As associates advance through the ranks, they may learn that becoming a partner requires dedication, perseverance, expertise in a particular practice area, and the capacity to forge strong connections with both current and potential clients. But the partnership track is more than what associates are already aware of.
According to several current partners at various firms, large and small, across the country, the ability to generate business and an understanding of law firm economics are currently some of the most crucial factors in being made partner. Personality and the ability to “sell” yourself and demonstrate your marketability for the company have an impact on an associate’s likelihood of becoming a partner. It is crucial for associates to become familiar with the particular requirements at their own firms since many firms have formal criteria or levels of knowledge a young attorney must attain before moving up. Understanding these requirements and acquiring useful skills for that partnership experience require both asking questions and establishing relationships with mentors.
But while all new practitioners must put in their time and effort before becoming partners, women and attorneys of color face particular difficulties. They frequently lack mentors and supporters who can help them find a partnership. Some partners of color claim that clients occasionally pass minority employees up for jobs. Another difficulty, which typically affects women more than men, is balancing a demanding legal practice with a desire to start a family.
Although graduates of law schools may feel ready to practice law, the real learning—and partner preparation—takes place in the real world. Associates must understand that, while law school teaches students how to think and write like a lawyer, the most crucial learning, when it comes to practicing law, occurs on the job if they want to stay ahead of the game and become partners.
Kimberly Blacklow, a partner at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP and member of the diversity committee for large international firms, claims that she learned nothing about being a partner in law school. Law school “teaches you to do legal research, write, analyze, and think, but it does not at all prepare you to work in a corporate law firm,” according to one expert. Everything you learn is through hard work, relationship-building, and observation, says Blacklow.
W. Randy Eaddy, a 20-year partner at Kilpatrick Stockton LLP who has worked there for the past 12 years, concurs. You won’t be in this position for very long, he claims, “if you just believe I’m a terribly smart person, I graduated at or near the top of my law school class, and worked on X law review. So if I just roll in here and do a crackerjack job and don’t spill stuff over myself whenever I’m out to eat with partners, I’m going to be OK.” “.
Eaddy claims that over the past ten years, the road to partnership has changed “fairly significantly.” Prior to that, the majority of businesses in significant markets promoted partners who produced excellent work and distinguished themselves to clients. Today, he claims, that is merely the starting point for partnership consideration. “It goes without saying that you can produce very high-quality legal work.” This includes not only getting things right but also being able to give clients the appropriate responses in a way that gives them faith in your ability to assist them in solving their problems, according to Eaddy. Another “given” is having profitable relationships with clients, he adds.
What has changed is that businesses are now aware that partnership ranks can grow excessively large when being considered for partnership. Accordingly, Eaddy asserts that “firms are increasingly looking at an individual lawyer’s ability to generate business for the firm beyond that lawyer simply working on matters that have been delegated to him or her.” He refers to this as the company’s “becoming a business asset.”
The earlier a partner considers expanding their business, the better. That’s something people don’t often consider, according to Deborah Broyles, a partner at Thelen Reid & Priest and chair of the diversity committee for large national firms. “The learning curve is steep when you’re a junior associate, and you’re working extremely hard to hone your technical skills,” However, you shouldn’t ignore business opportunities that arise as a result of your law school, social, or other connections, advises the speaker. It’s crucial for the associate to remember there are always opportunities for business development available. “.
Young attorneys can concentrate on institutional clients at the firm and make an effort to increase their business with them. They can also promote themselves as guest speakers by becoming authorities in a particular substantive area of their practice, as suggested by Broyles. “That’s another way to establish your reputation and establish yourself as a valuable resource,” “.
Blacklow at Cleary Gottlieb found her own worth after spending more than a year in the company’s Tokyo office. I was out of the people’s time zones who were overseeing my work, so that was a watershed experience for me in terms of professional development, she recalls. After taking some time off when she returned to the United States, she ramped up her client relationships, developed more leadership skills, and stayed active on firm committees Two years later, she was voted into the partnership.
Blacklow advises young practitioners not to rush the partner-making process when they ask her about it. I advise them to arrive at work with a positive attitude and put forth their best efforts. Establish your abilities and your reputation for excellence, and then we’ll talk about how the rest of the package needs to be put together four or five years from now,” she says. “But without that as your foundation, making partner doesnt work. “.
