Many Big 4 firms and law firms expect their senior managers, directors, senior associates and legal directors to take on extra responsibilities at work. These are normally non-chargeable responsibilities which will take you away from the day job. The reality is that it is not optional to take on these responsibilities. However, these extra responsibilities at work WILL suck up your time if you are not careful. Time which you need to hit your numbers and win work in order to prove you are ready for partnership. Based on a conversation with a newly promoted director in a Big 4 firm, this article explores how to decide which responsibilities to take on, and which to neatly sidestep.

Being a good corporate citizen

Your partners are looking for people who will pull their weight when they get to partner. They (normally) don’t want to make people up to partnership level who are likely to be loners or who just focus on their own business at the expense of the partnership as a whole. This means that many firms place great weight on future partners taking on additional responsibilities in addition to their day job and going out and winning work. This could be anything from heading up a sector team, being a counselling manager, volunteering to support the firm’s graduate recruitment efforts through to participating and leading on an area of thought leadership for the firm. 

The problem is that if you take on too many of these types of responsibilities you will have no time left for the day job or implementing your business case for partnership. The real challenge is how to decide on which ones to take on and which ones to avoid? After all, there are often some really poisoned chalices that you could unwittingly take on!

Start by knowing what YOU are trying to achieve.

The first question to ask yourself when requested to help or join something is to compare it against what you are personally trying to achieve. For example, if you are trying to win business by selling tax services to lawyers, any piece of thought leadership on the legal sector is going to be good for you to participate in. Whereas, you always have to question the wisdom of volunteering to help with graduate recruitment!

Extra responsibilities at work: Identify whether this is a request or an order

Not every request, even if this is dressed up as a request, is actually a request. It often is an order or an order dressed up nicely as a non-negotiable. In this scenario you typically have very little leeway but to accept the responsibility. Failure to accept this responsibility could be a career limiting move. However, remember that even if you accept this responsibility you don’t actually have to personally do the work involved. You can normally delegate some of the responsibility to others.