Transitioning from an associate to a junior or full partner is a subtle change, yet it has big implications on your career. You know what it takes to make partner, but how do you stay there? What is next? Issues that need to be considered include learning the financial side of the firm’s business, managing the responsibility of being first chair on legal matters, and learning to make the transition from timekeeper to business generator, among other things. The transition from associate to partner will be different at each firm, but the same issues exist.
First, it is important to know what goes on in the business side of the firm. As a partner, your main job now is still to be an attorney and represent clients in court and at the negotiating table. The financial side of the business, while good to know, should not change your day-to-day activities as a lawyer. It should, however, give you an idea of how the firm is run and the stability of the organization. Talk to your office manager or a trusted partner and ask for an overview of the operations of the firm. Most shareholders are given the firm’s financial documents, and it is important that you understand what they mean and how they affect you. Learn about your own compensation. Will your monthly draws be less than your prior monthly salary? Are you prepared for that? Will you be responsible for capital calls? For example, many firms require newly minted lawyers to “buy in” to the partnership. Doing so is generally an expensive proposition and requires appropriate budgeting and planning. What taxes will you need to pay now? If your firm is in multiple states, you may be responsible for paying taxes in those states. Insurance and retirement benefits often change as well. Find out how contributions are made and whether you are required to purchase additional insurance.