Law school may train you to research, write, analyse and think like a lawyer, but it doesn’t prepare you in any way for making partner at a firm. What it takes to become partner is learnt on the job working in a corporate law firm for many years. For this reason, this blog outlines exactly what it takes to get on the partnership track at law firms so you can have partner in your line of sight from the very beginning.
Everything you need to know about the partnership track at law firms
So you’ve left law school and you’re working as an associate at a big law firm hoping to move up the ranks. You’ll soon hear all about what it takes to make partner, mainly:
- Hard work
- The ability to perform very high-quality legal work
- Commitment to the firm
- Expertise in a certain area
- The ability to generate strong relationships with existing and potential clients.
It can be really tempting to believe that this is all that it takes to make partner at your law firm, but you will soon notice that others may progress faster than you up the ranks. Why? Because they have caught on to what the most important factors to making partner actually are, and they have been doing them for years.
The most important things you need to do to get on the partnership track at law firms
There is a lot more to the partnership track than what associates already know but not everything can be learnt by observation and hard work. To make sure that you get on and actually progress through the partnership track at law firms, you need to:
Become a business asset of the firm
As a junior associate, it can be really easy to get caught up in working very hard to hone your technical skills. Yes, these are important and are essential to building a solid foundation for your reputation, but it is actually what you do for the firm beyond these matters given to you that will get you noticed. Law firms are looking at your ability to generate business for the firm, whether your relationships with your clients are profitable, if you are an asset to them, whether you take advantage of business development opportunities or if you create your own. All of these things will get your name out there and you will soon become a ‘go to’ individual who delivers value to the firm; this is what it takes to become a business asset of the firm.
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Understand law firm economics
Most associates know that they have to work hard, put in the time and be committed, but while this will get you noticed, it won’t necessarily get you to partner. It’s how these translate quantitatively that matter, so if you can understand that and how this influences the decision on who makes partner, you can start working smart. To get on the partnership track at law firms, partners will be looking at your billable hours, productivity, the number of clients the practitioner works with, and the profitability of matters being worked on. So, yes, working hard and billing good quality hours is important, but it is the productiveness and profitability as well as generating new business that will make you stand out.
Have a partner personality
This may sound strange, but one of the things you need to get on the partnership track at law firms (which they don’t tell you in law school) is a ‘partner personality.’ The right personality is key in partnership decisions because partners are in the firm for the long haul, they represent the firm, and they need to work well with all colleagues and clients. The personality that partners are looking for from candidates is people who take initiative, are outgoing and team players, exceed at building relationships, and who are open to new opportunities and experiences. They need to know that you will do well on the partnership track and they need to like what you stand for and the work that you do.
Be able to sell yourself
As an associate, you soon find out that winning new clients and expanding your book of business is crucial for making partner, but what you don’t know is that you have to sell yourself every single day in order to do that. If you treat every day like a sales transaction, you won’t go far wrong. Partners are looking for people who show them why they should be made partner, people who sell their skills and strengths and treat everyone as an important client. If a law firm sees an associate selling themselves to every client they come in contact with and every opposing attorney or client of an opposing attorney, they can see you making contacts, making leads and referrals that could lead to business in the future. That is vital for making partnership.
Be prepared to make partner from the get-go
While practitioners may feel prepared to practice law when they graduate from law school, the actual learning and preparation for getting on the partner track happen on the job. To stay ahead of the game and secure your place on that track, make sure you understand the law firm economics, exhibit partner personality traits, and demonstrate the talent to sell yourself, making yourself a business asset of the firm. These are the actual most important factors in making partner.