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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

November 20, 2017

I’m a jr. litigation partner at a mid-sized law firm. I have great credentials and trial experience, but no portable book of business. Will I be able to “upgrade” to a big firm as a partner?

Julie Q. Brush

As I have highlighted in a number of my prior posts, the legal profession is in a state of flux. And the one group that has been affected the most by this turmoil is…The Law Firm Partner. Why? Because the law firms are losing leverage. Because the law firm bottom-line mentality is now in full force. Because job security is gone. Because the book of business is the driving force behind partner leverage, marketability…and peace of mind.

As a junior partner without a book of business, your options with Big Law will be limited. So as you begin your search process, your expectations should be managed around this current market reality. With this said, not every firm will necessarily see a young service partner as persona non grata. For those firms willing to keep an open mind…and ear, here’s how they’ll assess your candidacy…and desirability:

Great Academic Credentials.

Great creds are always a marketable asset. And while academics are not the professional slam-dunk they used to be, they still hold weight when a candidate needs a break. If your law school education is stellar, some firms will give you the opportunity to make your case. And for the best young partners, that’s all they need…

Are You A “Young Up and Comer”?

There are some big firms who are willing to take a risk on young lawyers who are eager, able and hungry to succeed. Dubbed the “young up and comers”, many of these eager beavers have found homes in Big Law…and have flourished. But before they could prove themselves internally, they had to convince the Big Law powers-that-were that they were a good bet. And what’s the best way to do that? The Business Plan. This roadmap is a critical element of any young partner’s candidacy. It will demonstrate that you have a well-conceived strategy to build your practice…and an effective plan to execute it. The better business plan you have, the better bet you become.

Trial Experience.

Law firms like trial experience so this is a potential value-add for your candidacy depending on the type and quality of your trial work. The more first chair trial experience you have, the better. Eleventh hour settlements won’t have much impact. Nor will second chair and bench trials. In addition, the subject matter of these trials is relevant to your marketability. Is your practice in a “hot” area like IP/Patent or white collar? Or is it in lower billable practices like Insurance or Personal Injury? Big firms typically specialize in high-end defense work, so if your litigation background and trial experience is in a compatible practice area, it will make you a more attractive candidate – particularly for those big rainmakers who need a well-credentialed specialty trial lawyer on their team.

Title Flexibility.

Given your lack of business, firms who are willing to seriously consider your candidacy will be reluctant to bring you into the firm as a partner. So instead, they will offer Of Counsel, Senior Counsel or another equivalent title. The hiring process is less rigorous for a non-partner as well – making it easier to push your candidacy through if you have strong supporters. So your flexibility on this issue could make or break your candidacy.

Law Firm History.

Firms will also assess the cache of your current law firm – and any others in your past. Simply put, the better the firms, the more attractive your candidacy will be.

As law firms are now firmly entrenched in the era of Law Firm Darwinism, it is the book of the business that will reign supreme for the foreseeable future. As a young partner without a book of business, I urge you to take note of this changing wind. And take the path that will lead you to increased marketability…and leverage. Maybe Big Law is the answer. Maybe not.

But one thing’s for certain: The times they are a-changin’. And you’ve got to be ready if you are to compete in this brave new world.

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