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8 Ways How to Make Partner in a Big Law Firm

published February 06, 2023

By Author - LawCrossing
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( 50 votes, average: 4.5 out of 5)
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8 Ways How to Make Partner in a Big Law Firm

This article covers the key areas to consider when attempting to become a partner in a law firm. It emphasizes the need to put in hard work and develop a unique skill set or area of expertise that will make you indispensable. Other points discussed include billing the most hours, generating new business, developing strong relationships with partners and clients, and taking advantage of opportunities like a cash buy-in that may arise. Ultimately, if you can show the firm that you can generate money, you have a good chance of achieving your goal. By following these tips and taking action based on them, making a legal firm partner is a realistic goal to strive for.
  • What is the main point to consider when aiming to become a partner in a law firm?
    When aiming to become a partner in a law firm, the main point is to develop a unique skill set or area of expertise that partners realize you are indispensable for.
  • Why might a law firm offer an associate a partnership?
    A law firm might offer an associate a partnership if other partners or associates are leaving. This can severely undermine morale, and the firm needs to fill the gap with reliable staff.
  • What should you consider if your firm offers you a non-equity partnership role?
    Suppose your firm offers you a non-equity partnership role. In that case, you should consider if this is what you want, as it may only mean that you have to work harder and generate business while taking home an average salary of a senior associate.
  • What are the key takeaways for making partner in a law firm?
    The key takeaways for making partner in a law firm are to try to bill the most number of hours in your practice group, get skilled at creating work and generating new business, develop strong relationships with powerful partners or influential clients, and consider the opportunity to become a partner if a cash buy-in comes your way.
  • What skills do you need to have if you want to become a partner?
    To become a partner, you should have strong technical legal skills and expertise in developing business, marketing, and networking. Additionally, the ability to show that you are an indispensable asset to the firm is also essential.


For law school graduates and most young associates, making partner is the ultimate goal. However, very quickly, new associates learn that the partnership process is grueling and competitive and requires more than what law school teaches. Partnership roles typically involve more than your legal prowess and expertise. You must excel in your marketing and business skills and have a solid understanding of law firm economics.

What does it take to make partner in a biglaw firm? Is this the best path you can take to further your career in the legal profession? Why do small and large law firms make senior associates partners?
This article examines eight ways to continue successfully on the partnership track and enjoy your law career.

The Truth About What It Means to Be a Law Firm Partner

A partner title in a law firm is typically associated with a lot of prestige. For most younger associates, partnership means success and gives a feeling of accomplishment. Unfortunately, the partnership track is more challenging than many law school graduates assume.

It is easy to imagine that partners at many big law firms consistently earn more than associates. Additionally, some young lawyers believe they will have a lighter workload, more time, and less pressure when they become a partner in a large law firm. However, the truth about a partnership is usually much different.

For example, many equity partners make less money than you think. And depending on the firm, it is common for big law firm associates to make more than some partners. Unfortunately, sometimes, it is not the best associates that make partner; it is the most ambitious. In addition, many partners are under extreme pressure to generate business — more than when they were associates.

Other “duties” are also expected of a partner that an associate never has to worry about. These include the following: 
  • Attending industry events
  • Taking on administrative duties
  • Going to bar events
  • Developing interpersonal and soft skills
  • Working hard in business development
  • Communicating your profitability to the firm 
  • Being dedicated to your professional development
Because of the pressures, many associates get off the partnership track and go in-house or choose another path in the legal profession. For example, they start providing legal education, move to a smaller firm, or enjoy the time they spend practicing law as an associate. Unfortunately, some quit the law profession.

And there is nothing wrong with putting the brakes on the partnership process and changing course. Many associates do this and enjoy more free time, less stress, less pressure, and a better work-life balance.

But suppose making partner is still your career choice. What must you do to achieve your goal and enjoy a successful law career? Please continue reading to find out.

Why Most Law Firms Do Not Make Equity Partners

Many large law firms operate a two-tier partnership system. This includes attorneys with equity partnership and senior associates who are non-equity partners. Therefore, it is possible that a lawyer with a partner title is only a non-equity partner and not entitled to a share of the law firm’s profits.

What they don’t teach you in law school is that many law firms are not interested in making partners. Why is this? It comes down to simple law firm economics. The fewer partners in a large organization, the more money each equity partner gets. Therefore, there is no need to share profits with a large base of equity partners.

Reuters reported that the path to partnership is getting longer and longer in many firms. According to a survey, “keeping partnership size in check allows for higher profits per equity partner. Therefore, most firms are more likely to offer non-equity partners or counsel positions than equity partnership positions.

What happens is that many firms in the legal industry keep attorneys as associates for as long as possible. Then, they either start to move them out after 10 to 15 years, or the senior associate gives up and pursues another job in the legal industry or makes a complete career track change.

The key takeaway is this: many law firms will only make an associate a partner if they must. Therefore, what should you do if your chosen career is to make a partner? There are eight reasons why most law firms offer senior associates an equity partnership position. If you know these, you can steer your legal career in the direction you want.

