In the gig that is the business of law, partnership is often deemed the must-have destination. Lisa Gazis of Mahlab Recruitment explains how to get there.
I meet with a senior associate recently. He had been passed over for partnership from a good quality mid tier firm and was looking at his options. The firm told this senior associate that there were a number of reasons why he didn’t make partner. But I think it came down to one thing: value.
So, as an aspiring partner, how do you demonstrate that you represent value and will be an asset to your firm?
Firstly, you need to know everything about your firm. Its policies and procedures as well as the qualities your firm looks for in a partner. Then you need to work towards satisfying all of these things.
Secondly, you must know your firm’s realities. By this I mean the things you can’t control that will influence your road to partnership.
Thirdly, you need to cultivate supporters, partners and mentors: those people who take an interest in your career. A sponsor will help you progress and a mentor will grow and guide you.
The bar for what attributes an aspiring partner needs to demonstrate is constantly being raised. Good work habits and technical skills are a given. . These are usually expressed by billable hours, practice development, training and mentoring, management contribution. Billable hours and a sustainable client base are most emphasised.
Other characteristics needed to make partner include a willingness to take on responsibility as well as “fitting in” and being part of the team. This is not about being liked. You need to be recognised for positively contributing to the work environment.
Also, you need to think like a partner. You need to invest energy and ideas in the firm. In this regard client development and management skills are important. Repeat work from existing clients, instructions from new clients, networking, engaging in business development and building a profile demonstrate your ability to act like a partner.
Even when you have done all this you still may not make partner. This is because of obstacles or barriers that you cannot control. Economic and market demands change the profitability of certain practices. Industry trends and client reactions can create or eliminate needs. Partner defections and retirements create need. The financial management of the practice, its growth plans and its prosperity, often determines whether partners are willing to share the pie.
Working towards partnership is a major political and military campaign. It involves hard work, commitment, building a reputation, and support from clients, colleagues and decision makers as well as a business case demonstrating you are/will/can make money for the firm. It also assumes that your firm has the structure and conditions for you to achieve partnership.
It all comes back to value: will your firm realise the value you can bring?
If partnership happens, great!
If it doesn’t, and you represent good value, make it happen elsewhere, …like the senior associate I met.
Lisa Gazis is the Managing Director of Mahlab Recruitment (NSW). She manages the NSW operations and is also actively involved in the strategic recruitment of legal professionals, partner and legal teams.