You have just begun. It really is no secret to folks that have been around law firms for as long as I have that when in an associate is promoted to partner oftentimes it’s because they’re a very good lawyer. But they may have little or no capability of fulfilling all of the other responsibilities of a partner. They may have been selected because of a powerful mentor, or the firm recognized their long-term value to the firm and didn’t want to lose them to another firm.
What is very important for any new partner to recognize is that they really are not a full partner in the practical sense of the word. To be successful they must recognize the need for certain skills that are critical to that success.
Recently covered on Attorney at Work is an excerpt of a book by Marian Lee entitled Building Your Ladder: An Associate’s Guide to Success Beyond Partnership published by the ABA. It is true that as a partner you will need “an entirely different set of skills for the later phases of your career,” according to Lee. She goes on to warn avoiding becoming just an overpaid associate, pointing out the need to gain strengths beyond your legal skills in the areas of business development, client relations, practice management and leadership
Let’s take a look at each:
- Business Development. Included here Lee mentions skills such as “networking, branding yourself, developing a niche, self-promotion, client consciousness and the ability to recognize and seize opportunities.” Not possessing these skills is the reason that some partners are unsuccessful. And it is not always the young partners fault, with the firm discouraging their gaining such skills when they were associates;
- Client Relations. This skill involves going beyond bringing in new clients. It requires growing client relationships. Successful relationships are mainly built through good and frequent client communications;
- Practice Management. A big part of managing a practice involves “understanding what makes a firm profitable, allocating your time wisely, recording your time diligently,” handling billing statements in a timely manner, and letting go of unprofitable clients and work; and
- Leadership. Important here is the development of the talents of others who work with you, and to “inspire, encourage, and persuade” them, as well as setting and reaching personal and firm goals. I really like her suggestion to associates prior to making partner. Since it is hard to gain firm leadership skills while an associate, it is a good idea to develop such skills outside the firm by volunteering and taking leadership positions within various community organizations.
Lee sums up the excerpt by emphasizing the significance of maintaining a great attitude and building relationships both internally and externally; and, as a partner, adding overall value to the firm, which may just ensure job security and more freedom.