an icecream on the floor to symbolise mistakes made in the partnership admissions process

“Why haven’t I made partner yet?” “What made my colleague get partner over me?” “Why can’t I seem to make it through the partnership admissions process?”

These three questions are ones that I hear time and time again from lawyers, accountants, and consultants who don’t make it through the partnership admissions process. While it’s true that making partner isn’t easy and only one person can be successful in that pursuit, a lot of the time, professionals don’t make it very far through the admissions process because of mistakes that they are making. Mistakes which can be completely avoided. To help you not be one of those individuals, here are the top 7 mistakes that candidates make (avoid them at all costs!).

By the way, this article comes from a fragment of our Acing the Partnership Admissions Process Virtual Masterclass. If you want to listen to the whole masterclass, join Progress to Partner for just $1 and get access to the full recording.

If you listen to the whole of the virtual masterclass you will learn:

  • The impact that COVID-19 has had on partnership numbers.
  • 6 common mistakes people make on the partnership admissions process.
  • 6 common elements of the partnership admissions process and how to pass each element.
  • What your partners are really looking for in their future partners.
  • How to get noticed for the right reasons and get put on the long list for partner track.
  • How to create the time to be at your best as you go through the partnership admissions process.

Avoid these mistakes in the partnership admissions process

An annoyed emoji to represent having the wrong attitude in the partnership admissions process1. Going in with an ‘I’ve done a good job up to now, will you please make me a partner’ attitude

One of the most common mistakes that partner candidates make is having the wrong attitude. While your billable hours might be great or you’ve been a senior associate or a legal director for so many years, these are not part of the checklist your partners will have to see if you are ready for partnership. If you’re serious about making partner, you need to be hitting your billable time targets AND doing much, much more than just being a high performing director or senior manager.

Going into the admissions process with the attitude that it is ‘your turn’ will be very damaging for you. It just demonstrates to the partners that you are not acting or thinking like a partner and, therefore, you’re not ready for partnership. You need to have much more than this – primarily a business case that shows how you are going to make the partners more profit than you do now – because that’s what they are looking for.

Note to Progress to Partner members: find out what it is that you want and exactly how to create a career plan in our ‘How to truly commit to moving your career forward’ workbook.’ If you’re not already a member, you can join now for just 1$.

a skeleton thinking to represent not thinking like a partner as a mistake made in the partnership admissions process2. Not thinking like a partner

Mistake number two that candidates make is not actually thinking like a partner. Sounds vague, I know, but bear with me. 

Ever heard of the common piece of advice “dress for the job you want?” It’s kind of like this. If you want to become partner, you have to start thinking and acting like one BEFORE you get the role. There is no better way to show the partners that you’re ready and capable, and that you would be an excellent choice for one of their peers.

So how do you make this mindset shift? As an employee, you spend your days prioritising hitting your billing targets. For example, as a senior manager, senior associate or legal director, your job is to maximise income from your current clients and that’s your prime focus. What the partners want to see is you going beyond your current client portfolio (that you may have even been given to work on) and going out to win new work.

Winning business is crucial to demonstrate that you’re ready for partnership so stop thinking like an employee and start thinking like a business owner. If you make this shift from thinking about ‘I‘ to thinking about ‘we,‘ you will really stand out to the partners.


a man with a magnifying glass to represent doing your research for the partnership admissions process3. Not being commercial enough

It’s great that you think that there’s a market out there, but what’s your proof for it? Where’s your evidence? You may be able to exude confidence throughout the admissions process, but when you don’t have the research to back up what you’re saying, that’s a big mistake that will cost you.

Don’t ever forget that the partners are always doing their due diligence on you, so do your research! Look at the firm strategy and think commercially about what is going to help you get there. Show them that you can create a business plan and you’ll have every one of the partners’ attention.

Note to Progress to Partner members: if you need help with ‘Creating your cast-iron business case for partnership,’ work your way through the steps in the on demand course ‘How to create a cast-iron business case for partnership’. If you’re not a member and you’re wondering “where on earth do I start?” you can get access by joining now for just 1$.

a runner stretching to represent not preparing for the partnership admissions process4. Not preparing enough for each stage

We all have busy day jobs and we’ve all been guilty of pushing things back, but you can’t do this if you want to be successful in making partner. You can’t work on your career a bit later or prep for the next partnership panel interview the night before, you need to prioritise what you need to do to get through the admissions process.

