It’s that time of year. The culmination of late nights working, political manoeuvring, laughing at the Managing Partner’s jokes, and it’s all come down to these last few weeks. The monogrammed napkins in the Partners Dining Room have been crisply ironed and the discussions around that table through February will determine the fate and fortune of four to eight people.
The office is full of the gossip as to who’s going to make partnership and who isn’t. There’s always one who’s walking around the office like he’s a shoe in. You know the type: talking on his AirPods (loudly) about his clients and has a few car brochures lying around his office.
Then there’s the rest. Naturally nervous, not been like this since their Oxbridge exams or the rivalry of qualification. Mentally exhausted, emotionally drained, life plans on hold, relationships frayed, it’s the last big push for the top.
I meet many people in late February / March who have given their all to the cause of promotion at their firm and are left disappointed. Some are visibly angry and I’ve had one or two who have cried.
To all those hugely talented people, don’t give up. We can help you find an alternative or get you back on track.
My tips for making partnership
Become a Triple Threat – Louis Spence could sing, dance and act. You have to do the same. Promotion to partner is based on ability to be: (1) technically strong, (2) a top-level project manager; and (3), most importantly, someone who can win business.
The stress of juggling all this can be enormous, especially the need to be constantly working on business whilst in full-on execution mode. But the fact is, the most successful lawyers go way beyond the law. To make partner, you’ll have to prove you can do the same.
Above all else, the key to your success lies in your Business Case. Think about the narrative you are selling to your firm and/or others. Your story must be compelling and credible (neither under-selling nor over-selling your capabilities). Ultimately, if you’ve not made partner this year, your target firm just couldn’t visualise you as a partner in their business. Make a point of changing that perception this year when you are looking at new opportunities with firms who can understand your potential contribution to the business.
There’s lots of advice out there on how to structure your business plan and key information to include. So here I’m sharing my experience on the things that I believe make a difference between partnership attempts that succeed and those that don’t:
- Write your strategy early, and then revisit and tinker with it – but have a plan. What are your objectives? How do they align with your current firm or others? Outline your short and long-term goals to achieve your objectives.
- Think about the marketplace, the competition and potential gaps. Thing about broader trends and clearly detail how your expertise/capabilities can contribute to improving your target firm’s ability to capitalise on market change.
- What is your unique selling point, your X factor? It may be a technology or a niche area of law that your firm doesn’t currently service well – find it, become an expert in it. When you’re the go-to person in your firm you become more indispensable. And you’ll have know-how that is readily transferable in the market if things don’t work out.
- Think about your client relationships/contacts and how you can prove they will make a difference should you be made partner. You will have more relationships than you think – have them all listed out and then put them into categories, for example:
- New clients you could bring to the firm
- Relationships you could leverage to bring in additional work to a firm’s existing client accounts
- Contacts that are not yet clients (perhaps due to conflicts) but could lead to work in the right/different firm
- Get a handle on law firm finances. As a partner your chief concern is the business of law, which means understanding financial projections and charge-out rates. Successful partnership business cases have a strong focus on the numbers – including potential future billing.
The right mind-set
Remember too, that success in achieving partnership is more than any one partnership round of business plans and interviews. Every week is an opportunity to push on and challenge yourself to achieve your goals – even when you’re busy. Have I followed up with that client? Shall I book in a lunch? Do I know a publication I can write for on that new area of law? Which internal committee should I join?
Your community is beyond the law too – think of the broader networks you could join and contribute to this year. You never know who you might meet who could become a valuable contact in the next partnership round. You might even enjoy it.
Don’t limit yourself either. As a consultant, I would say this, but there are good reasons for trying for partnership with different firms. At the very least, you find out your market value, which can be hugely helpful for your internal discussions. And casting your net wider can provide valuable insights to help you package up your abilities/potential in the best way possible to secure an offer. You might even find another firm can offer you more of what you need to fulfil your goals.
A career is a long time, so if partnership hasn’t happened for you this year, don’t lose heart. Most people are partners for more than 20 years – you can hang out for another year, move to another firm to make it, go in-house, or go start a tea-room in Leamington Spa. We’re always happy to provide advice on your next steps and can help package your skills/capabilities in ways that will better hit the mark next year.
But whatever you decide, don’t make the decision in the heat of the moment. If you’re left disappointed this year, wait, talk to a good recruiter and assess your options. Because there will be plenty.
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