Eight Ways to Become Partner in a Law Firm

After a few years of working in a big law practice, a senior associate will be expected to be made partner. But what can you do if you feel that a partner title is eluding you? Knowing the eight reasons large and small firms make associates partners can help you become partnership material.
  1. Generate Business or Have Existing Clients to Pursue Partnership
The most important asset to a law firm is when associates can generate business. Suppose you have plenty of existing clients and can get new clients. In that case, you will show you are undeniably partnership material. Law firms are money-making machines.
But what if you need more corporate clients to bring in? To pursue partnership in your career, you must show the ability and potential to generate business and secure more potential clients. In many cases, having the potential to secure solid client relationships is enough to make partner.
  1. Connect With a Powerful Law Firm Partner
To further your associate’s career, ensure you make solid professional relationships with the most powerful partners in the firm. A personal recommendation from a partner can mean the difference between being forced out or being offered a role as a partner.
The largest law firms always want to keep their best and most successful partners. After all, everyone enjoys the amount of money successful partners generate. So often, a partner’s recommendation is enough for you to get promoted, even if you do not have enough business to be considered as an equity partner.
  1. Partnership Track Involves Hard Work
The most common reason a law firm promotes senior associates is that they put in many billable hours. Yes — hard work will keep you on the partnership track. For most large and small firms, billed hours are the most important factor in an associate’s job.
How many billable hours are necessary to be in the running for making partner? The short answer is this — more than all the other attorneys in the firm. Therefore, if the average number of billable hours is 2,100, aim to bill between 2,900 and 3,000.
Your primary goal is to give the appearance you are the firm’s most valuable asset. Therefore, when the partners review associates’ performance, you must ensure that your name is on the list regarding billable hours. They will have no choice but to make you a law firm partner.
  1. A Partner Must Learn How to Generate Work and Billable Hours
Of course, finding so many new clients or billing significantly more hours than other associates may be challenging. In that case, it helps to learn the vital skills all law firm partners and associates must have — generate work from existing clients.
It requires skill and talent to persuade clients to spend more money. However, this ability is a significant asset to any law firm. And if you show business acumen, you will be rewarded with a partnership role.
Excelling at what you do in generating new business for the firm makes you a positive example for other attorneys. And they realize that offering their hardest-working associate a partnership position sends positive signals to the other lawyers.
  1. You are Partnership Material if You Have Important Connections
To increase your chances of making partner, try to establish relationships with important clients. One of the reasons law firms offer partnership positions to associates is due to their influential clients. Partners know that important wealthy clients will bring business, money, and prestige to the firm. Therefore, they will avoid losing the client by losing you.
Suppose you get to work on a particular case with an influential client as an associate. In that case, do what you can to be an indispensable asset. Ensure you do your best work for them, be available 24/7, be their “go-to” person, and anticipate their needs. Try to form a close personal relationship with them.
However, a word of caution is necessary. Refrain from making your tactic so obvious to the rest of the lawyers. This could raise suspicions that you plan on stealing the client for yourself. So, try to be discreet and subtle, stay under the radar of other lawyers, and always appear to be a team player. However, once the firm realizes its strong relationship with the client, the partners will want to avoid losing the client.
  1. A Unique Practice Area or Skills Help You Get Law Firm Partnership
One of the most common reasons law firms makes an attorney partner is if they have a particular skill or an in-demand, unique practice area. In this respect, it is vital to know your unique selling proposition and exploit it. Therefore, if you have an exceptional ability that is hard to replace, the firm will feel pressured to make you partner.
However, you don’t need to have specific practice areas to show how unique your abilities are. You could be adept in any of the following capacities:
  • You write such compelling motions that you win most of them.
  • You have outstanding substantive work quality.
  • You are an expert in a specialized area of law.
  • You show exceptional skills in generating more business.
  • You demonstrate excellent leadership skills that motivate others in the practice group.
  • You have excellent connections with important people in government, the law industry, or law school.
Of course, these are only a few ideas. The main point is to develop a unique skill set or area of expertise that partners realize your skills are indispensable. Therefore, so are you.
  1. Other Partners or Associates Are Quitting
One of the reasons why a law firm may offer an associate a partnership is if other partners or associates are leaving. An exit of several top staff at a law firm can severely undermine morale. Therefore, many firms will offer partnerships to associates who plan on leaving.
Of course, this is not a situation you can control. However, if it does arise, you can take advantage of it.
Every law firm goes through rough patches. When this happens, they may ask for a cash buy-in. So, this could be the perfect opportunity to realize your career goal of making partner. Remember that very few legal firms go under during a crisis, and they typically recover. Therefore, you could take your chance and get a partner title rather than following everyone else out the door.
  1. The Title of Partner Doesn’t Mean Anything
It is common in the legal industry for firms to operate a two-tier partner system — equity and non-equity partners. Some firms are keen on promoting non-equity partners because they want to give associates a fancy title. However, this doesn’t mean much. It only means that they must work harder, generate business, and take home an average salary of a senior associate.
Therefore, a role as a partner in a firm may be fairly easy depending on the number of non-equity partners the firm desires. If your firm offers you a non-equity partnership role, think carefully if this is what you want. Sometimes, this type of “partner title” means very little.

How to Make Law Firm Partner — In Conclusion

Most graduates finish law school with big dreams of making partner in a big law firm. But, unfortunately, it is rarely the case that every young associate becomes a partner. Even after many years in a law firm, most lawyers work as non-equity partners, counsel, or associates. To become a partner, you must be dedicated to the firm. Work hard to show you are a valuable asset to the firm.

Typically, if you nail just one of the eight reasons why firms in the legal industry offer partnership positions, you will make it.

The key takeaways are these:
  • Try to bill the most number of hours in your practice group.
  • Get skilled at creating work and generating new business.
  • Work hard to develop strong relationships with powerful partners or influential clients.
  • Consider the opportunity to become a partner if a cash buy-in comes your way.
Of course, there are no specific criteria for making partners. However, if you put in the work and show the firm — regardless of its size — that you can generate money, you will be well on your way to achieving your goal in your legal career.
See Harrison Barnes discuss this article in full by watching the webinar replay. Click this link to watch it now!

published February 06, 2023

By Author - LawCrossing
( 50 votes, average: 4.5 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.