You have worked hard getting through law school, finding a job and now putting in the hours at your law firm. But what about partnership? How do you get there? Here are five tips that will help:
1. Know the criteria.
If you don’t know what is expected how can you possibly achieve the goal of partnership? Knowledge is power. It is important to know what the firm expects by way of hours, marketing efforts, pro bono investment, bar activities, etc. It is also important to know the practice area specific requirements. For example, in litigation how many hearings, trials, depositions, motion and briefs are expected.
If you’re in a large firm this information may be fairly easily obtainable. There may be a written document that outlines the firm’s expectations for partnership. However, do not assume that fulfilling those requirements will necessarily result in a partnership offer. Overachievement is wise. And, competition with other associates needs to be considered. In smaller firms the criteria may be more subjective. However, there are still certain expectations, perhaps unspoken, the partners have and that must be met before a partnership offer is extended.
The best way to determine the firm’s criteria is to ask. If you have a mentor partner, ask him. Ask other people in your practice group. Especially valuable could be new partners who have gone through the process recently. Don’t overlook partners who have left the firm.
2. Make a plan.
It is important to have a plan in place. A written plan. The form is not important. It can be a spreadsheet, Word table, project management software or via an online task management website. The plan needs to include a list of the criteria the firm expects you to meet or, better, what you plan to accomplish. Create a set of action steps designed to meet each criterion and a timeline designed to have all action steps completed and each goal accomplished at least several months before partnership consideration. Be conservative, things happen; litigation settles, depositions are rescheduled, legal articles are not published when expected. Start early.
Business is the lifeblood of a law firm. It is important to learn how to market, market consistently and keep the firm appraised of your efforts to bring in new business. I have only worked with one associate who was with a firm that did not want their attorneys to bring in new business. That was due to the size of the law firm, the practice area and their blue chip client list. They didn’t want to run the risk of conflicts. Rest assured, your firm want’s you to bring in business. It can be a large part of the partnership decision. As an associate, you should begin your marketing efforts as soon as possible after joining the firm.
4. Play Politics.
Becoming partner is about more than how good an attorney you are, how many cases you have tried, your billable hours, articles written, pro bono, etc. . It is also about personal relationships and “likability.” In your partnership plan it is important to know who decides who becomes a partner. Is it one partner who leads the effort or is it a partnership committee? Who is on the committee? You need to know everyone who is involved in making the decision. If one of the decision makers is in a branch office, find a reason to visit the office and while you are there make contact. Be sure all of the committee members know you and what you are doing for the firm. Stay in touch.
5. Act like a Partner.
People will see in you what you see in yourself. Therefore, it is important to cultivate the mindset of a partner. Think like you have already made it. How would you act? What suggestions for improvements in practice management do you have? How could marketing efforts be improved? Should the firm move into a new practice area? Be respectful, of course. The more you think of yourself as a partner, talk like a partner, and act like a partner, the more the other attorneys will see you as partnership material.
You have achieved a lot in your career thus far but the work is not over. Now is the time to focus on the next goal: becoming a partner in your law firm. Focus, plan, execute. You can do it!
Have a Great Practice!