At the mid-sized regional firm Ulmer & Berne LLP, partners work to emphasize the value of what partner and co-chair of the diversity committee Inajo Davis Chappell refers to as “law firm economics.” The majority of associates are aware that their typical compensation is a salary rather than a portion of the company’s quarterly or annual revenue. But according to Chappell, they are hardly ever exposed to the quantitative aspects of running a business. Most associates are unaware of law firm economics, which is how your productivity affects your advancement and capacity for success in a firm environment, according to Chappell. “As an associate, I was aware that I needed to work hard, put in the time, and be dedicated, but all those qualities actually translate quantitatively,” I don’t believe I ever fully understood how final partner selection decisions are made. Some of those decisions are influenced by the entire economy. “.
According to Chappell, partners evaluate an associate’s billable hours, productivity, the number of clients the practitioner serves, and the profitability of the matters being worked on during the middle years of the associate’s career. According to Chappell, “In our firm, it’s important to not only bill good quality hours, be productive, and be profitable, but also to generate money by generating new matters from existing clients or new clients.”
Marco Gonzalez’s first week on the job at the Newark, N J. , Duane Morris LLP, he was already bringing in business. Gonzalez, a fresh fifth-year, was asked if she would be interested in taking on a New Jersey case for the firm by a partner from the New York office. Gonzalez said yes. Regarding the February 1999 case, he claims, “I handled the matter from filing the pleadings to the jury verdict, which was favorable.” The New York partner also became one of his mentors.
Gonzalez, who had previously worked at two local New Jersey firms before joining Duane Morris, was made a partner in January 2004. Today, he provides guidance to several attorneys through the firm’s diversity committee mentorship program and mentors two law students from his alma mater, Rutgers University Law School. Gonzalez says, “I’m trying to reach out to younger colleagues and show them the ropes, just like it was done for me.”
They must ask questions, says Julie Lierly, a partner at Kilpatrick Stockton since January 2004, if they want to learn the ropes as they advance. “I advise young associates not only to ask, How am I doing? but to also inquire if you have any doubts regarding the reasoning behind a decision made on a specific case,” That way, you can comprehend not only the outcomes but also the reasoning and plan that led to them, she says.
According to Lierly, speaking with a more seasoned attorney about his practice can result in interesting learning opportunities. When I was unsure of something or simply wanted to hear their opinion, I most definitely benefited from asking questions, she claims. “Don’t let those uncertainties and omissions rule your life; don’t be afraid to inquire so that you may learn. “.
Young lawyers who inquire about the partnership process do so at their firms. The majority of law firms put up for a partnership vote their seventh- and/or eighth-year associates. At many large firms, including Duane Morris and Kilpatrick Stockton, those associates frequently have their department heads nominate them for partnership. Following that, candidates are evaluated through formal interviews, records reviews, and feedback from other attorneys and staff. At a special meeting, the entire partnership votes on each candidate.
All partners rather than department heads identify potential candidates at many smaller firms, like Denver-based Wheeler Trigg Kennedy, but the review and voting process is the same as for large firms. Many businesses base their partnership decisions on particular standards. As they advance in the organization, associates become more aware of the standards and how they are doing, according to Michael ODonnell, chairman of Wheeler Trigg Kennedy.
According to Mark Clouatre, a partner in recruiting at Wheeler Trigg Kennedy, “personality is important in partnership decisions because partners are in the firm for the long haul.” The partnership track benefits those who take the initiative, are outgoing, work well in teams, and are open to new opportunities and experiences, he claims. Since we’ll be working together and interacting frequently, he says, “I want to like what you stand for and what you do on a personal and professional level.” “It all comes back to the friendly environment at work; we have to get along with everyone.” “.
According to Clouatre, Wheeler Trigg Kennedy promotes partners from within like many companies, so it’s critical that we carefully consider candidates for potential partnerships. Because candidates are investing in a company and it’s crucial for a firm to invest in candidates, we consider people more carefully over the long term when recruiting. “.
According to a lockstep system used by some companies, like Cleary Gottlieb, partners are paid equally according to their level of seniority. A comparable program is offered by Wheeler Trigg Kennedy, which calls it a merit-based partner compensation system. As a result, according to Clouatre, creating partnerships with current clients is essential. The pressures of books of business are absent from this firm, he claims. It’s great if you can have the book of business when you’re up for partnership, but it’s also important to service current firm clients and encourage them to keep working with you. “.
