When Becoming Partner Isn’t an Option

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Becoming partner is a major goal to achieve in one’s legal career. In recent years, law firms have become as focused on the business potential of a lawyer as they have on his or her abilities and skills surpassing their peers in the courtroom or on a deal. When I started practicing law in 2000, becoming partner was a reward for an attorney based on professionalism, competence and consistency throughout their career. This is becoming less and less common in a legal world as revenue-generating potential has grown in importance.

Focus has since shifted to networking and building your business. Building a network with partners inside and outside of your firm can keep you up-to-date with the field and partnership news, as well as boost your partnership potential. Attending various legal conventions and bar association events will expand your legal network pool with people of different and similar fields as you. Continue to gain information from senior associates, your network and knowledgeable recruiters to better guide you through the steps to partnership.

No matter what year you are as a lawyer, it is important to evaluate your potential to becoming partner. Take time to see where you stand at your firm by asking partners inside and outside of your practice group for an unbiased assessment of where you stand and what it will take to make partner. Use this feedback to mold and change the way you practice as a lawyer. This will help you better look for indicators that becoming partner is within your reach. For example, having almost perfect reviews is a good sign or implementing the constructive criticism given to help change the way you practice will show positive signs for success. Also, having strong billable hours can boost your potential for partnership.

In addition, if you want to become partner, but do not see any advancement at your current firm, it doesn’t hurt to look into other firms. This should be sought out at the latest by your fifth year as an associate because as you become more senior, you become less appealing when trying to move laterally. The third through the fifth year is the peak for attractiveness and marketability. When you pass the fifth year mark, firms tend to shy away from looking at you and bringing you over to compete with people who have been at their firm working toward partnership from the beginning of their career. Firms also like to mold associates to work the way their firm runs, so they prefer to bring people in during their third, fourth and at the latest fifth year.

Even if your current firm seems as if they will not make you a partner it does not mean you can never become a partner at another firm. As a recruiter, I have placed hundreds of lawyers who were not able to make partner at their current firm but lateraled over as a partner or became a partner soon after moving. To stay on top of the latest legal trends and the job market, be sure to add a recruiter in your network to stay up-to-date with everything legal career related. A recruiter can often give valuable insight into your legal career that no one else can. Raj M. Nichani, Esq.

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