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The Biggest Lie about Making Partner in a Law Firm

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It’s the dream of many budding lawyers: making partner in a law firm. The money. The fame. The prestige. And, we’ll admit that it’s a nice dream. We’ve all watched the movies and television series that portray law firm partnership as big money and sitting on the office balcony smoking cigars and drinking Chivas Regal just like Denny Crane and Alan Shore…with or without the cheap, plastic lawn furniture. Really, one would think law firm partnership would involve the big bucks that could result in more comfortable, trendy outdoor digs. Yet, that brings us right to the topic of this article. The biggest lie about making partner in a law firm? That becoming a partner means a lawyer will be raking in the big bucks.

The Biggest Lie about Making Partner in a Law Firm

Law Firm Partnership: A Rose by Any Other Name?

Sure, introducing yourself as a partner sounds good. It’s an impressive title. It denotes that you put in the proverbial blood, actual sweat, and actual tears to your profession. Your mom will most certainly be proud, as will most of your friends and acquaintances. You’re a law firm partner, after all. It’s just that for many lawyers who are on the partnership track and are named partner, they learn that a lot of the time, it really is just an honorary title.

How Does a Partnership Work in a Law Firm?

There are several law firm partnership models. The most common terms you should know for the purposes of this conversation are single-tier partnerships, two-tier partnerships, non-equity partnerships, and equity partnerships. You’ll note throughout the article that there are some similarities between the terms and how they work in a law firm setting. A single-tier partnership is a partnership model involving equity. Associates devote most of their career, fresh out of law school, to the firm. They bring in business. If they work hard enough and contribute enough business to get noticed, they may be invited to join the partnership. In this model, they receive an interest in the equity of the law firm. Thus, they enter into an equity partnership. We’ll explain more about that soon.

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