Whether you just jumped on the partnership track or if you’re gunning to become partner this year, it’s important to know what to expect if you decide to make a go at ringing that bell and becoming a partner. TYL asked several different lawyers who have made their own paths to partnership to share their experiences and their biggest challenges in transitioning from associate to partner.
Taking My Seat at the Table
The immediate changes experienced in becoming a partner can be subtle. One of the main adjustments is the realization that you now have ultimate responsibility and speak on behalf of the firm.
As a partner, everyone expects that you are a sound technical lawyer, and clients look to you for your counsel and advice. You need to trust your judgment, have confidence in delivering advice, and make sure you are covering all possible angles. You also need to make sure you are delegating efficiently so that you can remain aware of all the key issues on your transactions. Delegating in a thoughtful manner also helps the associates on your teams further develop their skills.
Perhaps the most pronounced difference in the transition from associate to partner is that you now represent the firm and its values in everything you do in your day-to-day practice and interactions. As a partner, you take on more responsibilities for the firm overall—including business development efforts, recruiting top-tier talent, and sitting on firm committees.
When I became partner, one thing that really struck me was the collaboration among the partners at Fried Frank. To experience it firsthand is remarkable, and I know it is an important part of our culture—one that I am proud to uphold.
Matthew V. Soran, Partner
Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP
New York, New York
Gaining a Personal Stake in the Firm’s Success and Failure
Before becoming a partner three years ago, I was not altogether clear about all the ways my life as a lawyer would change—other than that I would become an “owner.” I learned very quickly that partnership would provide both immense rewards and increased responsibility. As an owner, I have a stake in the firm’s success (and its failures). That means that in addition to continuing to work every day to do the best legal work I could on behalf of our clients, I also needed to pay attention to the business side of law practice (e.g., budgets, timely billing practices, client management, personnel management, the intricacies of malpractice insurance). My day-to-day practice has certainly evolved; as a more junior lawyer, I was the beneficiary of work delegated by partners who maintained primary contact and relationships with clients. As a partner, I am the primary contact for many clients, who rely on me to identify individuals or teams who can deliver legal work in the most efficient, cost-effective way. I have been most surprised at the complexity of law firm management and how much impact individual contribution can have on the firm’s collective success.
Leander A. Dolphin, Partner
Shipman & Goodwin LLP
A Small-Firm Partner’s Biggest Day-to-Day Operations Challenge
Imagine walking into the office Monday morning around 9:15 a.m. You greet your paralegal and legal assistant with a hello and warm smile. And as soon as you place your briefcase down in your office, they bombard you with six voicemails to which your personal attention is required, 10 emails from insurance adjusters asking for extensions on demands or denying liability coverage, and two prospective clients in the waiting area.
Your daily tasks were already listed in Firm Central, including a networking event with prospective new business clients from 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the Westin hotel. Now you compound your obligations with the new tasks they suddenly thrust upon your feet.
This is an all too often occurrence in my firm. The ability to properly and effectively complete tasks in a timely fashion is a daily struggle with my limited support staff. I often find myself working into the tween hours of the night to complete pleadings, motions, and research.
My partner in our Metro Atlanta office suffers the same fate. Our prescription is to grow our ranks so that we may eventually sleep.
Pierre L. Ifill, Partner
The Ifill Law Group, LLC
Becoming Your Own Partner
As a solo practitioner, the biggest change I have faced in my day-to-day life has been adapting to the many roles I must play. When working at a law firm, there is a staff who handles administrative tasks such as scheduling, filing, and client intakes. Now, I am a marketer, legal assistant, and lawyer all in one. As a result, no day is the same. I have days when I leave the office at 5 p.m. or earlier and others when I am working until the late hours of the night. At times, the amount of work to be done can be overwhelming. However, I have found that by having a strong network of experienced attorneys and mentors to reach out to, I am able to minimize stress.
Perhaps my favorite aspect of owning my firm is having autonomy over the types of cases I handle. This is in stark contrast to working for a firm where I was assigned cases by a managing attorney. Now, I can choose cases that I have a true interest in and that I am passionate about. Practicing law no longer feels like “work” because I am doing more of what I love.
Orlando Sheppard, Owner/Managing Attorney
Orlando Legal, PLLC