like Bert aren’t getting any younger and they’re just an example of a firm that recognizes that in order to survive and prosper and grow, you need to be nimble,” he added. “And that means not just bringing in new blood, but dividing up the power and giving others an opportunity to grow their books.

Greenberg Glusker spokesman Jonathan Fitzgarrald said the firm has been working on a succession plan for a decade in which it has placed non-senior lawyers in practice leader positions.

“You look at all of our departments … and you see it’s not the most senior of attorneys as practice group chair,” he said. “We want to mentor those practice group chairs while the seniors are still around.

As for Basin, Fizgarrald said, he’s not only “taking on administrative abilities within the department, but the title change is giving him recognition of the work he’s doing.

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