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Will Your Firm Make You Partner?

published June 28, 2020

By Author - LawCrossing
Published By
( 49 votes, average: 3.9 out of 5)
What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.
Are You on Track for  Partnership?
Will Your Firm Make You Partner?

The single most significant factor in determining if you ultimately achieve partnership in a firm is whether you are working at a firm that is right for you. Biglaw, in recent years, has taken on a bottom-heavy structure where the growth in the number of associates far outpaces the opening of new partnership positions. So, how do you gauge your chances of becoming a partner at your firm?

There are no definitive metrics that can guarantee partnership, but most Biglaw firms are now focusing on revenue generation far more than courtroom accomplishments. The days of loyalty and competence equaling a reward of eventual partnership seem to be in the past. Now, associates with their eye on a partnership need to grow their revenue generation from the moment they land a desk at the firm.

Identifying up and growing partners in Biglaw

There are clues in every firm that should help you identify if you are on track to one day make partner. One important metric to consider is the number of partner promotions versus partner laterals occurring at a firm. Recent data shows that partnership is heavily skewed in favor of laterals, meaning your best bet at making partner might mean moving to a new firm.

The reasons behind the trend of hiring lateral partners instead of in-house promotion are varied. It could be that the skills held by a partnership-worthy associate are not what is needed in a particular partnership role. Some associates tend to chase prestige, or big cases, that look glamorous but do not generate enough revenue.

Big firms also tend to promote associates to partnership if they fear losing them to another firm. The chances of being offered a partnership increase for associates who have consistently generated top-tier revenue and garnered the attention of other firms. In short, you need to make a name for yourself that extends outside the firm, while keeping a firm grasps on the business side of your practice. 

Know the established partnership track for your firm

Many firms make partnership decisions after seven years, but some Biglaw firms use a much longer timeline. Many firms use a partnership track based on eight to ten years, and in those firms, not making partner at year seven would not be cause for concern. Though firms tend to be tight-lipped about partnership information, it is usually clear approximately how long it should take to be offered a partnership.

Make yourself as valuable as possible

Value includes far more than just your billing history and projections. You need to provide something the firm isn't getting from other associates, and you need to make sure your contributions receive notice.
  • Rethink your niche
  • First, is it both valuable and profitable for your firm? Can you specialize further into a subset of your current niche?
  • Read, learn and garner Continuing Legal Education (CLE) credits when possible.
  • Make yourself an expert in that niche and work to make yourself the go-to person in your firm for issues in your niche.
  • Network with everyone involved in the niche and think outside the legal sector. Your best resources might be industry leaders, not other attorneys.
  • Make yourself available to other attorneys in your firm whose cases might touch on your area of expertise.

What should you do if you are passed over for a partnership?

There is never a single source that decides who will be offered a partnership and who will not. It is a group decision made by senior partners. If you have been with a firm long enough to start thinking about a partnership, you should have a solid grasp of the firm's internal politics. If you find yourself passed over for a partnership opportunity, you should ask yourself a few basic questions to determine your next move.
  1. Has a senior partner blackballed you? If you have crossed a senior partner or partners, you need to understand the potential impact that can have on your chances of ever being offered a partnership. Internal politics can get ugly. The final decision about whether you will ever be offered a partnership will depend on who is in your corner, who is against you, and the power each wields in the decision-making process.
  2. What do you bring to the table? Do you have a unique skill, valuable clients, or some other benefit that it will difficult for the firm to replace? It can be hard to look at this objectively, but doing so will give you a better understanding of your options if you are passed over for partnership. This is not the place for wishful thinking. You will need a deep understanding of what the powers that be see when they view you as a potential partner. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses is crucial to making wise career decisions.
  3. Are there skills, such as management and leadership, that you can actively work to improve? If you genuinely feel you are partner material but lack some crucial expertise that your competition has, determine what steps you can take to improve.
  4. The most important question to ask yourself is if this is the right firm for you? The lateral market is booming in a way never seen before in Biglaw. If you question whether you are the right fit for partnership at your firm, leave while you are still highly marketable.

Assess your chances of making a partner based on your understanding of the firm's history and the current economic climate of your firm. There is ample evidence that both your shelf-life and your marketability decline once you have been passed over for partner. Even if it means a small pay cut, the lateral track may offer you much more in terms of future opportunities.

Making a lateral move

Whether you have been passed over for a partnership or want to explore your options because you do not think you are on a partnership track, you essentially have five options to consider:
  1.  You can accept your non-partner status in the firm and focus on building a satisfying career as a non-partner.
  2.  You could consider starting your own firm.
  3.  There are always companies looking to add talented lawyers to their in-house counsel.
  4.  You can leave the practice of law altogether to pursue other interests,
  5.  You can make a lateral move.

If you decide to make a lateral move, you first want to assess exactly why you are leaving your current firm. You want to identify why it is not the best fit for you so that you can accurately focus on finding a firm that better meets your criteria. Once you know what you hope to find in a new firm, contact a recruiter. Recruiters know everything that is happening in Biglaw, and a talented recruiter can help you narrow your search. If you want a partnership, narrow your search to firms that are growing their number of lateral partnerships.

Lateral moves can seem intimidating, especially after giving years of your life to your current firm. Ideally, you will look at a lateral move as an opportunity to grow your career. You want to find a firm that needs your specialized skills and is a good match for the culture where you work best.

Determine if you want to stay in Biglaw or if you are open to considering a smaller firm. Smaller firms often offer more latitude for laterals, especially if you bring both experience and a unique skill set. It is possible to move from an associate at a Biglaw firm to a partner at a smaller firm. Make sure your recruiter knows your goals so that you don't waste time chasing a lateral move with no net gain.

See Also:
How to Make Partner in a Law Firm: Top 10 Characteristics of Superstar Associates Who Make Partner

published June 28, 2020

By Author - LawCrossing
( 49 votes, average: 3.9 out of 5)
What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.