According to Clouatre, he “treated each day as a sales transaction” as he headed toward his 2003 partnership. By “selling” himself to other attorneys as well as clients, he meant Some people take a careless approach, he says, asking, “What will the firm do for me to help me make partner?” “You need to take charge and explain why you should become a partner. “.
To sell himself, Leonard D. In 2001, Young gave the partners at Ulmer & Berne a business plan. After ten years in business, he decided that joining a sizable regional law firm would be a wise next move. He recalls, adding that although he had never billed before, he had a strong network and the necessary skills, “I presented the firm with a plan that would reach a half million dollars in billings by the end of my first or second year.” At the conclusion of my second year, I had the good fortune to reach that level and even higher. ” With that, he made partner in 2003.
That selling extends to networking, explains William E. Dorris, a Kilpatrick Stockton partner and member of the selection panel “Every client they meet, every opponent they face, and every client of an opponent’s opponent is a contact they’re making that may lead to referrals or business in the future,” says Dorris. “One way to start demonstrating that you have some business development skills is to treat everyone as an important contact for you. “.
According to him, minor successes also pave the way for the partnership track. If new associates entering a law firm don’t trip up on some of those little things, they’ll succeed. Like for most people, he claims that the issue is speeding tickets rather than murder convictions. Those “small things” include being consistently available to clients and other attorneys, updating attorneys in charge of the work, and assuming responsibility. According to Dorris, “If an associate has issues with some of those things, frequently they get off to a bad start with some attorney and it takes some time to turn that around.”
Any associate will find the partnership track difficult, but attorneys of color and women face additional challenges. One of the biggest is finding a mentor. According to Blacklow of Cleary Gottlieb, the majority of the challenges faced as an African American early on in the search for champions within the firm. “You cannot get through this process without having advocates. “.
Young practitioners are mentored and supported throughout the procedure, and advocates ensure that the associate has the resources she needs to advance, according to Chappell of Ulmer & Berne. “It becomes a problem as you move forward if you haven’t had a mentor to make sure you’re getting the training and working with lots of different people,” she says. When those components are absent, it is more challenging for a minority or female attorney because it is assumed that they lack the necessary skill sets. Then it turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy since no one will want to hire that person. “.
So how do associates find mentors? While women and minorities may seek out those of similar backgrounds, Broyles of Thelen Reid says this should not be the only requirement Because the relationship may be more familiar or comfortable for them, minority associates occasionally feel that having a minority partner as a mentor would be preferable. Indeed, those relationships are very valuable, but it’s equally important to realize that you can find mentorship outside of that group, and it’s crucial that you do, she says. “You find mentors in many different packages. “.
Both parties gain when mentors assign tasks to their mentees, according to Francesca Lavin, a partner at Cleary Gottlieb since January 2005. As an associate, Lavin brought in business in Brazil, and experienced lawyers encouraged her to handle those clients, she claims. It gave me the chance to advance as a lawyer, acquire new abilities, and generate business, which can be challenging, particularly for women, because you have to be assertive, market yourself, and discuss your abilities, says Lavin. She continues, “You don’t always grow up as a woman being predisposed to that type of thing.”
Lavin explains that women are frequently good at organizing and paying attention to details—skills that are frequently delegated as an employee advances in the ranks. Women associates who partner up occasionally struggle to give up those minor details, she claims. You must deliberately let go of those things and allow others to do that. Otherwise, if you play the junior lawyer for too long, you become the consummate junior lawyer, which makes it harder for clients and colleagues to see you as a senior lawyer, says Lavin. It was difficult for me to admit that I couldn’t plan out every last detail of this. Even though I believe I can do it more effectively, I have to let someone else do it. In order to see the bigger picture and ensure that the bigger issues are addressed, seniors tend to supervise more. “.
Another obstacle attorneys cite in advancing along the partnership track is what if a minority or female associate is merely not given work. Despite having a diverse workforce, Young of Ulmer & Berne says that despite being a relatively segregated society, “we really don’t necessarily associate across racial lines still.” Therefore, if you’re a white man, you might automatically approach a white woman to give her a job, but you wouldn’t do that with a black man or woman because that’s just not how life works. People arent necessarily prejudiced, but thats just what happens. “.
