Making partner has become increasingly difficult over the past fifteen years.
For many young associates, it may take years to make partner, if at all, but the mountain is not insurmountable. Although there is no one “right” path, generally there are five cornerstones that every associate should follow to grow their practice.
Hone Down. You should focus on dominating a specific practice field. Typically, it takes an associate 3-5 years to perfect their legal expertise after law school and your career can either accelerate in that time frame or leave you in lawyer purgatory. It is important to focus in on a specific practice area that interests you and develop your skills so that you can one day dominate the market in your particular field. Your odds of making partner improves if you become an expert in your practice, mostly because your reputation will drive new business and referrals, and we all know, new business and referrals will set you apart. Attend seminars, communicate with everyone, whether you agree with them or not, in that industry and become a sponge right from the launch of your legal career.
Connections, Connections, Connection. Shake as many hands as it takes, participate in every golf tournament, wine mixers and conferences as physically possible. The people you mingle with, in authentic ways, should become friends, and friends make the difference from turning a “no” into a “yes”, and if that means generating more business from your relationships, you will certainly reap the rewards from your networks. Who you know is as important as anything in climbing the legal ladder.
Mom and Pop. When I think of “mom and pop” my mind immediately drifts to the local pizza shop that my grandpa took me to since the age of 5. Explore the option of working for a boutique firm, building a reputation and establishing yourself as a household name in the area of your expertise. This option does not suit everyone, but it could prove a beneficial direction to those who wish to gain the confidence and knowledge it takes to stand out of the pack. Find a smaller firm that can provide you with a mentor in the early stages of your legal career and build a reputation with that firm. Propelling your career forward in incremental, measurable steps, is your goal. If your goal is from 1 to 100 without identifying the 99 steps between then you will get lost without a path.
Jump On. Firms are always looking to add practice areas that are trending upward. It is your responsibility, as a young associate, to see what those trends are and begin applying to firms that are looking to build teams of lawyers in that practice. Simply put – study the trends or talk to us. These firms are moving targets. Partners come and go, practices vanish from one firm and establish in another. If you aren’t proactive yourself, and not relying on recruiters who know the market, then you are relying on just luck.
Don’t Just Rely on Big Name Cases. Unless your mother is the managing partner, most associates out of law school have to “pay their due” before they are ever given the opportunity to move up in the ranks. Now with the recent news about the academic scandal, I imagine nepotism will continue to lose its benefits. Associates that are assigned cases where the law firm they work for represents the Apple, Samsung and Facebooks of the world seemingly get forgotten during the litigation process. Offer to take on more personal cases, cases that can allow you to stand out and cases where the client deals with you directly praise you. On the other hand, you can’t hide if that’s your goal, so do your best work. Building a reputation with clients can go a long way for your career.
Becoming a partner is a strenuous but not insurmountable goal. To achieve it, associates must plan for it from the very start. If you are an associate and need advice on how to make partner, feel free to contact my fellow recruiters at Lateral Link.