Cost of making partner

Do you really want to make partner? Making partner is the ultimate career milestone that many employees at law firms and investment banks strive for, but it’s not as lavish as it seems. To show you both sides of the golden coin, here is the true cost of making partner.

What ‘making partner’ meant 20 years ago…

“I just made partner” were music to the ears of many early-career employees 20 years ago, as the benefits of making partner were clear: being a partner meant a pay increase and greater responsibilities as they were one of few shareholders in the company or firm. In short, making partner was a golden ticket; the pinnacle of a law career. With the title came a certain status as well as the numerous benefits that made all the hard work worthwhile. 

The cost of making partner today

Over the past couple of decades, financial and legal firms have expanded, merged, and globalised; the model of having a firm with a small group of owners who held equity stakes has been breaking down, and then the recession hit meaning firms had less money to give to people.  Fast forward to today and each law firm has started to define their own internal hierarchy as they know that they can’t have too many equity partners if they want to survive.  So what does this mean in terms of making partner?  While the term “partner” still holds sway and status, actually making partner doesn’t offer nearly as many benefits as it did previously. What, exactly, making partner means is different for every company or firm and making an equity partner feels almost near impossible.(Find out why the average age to make partner has increased to 40?)

Reasons why making partner is not that great

Making partner is still a milestone for many rising through the ranks in the law industry, mostly due to reasons of tradition and pay, but this road is a long and demanding one. To show you the true cost of making partner today, here are some reasons why making partner may not be all it’s cracked up to be.

  1. Your life can get consumed by your work – many assume that the pressure of making partner will dissipate once they’ve made it but the reality is actually the opposite. Having to continually develop new business, build and maintain client relationships, deal with managerial responsibilities, and much more, involves a lot of pressure and a lot of your time. Not having a “punch card” can eat into your personal and social life substantially.(Find out how regularly ‘feeding your soul’ is so important to making partner)
  2. You may not earn as much as you’d think (especially not right away) – not only could you find yourself committing even greater amounts of your life to the cause, but you might also find your financial commitments increasing as well. The burden of equity buy-ins and capital contributions can be too much for some, especially if it ends up being years before you start seeing the rewards from your investments. Then there’s the reality of being a ‘non-equity partner.’ Many describe themselves as “glorified associates” as they are paid a set salary like any other attorney at the firm, they are not entitled to share the profits of the firm, and some can’t even participate in management decisions. 
  3. The immense amount of energy it takes may result in you burning out – many know that making partner will be challenging but nothing can prepare you for the long hours, the physical exhaustion, and the mental energy it takes to compete day in and day out while you sacrifice your personal life and time with your loved ones. Days, months, and years of intense stress can lead even the toughest candidates to burn out on the partnership track.

Be sure that this is what you want

Not all partners are created equal, so when deciding whether the partnership track is for you, find out how much money you will earn as a partner and exactly what the terms of the partnership agreement will be. The cost of making partner is high – financially, physically, and mentally – so be sure that the title is worth it to you.  Read: Making partner or not, the pros and cons

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