It’s tempting to put things like business development off, especially when you’re tired, but these aren’t things that can be done in an evening. You need to preparing for each stage ahead of time and creating new daily habits to get this prep work done!

You wouldn’t run a marathon without training (a lot) beforehand so don’t take on the admissions process unprepared. I can tell you now, you will not be successful. 


a pocket watch to symbolise not starting early enough to prepare for the partnership process5. Not starting early enough

A classic and extremely common mistake that partner candidates make is not starting early enough. It’s easily done when you have what you perceive to be a lot of time ahead of you. If you want to make partner, however, you need to start winning business and building your business and personal cases as soon as you possibly can.

An example of where candidates make this mistake is with their business case. So many times I’ve heard things like, “I’ll write my business case this weekend.” Then I’ve seen mouths drop open when I say, “a good business case needs to be forged over a 3-year period.“A business case is not a simple form that you just jot down, that’s just documenting it. A true business case demonstrates how you can grow a practice within a practice which will grow the profits of the firm.

Growing a partner-sized portfolio is impossible to ‘do over the weekend’ so the sooner you can start off the starting blocks, the better.


question marks on trees to represent interview questions in the admissions process6. Not anticipating the interview questions

Just like with job interviews, in the partnership panel interview, some of the same questions will come up every time. They may not be exactly the same but they’ll follow a common theme so this means you can prepare for them. 

If you write a list of these recurring themes, you can anticipate some of the questions they will ask. What you can do then is craft the perfect answer and practice it over and over. The more you prepare and refine your answers, the much better you will perform in the interview. 

It’s surprising how many candidates don’t prepare for these common questions. What’s not surprising, is that it results in them not making it through to the next stage of the partnership admissions process. 


numbers to symbolise candidates not remembering their numbers in the admissions process7. Not knowing their numbers well enough

This one still baffles me, but it’s a mistake that some candidates make nonetheless. 

Maybe it’s due to lack of preparation or maybe it’s due to not thinking commercially, but some candidates do not know their numbers. It might be mad for some to comprehend but I have seen it. I have been in the interview with a candidate and the managing partner when this has happened and it’s a death sentence. 

To give you an example, if you’re a Big 4 senior manager trying to jump to a mid-tier firm as a direct admitted partner, you’re going to need to know your numbers. One of the questions they will ask will be about how you can guarantee that your book of business will follow you over. Of course, no one can guarantee that your clients will come over, but what you can do is give them the probability. Forensically go through your clients and see what you have a covenant on, what is likely to come across and what isn’t. That way, you can show them your client portfolio, who you think is likely to come over and what that means in terms of numbers.

In this scenario and most others, numbers mean everything!

Don’t fall at the admissions process hurdle

So many mistakes are made during the partnership admissions process that could have been avoided altogether. Don’t be one of those people who fall at this hurdle. Start thinking and acting like a partner as early as possible and prepare for each stage in plenty of time. If you do this (and avoid these 7 mistakes), you’ll be over that final hurdle that is between you and making partner. 

For more on Acing the Partnership Admissions Process:

Join our Progress To Partner membership site for $1. The whole of the recording is in the membership site.

If you listen to the whole of the virtual masterclass you will learn:

  1. An understanding of the impact of COVID-19 on partnership numbers and how to raise your game to make it to partner in the next few years.
  2. The 6 common mistakes people make on the partnership admissions process and why these often scupper their chances of making partner.
  3. The 6 common elements of the partnership admissions process, and what you need to personally do to pass each element (and how this differs between the Big 4 firms, law firms and mid-tier firms).
  4. What your partners are really looking for in their future partners (Hint: it’s nothing to do with your chargeable time figures).
  5. How to get noticed for the right reasons and get put on the long list for partner track.
  6. How to create the time to be at your best as you go through the partnership admissions process (and also take the heavy lifting out of preparing for each step of the process).


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