How to Make Partner: A Checklist for Attorneys

making partner

Making partner at a law firm is typically a seven to 10 year process, but it’s not a guarantee. In any given year, equity partners average only 30 percent of all attorneys. If you want to be on partner-track, follow this checklist for attorneys.


Have a game plan in place


This may seem obvious, but you can’t just wing it and hope you’ll make partner. Find out how many billable hours you’re expected to meet each year and how many new clients you’re supposed to retain. Then, make a plan of action.


Avoid big name cases


This may seem counterintuitive – shouldn’t you want the prestige of working on a case involving a Fortune 100 company? Unfortunately, a years-long litigation case will distract you from building a niche. Instead, you might become known as a paper-pusher.


Develop a niche


Whether it’s a specific area of law or an industry, develop a niche in an area of interest. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know about it yet. You can build your name by attending industry events, learning everything you can and writing and speaking on that topic.


Take ownership 


More than anything, partners are team players. Even if you’re not thrilled with a given assignment, rise up to the challenge. Take ownership, produce quality research and demonstrate that senior attorneys can depend on you. 


Build deep relationships


Because law firms are sustained by relationships, they look for potential partners who can build genuine relationships with clients, other attorneys, paralegals and support staff. Being likeable goes much further than you might think.


Think differently


If you’re competing with two other attorneys for a job and bring a creative solution to the client, guess who’s going to stand out? You could offer an alternative fee arrangement or do some research and brainstorm ahead of your first meeting. Either way, you’ll stand out. 


Focus on business development


Firms want partners who can generate business, period. This is where building relationships come into play. Keep your eyes peeled for new clients and cases as you develop your niche and technical skills. With solid relationships in place, the clients will come.


Find a mentor


Yes, partners are busy, but they also want to see you succeed. As your mentor, a partner can advocate for you at the firm and with clients, share client relationships and guide you as you develop the skills you need to land wins. 


Consider a lateral move


No matter how much you enjoy working at your current firm, partnership prospects might be slim. If that’s the case, gain the skills you need to become partner – and then make a lateral move to a new firm. 


Don’t assume you know what “partner” means 


Partnerships vary from firm to firm. Find out how many layers of partnership exist at your firm, how profits are distributed and when and whether partnerships are equity or non equity. An equity partner owns a portion of the firm’s assets and liabilities; a non equity partner doesn’t.


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