His colleague, Chappell, agrees. She claims that there are times when minorities and women don’t receive the best assignments and projects, but Ulmer & Berne’s diversity committee and strong sensitivity training program address these problems. “I don’t think people mean to do it; they are comfortable working with people they are comfortable with and unless they make a concerted effort to work with others, they are inclined not to do so,” said the person. “.
She continues, “The rules sometimes can be different for white associates and minority associates.” “We [as partners] tend to hold people to the fire across the board, but where a white associate may not know exactly what he or she is doing and the work product is not the best, the response will be, Hes green,” He needs more training,” Chappell explains. “When an African American or other minority associate commits the same mistake, produces work that could be bettered, or experiences the same problem of ignorance, the assumption of incompetence is sometimes made.” “.
Make sure that various viewpoints are represented on all firm committees to avoid this disconnect, advises Young. It’s crucial, he says, that committees working with young associates don’t just have white men on them. “Perhaps that would give the present minorities and women a voice during the partnership process.” “.
According to Eaddy of Kilpatrick Stockton, his company also takes diversity issues seriously. As their corporate clients emphasize diversity, more businesses are acting independently today, he claims. Today, more significant businesses want to encourage diversity both within their own ranks and among the law firms handling their cases, Eaddy continues. He explains that for a diversity program to be effective, it must be strategic in making sure that women and minorities are aware of—and given—tools to empower them as business assets. “.
Working for either large or small firms has benefits and drawbacks, according to all the attorneys surveyed. According to Nolan N. Atkinson Jr. According to, a partner at Duane Morris since 1991, larger firms provide a wider range of experiences, cases, and practice areas, as well as more global opportunities and occasionally more structure. He says that opportunities for minority associates to become partners in big law firms are “better than ever today” for any diverse associate. Why is this necessary? According to Atkinson, “demographics that show this is a global economy, with large portions of people of color in the majority throughout the world, require that professional service companies, such as law firms, be diverse.” The opportunities are endless if you are just out of law school and preparing to join a sizable law firm. “.
Working at a large firm has its drawbacks, such as its sheer size, which results in more competition for partnership positions and relatively fewer close relationships with partners. According to ODonnell at Wheeler Trigg Kennedy, “Because of the size of those firms, they probably look at metrics and rely on the objective numbers [when deciding who makes partner] much more than smaller firms.” Smaller firms are more personal, he adds. “I have met all the spouses of our associates. We are less motivated by their metrics because we are more familiar with them because I know them and have worked with most of them. Because of that, we have more freedom to treat each person as an individual. “.
Atkinson, who ran his own small, minority-owned practice before it merged with Duane Morris, adds that a shorter partnership track is another reason to join a smaller firm. According to him, “a larger law firm has more institutional and traditional structure, and probably over the long run is going to provide greater security benefits and compensation than a smaller law firm, which is much more subject to what happened in the last year, so there’s not as much security.” Therefore, if you want to persuade someone to choose between a small and large firm, you must persuade them that joining a small law firm will enable them to reap the benefits much sooner. “.
But Atkinson acknowledges that it is simple to get lost in a large company. He advises associates to join bar associations, especially minority ones, and forge connections outside of the organization. If you participate before joining a big firm, he advises, “you shouldn’t just lose whatever your cultural or racial differences are.” “You should respect them and consider how you can bring your background into the firm to make it a better place. “.
Gonzalez of Duane Morris, who co-chaired the CLE committee for the Hispanic National Bar Convention in New York last year, experienced what happened. Gonzalez claims that Duane Morris recognized his diversity and encouraged his participation in events and organizations for minorities. He claims, “They talk the talk and they walk the walk.” “They kept their word and allowed me to work on these outside issues, which is crucial to me because the minority bar itself is a network of support,” “.
Gonzalez looks back on his first year as a partner and continues to support colleagues pursuing partnerships. “I think it went very well. I took the necessary actions to keep my clients. I took on administrative responsibilities and obligations as well as became active in the marketing sector. It was a busy year, but I managed to get through it, he claims. “.
Associates can become partners if they take the knowledge they gained in law school and apply it to the skills they already have. Senior associates have a better chance of becoming partners themselves by focusing on business development, comprehending the firm’s economics, maintaining a positive and inquisitive personality, finding and keeping mentors, and “selling” themselves. However, the partners interviewed concur that it takes an extra edge for an attorney to make it to partnership.
