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So, you didn’t make partner. What’s next?

It’s the time of year when partnership announcements are coming in thick and fast, which is exciting for those who have made it through to partnership, but it can be a bit of a challenging time if you are one of those who missed out, writes Stuart J. Barnett.

user iconStuart J. Barnett 29 May 2023 Careers
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If you have missed out, now is not the time to be overly focused on those who made it through or pondering what could have been, but rather doubling down on what is next for you. Here are a few things to consider.

Do you still want to be a partner?

Not making partner can trigger a bit of an existential crisis, which is understandable as this may be the biggest setback you’ve faced in your career so far. Law firm careers tend to be linear up to this point, and the partnership process, while merit-based, can rely on a hefty dose of subjectivity.

 
 

So, if this setback has you questioning your career or whether partnership is for you. Then that is probably not a bad thing. It’s a good time to think about whether partnership is really something you want.

To make this decision objectively, it is useful to disentangle yourself from the recent setback and seek a more objective perspective. It is easy to get caught up in the disappointment of your recent experience with the process and allow it to cloud your perspective.

Why didn’t you make partner?

The next best thing to not getting partnership is having a clear idea of why you didn’t get there this time and a plan to overcome these obstacles next time.

The key here is to seek feedback. The nature and tenor of this feedback can tell you a lot about your prospects. It might be hard to face, but getting feedback, even if it is pretty damning in terms of the chances of partnership at your current firm, is better than being left in a sort of partnership purgatory.

You can divide this feedback into formal and informal. Depending on the partnership process, you may be provided with some formal feedback highlighting what you did well and where you fell short. It makes sense to give this some considered thought, even if you disagree with it, or think it is unfair. At the very least, you’d need to address this if you plan to have another go at becoming a partner at your current firm.

The informal feedback is what you’ll probably need to gather yourself, tapping into your supervising partner and your senior connections in the firm to get a sense of the lie of the land. This may give you more insight into what the current thinking is around the firm and identify some of the strategic or political factors at play.

Once you have the feedback, you can decide what to do with it.

What can you control?

It is easy to get caught up in the machinations of the partnership process itself, getting frustrated that the feedback is not clear or that you can identify people who made partner that don’t seem to have as good a business case as you.

Here the art is working out what is within your control, i.e. you stuffed up the interview questions or your business case needs improving, and what is not within your control, i.e. the firm doesn’t have a strategic focus in your practice area at the moment, or economic headwinds etc.

Then work on what you can change or improve, but also keep an eye on those more elusive aspects to see where you might be able to have an influence — for instance, you might not get to have a say on the firm’s strategy, but you can find the opportunity to highlight the brilliant prospects of your practice area.

Forging ahead

The surest way to put the disappointment behind you is to act. The best action has a strategy behind it.

Make an objective assessment of the feedback you’ve been able to glean and put a strategy in place to address aspects within your control. Then you can decide if this is the best place for you to get to the partnership, or if you would have better prospects elsewhere.

We tend to deal with setbacks less than optimally when we get caught up in the emotion of it all. That’s not to say it’s not very disappointing, but the quicker we can turn that disappointment into forward action, the better.

There are plenty of very successful partners who didn’t make it through the first time around. You could be the next.

Stuart J. Barnett is a thought partner and executive coach who works with lawyers. His clients include multiple BigLaw firms across the Asia-Pacific region.