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November 2017

Becoming partner? Advice before taking the plunge

The decision to go for partner is a pivotal one in the career of a young lawyer, and there are many pros and cons to weigh beforehand. Two stories in the September/October issue of TYL, the magazine of the Young Lawyers Division, tackle aspects of choosing that path.

Kevin Pratt, an attorney at Lincoln Derr PLLC in Charlotte, N.C., offers this advice in “Tips for Deciding if You Want to Be a Partner”:

Play the long game. Pratt recommends thinking of your unborn grandchildren as you weigh your professional path. “What legacy would you like to leave them? How do you want to be remembered?” he writes. This exercise, he says, gets you past the worries about tomorrow’s deposition or this month’s billable hours and toward the strategic thinking necessary to determine your long-term goals.

Answer unmet needs. Every firm has needs not currently being met that could provide a path to partnership for someone who wants to take advantage of them, Pratt claims. “These are all needs associated with the valuable human capital of a law firm,” he writes. Among them are: philanthropy, new business, client retention, technical competence and personnel management and optimization. Because people are a firm’s greatest asset, Pratt says, “If you are a lawyer who can consistently motivate and incentivize your firm’s people, meeting this need may chart your path to partner.”

Find a balance you can keep. Warning that “firm life often provides little connectivity and uncertain fulfillment,” Pratt emphasizes the importance of finding “a true outlet” and particularly endorses ones that involve your family in order to sustain you on the “marathon race to partner.”

Are you good with the mutual buy-in proposition? For a young lawyer, the mutual buy-in proposition is “the unconditional willingness to do grunt work” because you believe the law firm has your long-term interests in mind, Pratt writes. From the law firm’s point of view, the buy-in “is reflected by the compensation structure and the allocation of resources toward a young lawyer’s professional development,” Pratt says. If you’re okay with this deal, he says, you can continue on the path.

Are you free to be you? While some mistakes are unquestionably fireable offenses (think anything that goes awry of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct), but if even small mistakes are not tolerated or treated as teaching moments, Pratt says, “that lawyer may become paralyzed by the quest for perfection.” And if that paralysis leads to indecision, it would undermine your capacity to do your job. However, if you’re free to be who you are, and can make mistakes that in the end will help you be a better attorney, that’s a sign of “empowerment and investment…that fuel your journey on the path to partner.”

Erin E. Rhinehart, a partner with Faruki Ireland Cox Rhinehart & Dusing PLL in Dayton, Ohio, writes about the new realities of making partner in her piece, “Pulling Back the Curtain on Partnership.”

For starters, she writes, “long-gone are the five-to-seven-year partnership tracks.” Today, “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.’ ”

The key to becoming a partner, Rhinehart says, is to “start thinking like an owner.” That is, you understand the business of the firm and the firm’s brand.

“Partnership comes with a brand-new set of expectations and responsibilities – legal and financial, among others,” she writes. Besides working on your own practice, there are new tasks to “keep the firm moving forward.”

Financially, instead of collecting a salary and paying taxes by April 15, you will receive a distribution of the firm’s profits and pay quarterly taxes. And while your compensation will go up, you’ll also likely have to make a capital contribution of “$50,000-$100,000 paid over one to three years,” she writes.

“Partnership is not the end, it is a new beginning…finding your place takes time and consideration on your part.” Rhinehart also advises new partners to set goals for yourself as well as your firm.

In the end, she says, the rewards of being a partner – an owner of the firm – “are unparalleled.”

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