From PLI’s Course Handbook
Success Strategies for New Partners: Making Sense of Making Partner
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WHAT I KNOW NOW (THAT I WISH I HAD
KNOWN THEN) ABOUT PARTNERSHIP
Jessica A. Hough
Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP
What I Know Now (That I Wish I Had Known Then) About Partnership
Jessica A. Hough
I. What I Really Wish I’d Known
A. Nothing Really Changes in the Short-Run . . .
The substantive day-to-day work does not change. You still consult with colleagues; you
still ask questions; you still delegate work to associates. The work that you were doing
the day before you made partner is the work that you will be doing the day after you
make partner. Firms vary, and at some firms there is more immediate pressure to begin
business development, but at most larger firms it is a gradual process over the course of
B. . . . Except Administrative Tasks
Again, this varies considerably by firm, but at most medium to large size firms, non-
partners have little experience with the administrative side of engagements and billing.
Once you become a partner, you are immediately responsible for the complex arena of
engagement issues (including conflicts clearance, engagement letters, etc.) and billing
issues (including write-offs and questions from clients). Firms tend to provide little or no
training in this area.
C. Process of “Making Partner” is in Some Respects the Process of Being a Partner
All of the skills taught and honed, all of the colleagues you have worked with, and all of
the clients you have serviced form your reputation on day one. There is no magic
recalibration. You will only get new respect from those who didn’t know you before you
made partner. In other words, as important as the work you did was to actually making
partner, it is just as important for how you are viewed as a partner.
D. Making Partner is Just One of Many Water Breaks in the Race
A lot of people early in their careers think of making partner as winning the race. As you
get closer and closer to that finish line, the more you realize that it is just the beginning of
a different kind of race. The pressure to make partner is vastly different than the
pressures you feel as a partner.
II. Transition to Partner
1. You Are An Owner
While all the new administrative/billing tasks can seem overwhelming and tedious
at first, it is important to internalize the fact that you are now an owner in the firm.
Recruiting, billing, write-offs, etc., become much more important and valuable
once you recognize that you are now an owner. With this ownership mindset, it is
also important to understand law firm economics and the organization of your law
firm, specifically how your firm operates in terms of leverage, utilization, profit
margins, billing rates, write-offs, receivables, and compensation. It is critical to
understand what is valued and what gets measured. It is also important to
understand how your firm works from an administrative perspective (leadership,
committees, etc.). This information is more or less transparent depending on the
firms, so some new partners will already understand in detail how the firm is run,
while other new partners will need to seek out this information.
2. Developing Associates
As part of the owner mindset, it is critical that you work to develop the ownership
mindset in associates. An ownership mindset in associates often results in higher
quality work, as they feel like they are part of the team and have a stake in the
outcome. Partners who are able to instill a sense of ownership in associates will
likely be more successful in the long run because they will be building a team that
is committed to them and the firm. A key component to this is showing the
associates, and proving to the associates, that there is true downward loyalty.
B. Work Organization and Day-to-Day Aspects
1. New Administrative Responsibilities
As discussed above, one of the biggest adjustments to becoming a partner are the
new administrative responsibilities. Administrative responsibilities will vary
from firm to firm, but it is not uncommon to make partner and find yourself (i)
responsible for billing clients (and dealing with all manner of problems regarding
the bill), (ii) receiving a large number of administrative emails addressed just to
partners regarding hiring issues and firm decisions, and (iii) in charge of
administrative aspects of your practice area group (i.e., department lunches, group
practice meetings, recruiting, etc.).
2. Issues in Managing Former-Peers
As a new partner, you will undoubtedly have to deal with subtle changes in the
attitudes of others toward you. For example, before making partner you were
likely viewed “as one of us” by the associates or counsel. After becoming a
partner, you will be viewed differently by your former peers, and as a result,
associates and counsel who used to confide in you regarding work-related issues
may do that to a lesser or different degree. That being said, it is important to keep
those relationships alive, as associate and counsel can provide valuable insights
into the firm (both positive and negative).
C. Time Management
1. Chargeable/Non-Chargeable Matters
As a new partner, you are still responsible for servicing clients, and your first
priority should still be to your clients (in fact, it is not uncommon at firms for the
partners to bill more hours than the associates). However, as an owner in the firm,
you will also be expected to start making contributions to the firm that will help
ensure the future success of the firm. For example, in most firms, you will be
expected to handle some of the administrative tasks. It is important to capture all
of your non-chargeable time, such as time spent on firm management activities,
marketing activities, and business development.
2. Committees/Recruiting/Firm Development
As a new partner, you should determine what the firm expects from new partners
in terms of serving on committees, recruiting and firm development.
III. Business Development
A. Training Programs and Workshops
Some firms offer training for new partners to help them navigate their new
responsibilities and to help them hone the skills necessary to develop new business. If
your firm does not, you should talk to your fellow partners regarding business
development expectations, tips, and ideas regarding marketing and sales opportunities. In
addition, there are workshops and seminars that address techniques for developing the
skills necessary for business development.
B. Network and Market Yourself Both Internally and Externally
1. Critical to Get to Know Your Partners – Cross Sell
One of the most effective ways to develop new business is by internal networking
at your firm. It is important to get to know your partners so they know your
strengths and areas of expertise. In addition, cross-selling your partners to
existing clients is a very effective business development tool, as you are helping
your client by putting them in touch with someone who can help them, and are at
the same time helping your partner develop new business for the firm. It is a win-
win situation when you can work together with the relationship partner of an
existing client to build the firm’s business.
2. Existing Clients
One of the best sources of new business is existing clients of the firm. While it
often takes a lot of time and effort to land a new firm client, there are existing
clients who know and trust the firm, and may have other legal needs that are not
being fulfilled. If you communicate with these clients on a regular basis, and try
to understand their challenges and issues, you may be able to identify areas where
the firm could add value. These communications can be as simple as an email
following-up on some issue, or a voicemail or email alerting them to a new
development that could be relevant to them.
3. Understand Your Firm’s Marketing Resources
It is also important to understand what resources your firm will commit toward
your business development. For example, many law firms today have marketing
departments whose sole function is to help attorneys develop new business.
These departments can help put together materials that can be used when pitching
for new business. In addition, these departments often put together seminars,
client outings and other events where it is possible to meet existing or potential
clients. It is also important to understand what kind of support your firm provides
in terms of monetary assistance. For instance, if you travel to meet a potential
client, it is important to know whether the firm will reimburse you for your travel
costs or whether you are expected to pay for your own marketing expenses.
C. Business Development is a Marathon
It is important to remember that business development is a marathon, not a sprint. Many
new partners assume that now that they have made partner, there is an expectation that
they will start bringing in new clients immediately. While most firms do not have written
guidelines regarding business development expectations, most firms realize that business
development skills are acquired over time. Everything you do, starting when you were an
associate, is building business – the quality of your work, your interaction with clients
and other members of the firm and your ability to step up when your clients or fellow
partners need help.