Push Through to Partnership: Advice for Midlevel Associates
By Henry J. Noye
Henry J. Noye is a partner with the Philadelphia office of Goldberg Segalla LLP, and can be reached at hnoye@goldbergsegalla.com.
You are a self-motivated attorney who has successfully navigated the path to becoming a “valued midlevel associate” at a well-regarded law firm. You already know the importance of basics such as billable hours, client satisfaction, and seeking a mentor. Now, in order get on the “partnership track” and move forward in your career, it is time to focus more on a winning mental approach than daily strategies.
I recently crossed the partnership threshold (not without my own set of challenges) and understand that making the transition from midlevel associate to new partner can be daunting. Also, I am cognizant that times have changed and making partner is not the dream of every associate. Thus, “partnership,” for some, can also refer to the attainment of your paradigmatic professional position.
I am frequently amazed by my friends and colleagues in the profession who become unnerved by the idea of reaching that next level, almost as if their prior accomplishments were not real. If you find yourself feeling this way, remember you are the same person that eschewed (some of) the parties to study as an undergraduate. You are the same person that dutifully studied for the LSAT when there was a litany of other ways to spend your free time. You survived Civ Pro and Property (including the Rule Against Perpetuities)! And you passed at least one bar exam. So why should those feats help you now? It’s simple: you’ve demonstrated the ability to set and accomplish attainable goals. Now you just need to believe that, as it relates to your legal career, past performance is indicative of future success.
Thanks to the Socratic Method many law students spend three years searching for the obscure details in case law. Understandably, then, many new lawyers employ the same tunnel-vision approach to their post-law school lives. A keen sense of focus is a good thing; however, it is also important to be able to “see the forest for the trees.” This is true because a broader perspective helps you understand how valuable you are to your employer. By the time you become a midlevel associate, your firm will have invested tens of thousands of dollars in your development, including summer associate activities, early work that had to be written off, and traditional mentoring efforts. Also, large, corporate clients want to maintain relationships with law firms that consistently select and develop outstanding legal talent. So remember that it is in everyone’s best interests for you to succeed.
Finally, many young lawyers spend so much time billing hours that they lose themselves. In all aspects of life people prefer being around others who are well rounded, positive and, of course, good at what they do. So find and pursue that thing, an interest, hobby, or activity, that makes you you. Then incorporate your passion into your profession. For example, a good midlevel lawyer who is also an amateur triathlete is better partnership material than a comparable lawyer with no nonlegal interests. You may have to work harder to invest in yourself and your career, but in the end it will be well worth it.
Beyond being hard working and knowledgeable, it is time to have confidence in your abilities, see yourself at that next level, and employ a winning mental approach to help you achieve your goals.
• Stepping Up: Rising to the Lead Lawyer (Audio CD Package). 2006. PC # CET06SURC. Center for CLE, Commission on Women in the Legal Profession, Section of Litigation, and Young Lawyers Division.
• Making Partner: A Guide for Law Firm Associates, Third Ed. 2006. PC # 5110576. Law Practice Management Section.