Probably the biggest mistake that any potential partner makes is to consider the partnership admission process as a long drawn out job interview or panel for promotion. This article shines a light onto what the partnership admissions process actually is trying to achieve, and therefore, what the partners involved in the partnership admissions process will actually be thinking. Remember that a partnership is a complex environment. Who you know, who you influence, what reputation you have and how you are perceived is key to your success in a partnership. This holds true whether you are a junior entrant to the firm or a senior partner within the firm. At the partnership level, this is probably more important that at any other point of your career within the firm. Consequently, these politics and emotions will play their part in how you are assessed as you go through the partnership admissions process.

What is the partnership admission process trying to achieve?

The process is not a job interview, or a promotion panel. It is actually a process by which the partners in your firm decide who is the best candidate to be trusted with the leadership and commercial responsibilities of becoming a business owner. As someone who owns a business giving someone else equity in your business is something which you don’t take lightly or without a good deal of thought. After all you want to make sure that anyone who owns equity in your business is:

  • committed to the long term vision and goals of the business
  • a positive influence on the other equity holders within the business
  • puts the interests of the business above any personal agendas or personal short term objectives
  • strengthening the decision making ability of the practice area’s leadership team
  • going to help the partnership be greater than the sum of its parts
  • thinks collegiately
  • going to be around for the long term
  • prepared to invest in leaving a legacy within the business
  • helps the partnership become more robust and sustainable
  • more than pulls their weight commercially – i.e. increases the size of the pie for the rest of the partnership

Consequently, these factors will influence the partners decision about whether to admit you to the partnership. As I mentioned in last week’s post, your business case for partnership is as much about your personal case as it is your business case. In chapter 20 of How to make partner and still have a life, we look in detail at the partnership admissions process.

Their reputation is on the line

If you are a member of the partnership committee entrusted with deciding which candidates for partnership are put through to the partnership vote, your own reputation is on the line. The last thing that you want to personally do is recommend someone for partnership who then either:

  • doesn’t get through the partnership vote
  • fails to achieve their business case
  • becomes a nightmare to work with around the partnership table
  • leaves within a few years of being admitted to the partnership

If your reputation or ‘standing’ within the partnership is potentially at risk, you will be considering all the potential reasons why you shouldn’t admit this person to partnership. For example:

  • can I work with them personally? or will other highly influential partners work with them well?
  • would I be comfortable letting them know all the inner secrets of the partnership?
  • can they be trusted to know the dirty laundry of the partnership?
  • will these influential partners back them in a vote?

In summary:

When you are considering your business and personal case, do spend time thinking about potential objections your partners may have to you being admitted to the partnership. The sooner you think about these, the more time you have to build trust and influence within the partnership to help you get nominated and through the vote for partnership.

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