The Path to Partnership: Follow the Yellow Brick Road
3,768 days. Or 10 years, 3 months, 24 days, 90,432 hours (not all of them billable). That is how long it took for me to make partner. While every firm is different, long gone are the five-to-seven-year partnership tracks and near-guarantees of securing the title simply for surviving. Partnership is not inevitable. Strong research and writing skills, good judgment, and the ability to evaluate situations critically are the bare minimum requirements if you want to be considered a "good associate." If you want to make partner, you need to start thinking like an owner. What does that mean? It means you understand the business of your law firm—how it operates on financial and operational levels. It means you understand how to get and retain clients. It means you understand your firm's brand—not just your personal brand.
Making Partner: Pulling Back the Curtain
Partnership comes with a brand new set of expectations and responsibilities—legal and financial, among others. Be prepared. First, long gone are the days of simply practicing law. Now, you must master building and maintaining your own practice while supporting the success of associates, paralegals, and staff, all while keeping the firm moving forward. Learning how to prioritize, organize, and manage chaos is key.
Second, long gone are the days of simply collecting a salary and knowing exactly what your tax obligations are. As an owner of a law firm, you will no longer make a salary; you will receive a distribution of the firm's profits depending on your percentage of ownership. Taxes are no longer automatically deducted from your paycheck, and April 15th is no longer the only time of year you will pay taxes. Welcome to quarterly tax payments. If you do not yet have a personal accountant and financial planner, I strongly encourage you to ask for recommendations. An accountant can help you plan for these payments and manage your finances.
Finally, while a significant increase in your compensation will accompany the new title, so will a capital contribution. All firms are different when it comes to capital contributions, including the amount and payment terms. For example, some law firms may require new partners to contribute $50,000–$100,000 of capital paid over one to three years. If you are within the three-to-five-year window of being considered for partner, ask a mentor or trusted colleague who has been through the process. The sooner you understand the financial obligations that accompany partnership, the better.
Finding Your Place in the Partnership: There's No Place Like Home
826 days. Or 2 years, 3 months, 5 days, 19,824 hours (again, not all of them billable). That is how long I have had the privilege of being a partner in my law firm. While the movie ends with Dorothy's return home, her story continues. As she wakes from her dream, she has a newfound understanding of her role in her family and her purpose in life. Like Dorothy's return home, partnership is not the end; it is a new beginning.
Partnerships are a lot like family—some are big, and some are small; there are arguments, disagreements, negotiations, introverts, risk-takers, and some big egos to navigate. Finding your place takes time and consideration on your part. Give some thought to what you want your role to be within the partnership and set new goals for yourself. It is likely that making partner has long been a goal that you have been working toward. Now that you have achieved that goal, what's next for you and the firm? Set personal career goals, as well as goals for your firm.
In the end, making partner can be a horse of a different color. The expectations of a firm leader can seem impossible at times, but the rewards of being an owner—of building and growing your practice and your firm—are unparalleled.