How to pick yourself up if you are unsuccessful in the partnership admissions vote

Firstly, if you are reading this article because you have just been told you are not going to make partner this time around, I feel for you. Even if you almost expected it, I am guessing that you are probably feeling a bit raw now. In this article, I explore how to pick yourself up and get back in the game after this knockback to your career.

‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’

I know it’s a cliché, but it’s really true that ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,’ Having knockbacks is all part of the hurly-burly of being in the professions. The more resilient you can get to the ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,’ the more successful you will become.

If it makes you feel any better, it is not unusual for people not to make partner first time around. Your firm may not be able to make up every strong candidate for partnership at this time. Or, as many firms do – particularly the Big 4 – you may have been put on the process to ‘blood’ you –  to help you prepare properly for the next time round.  So now is not the time to throw in the towel. Now is the time to:

  • Examine your feelings on getting turned down. Are you devastated, ambivalent, or secretly relieved? Find the reason behind that feeling and use that to decide the next step for your career.
  • Get formal and informal feedback from both your sponsoring partner and your mentor. What do they believe were the weaknesses in your personal and business cases?
  • Book some time with your mentor to help you re-centre yourself.
  • Keep your head up high and behave with dignity. You definitely want to keep doors open for another attempt next year.

Stop and pause

It can be tempting to immediately move into action mode and plan your next assault on partnership.  Stop for a moment! I suggest you consciously press pause. After all, your emotions have been on a roller coaster for the last few months and possibly the last few years. Now is not the time to take an irreversible decision, driven by an out-of-control emotion. Reflect on the feedback you have received and your reactions to not getting through the vote. Get soundings from your support team  on what they think you should do next. You still have many options available to you, e.g.

  • Go for partnership next time around.
  • Look to make partnership in a different firm (see how to make partner in a different law firm).
  • Stay as a director, senior associate or senior manager and forget your partnership ambitions for the short and medium term.
  • Go into industry.
  • Consider a career change.

When you have had this ‘time out’ and your head is in the right place again, then you can reset your goals and start the planning process again.

In summary

Getting a no at the partnership admissions vote is not the end of your career. What it does signify is your business and personal case for partnership is not strong enough at the moment.  Take time to consider if the no is a blessing – is it right for you?  If you come to the conclusion that partnership is still your goal, then you need to put in the work to improve your business and personal case for partnership.

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