- Earn a bachelor’s degree. The first step to becoming a senior partner is to pursue a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field. …
- Accumulate experience. …
- Develop a professional network. …
- Understand your firm’s senior partner career path. …
- Seek new tasks and source clients.
What does a senior partner do?
Senior partners’ responsibilities vary depending on a company’s needs, but they typically serve as an external and internal spokesperson for their company. Senior partners hold prominent, challenging, and strategic positions within their companies and may be responsible for a variety of tasks, such as:
What is a senior partner?
A senior partner is a high-level position established as a legal partnership with the company in which these professionals work, typically in a law, accounting, consulting, or financial services firm. Senior partners are frequently experts in their field with years of experience. They frequently play a key role in reaching out to and securing new clients, and as a legal partner, they typically receive a cut of their company’s profits.
Since senior partner positions frequently require extensive experience and highly refined professional skills, they are difficult to obtain. Many see this position as their last chance at career advancement across a variety of industries. Companies and organizations may have particular standards for becoming senior partners and use their own standards to specify what senior partner roles entail.
How to become a senior partner
For many aspiring attorneys, accountants, and consultants, becoming a senior partner is a goal for professional growth. Although the process varies from firm to firm, typically it takes 10 to 15 years to achieve these positions. You can take the following actions to advance to senior partner:
1. Earn a bachelors degree
Obtaining a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field is the first requirement to become a senior partner. You could obtain a bachelor’s degree in finance, business administration or management, political science, or sociology, depending on the field you want to enter. To make sure you select a major that will enable you to advance to the position of senior partner in your chosen industry, consider conducting research before pursuing a degree.
When researching, try searching for industry-specific information to discover opportunities. For instance, there are some developing industries, like the technology sector, that may provide more senior partner roles in the future.
2. Accumulate experience
Many employers demand that potential senior partners have several years of highly-skilled experience working as a partner, manager, or vice president. Pursuing relevant internships while in school is a good way to start gaining experience because they can help you get ready for future roles.
You can look for a job in your desired field after receiving your degree. Most professionals begin in a position at the entry level and work their way up to a partner or management position. You can advance more quickly by being proactive with regard to new tasks and opportunities, acquiring critical business thinking abilities, and concentrating on how to implement business development initiatives.
3. Develop a professional network
Building a network of professionals, both inside and outside of your organization, can help you find opportunities and acquire new skills. Attending alumni and chamber of commerce events, as well as trade shows for your industry, exposes you to new people and expands your network.
Professionals who can provide pertinent advice or assistance in your career are frequently part of an effective network. For instance, it might be crucial to locate knowledgeable mentors who can assist you in finding opportunities and advancing your career. Your connections could be other people in your company or firm, people you meet in your personal life, or other people in your industry.
4. Understand your firms senior partner career path
There are various requirements and pathways that enable professionals to become senior partners in each sector, as well as in individual businesses or firms. You can plan your path to becoming a senior partner by being aware of the progression framework in your sector or company. Researching your industry, speaking with your HR department, or seeking clarification from your professional network are all effective ways to acquire this information.
5. Seek new tasks and source clients
Prospective senior partners frequently attract the attention of present partners by actively seeking out new responsibilities and showcasing their experience and expertise. Getting new clients is a great way to achieve this goal. Senior partner professionals frequently have a sizable clientele and have made a significant financial contribution to their companies.
What is the average salary of a senior partner?
Industry-specific skills are helpful for senior partners to acquire, but the following generic skills are advantageous for senior partners to possess:
What was your career path to becoming a Senior Partner at McKinsey & Co.? By Bill Schaninger
How many years does it take to become a senior partner?
The typical partnership track lasts seven to ten years and starts with the position of summer associate. After that, you’ll advance from first-year associate to senior associate, then partner.
Is senior partner higher than partner?
Companies have their own guidelines for defining these roles and deciding whether to use them at all. Senior partners frequently have less control over a company’s decisions than managing partners. Some businesses consider those who have worked for the business the longest as senior partners.
What does it mean to make senior partner in a law firm?
A partner can use their position of authority to guide junior associates, participate in firm decision-making and problem-solving, and oversee junior associates as they prepare and present their cases. An associate, on the other hand, typically holds a lower-level position in a law firm.
What does it take to become managing partner?
A degree in business administration or a closely related field is required for managing partners. Master’s degree preferred. Extensive managerial experience. Strong communication, interpersonal, and presentation skills.