January 25, 2019
From The Law Firm Partner Handbook: The best way to encourage a young lawyer’s partnership aspirations.
For lawyers who pursue a law firm career, making partner is often a common goal shared by associates and Of Counsel alike. Many years ago, achieving this goal was the brass ring of the legal profession. Today however, other options exist for lawyers to achieve, make money and feel like a success. So the tethering of self worth to the “Partner” title has weakened – particularly for the younger generations of counselors. Despite the diminished desire and popularity of law firm partner status, there is still a healthy constituency who values and cares about the possibility of reaching this milestone. But these lawyers are plagued by a belief that making partner is “impossible” with no roadmap, benchmarks or guidance to help navigate the way. Sprinkle in the political maneuvering required and morale issues start festering.
For those of you law firm partners and management brass who truly want to create the most positive and healthiest environment to encourage a young lawyer’s aspiration for partnership, effective feedback is not the only thing you’ll need to provide. You’ll need to commit to his/her success. What does that mean?
It means the following:
- Provide Clear Guidance. You need to provide clear guidance on what it will take to secure the highest probability of making partner. While making partner is never a sure thing, non-partners want…and need to know what they’ll have to do to have the best shot. So, what do you and your partners expect of this person? Is it a certain number of billable hours a year? Quality work product (Define what that means to you)? Extra law firm activities? Attitude? Bringing in clients? What is it exactly that takes to be a partner in your firm?
- Collaborate on a Roadmap. Encourage lawyers to set annual/bi-annual goals along with a roadmap to achieve them. Review their plan and provide feedback and suggestions as appropriate. Schedule reviews to assess progress and areas of improvement.
- Have an Open Door Policy. Associates/Of Counsel do not often feel that partners are accessible. So many fly solo when it comes to their career development, which can breed frustration, resentment and unhappiness…the perfect catalysts for a departure. So make it clear that you are committed to their success and your door is open if/when they need your assistance. And when they do come to you for help, make the time and be engaged.
- Teach Business Development. No matter how much a firm may emphasize good citizenship and hard work, the harsh reality is that the ability to build and maintain a book of business is the single most important quality for professional recognition, security and leverage in a law firm today. Unfortunately, law schools are woefully lacking in teaching and developing these skills for their students. So young lawyers are ill equipped in this area as they enter the profession. Combine that with a heads down 2000-2500 billable year and little to no business development schooling and you’ve got an army of lawyers without the proper tools or experience to bring home the bacon for your firm. Every associate with whom I work says this is the single area in which they’d love more assistance from their partners. So take the time to provide your guidance and facilitate skill development. Your efforts will pay big dividends for them…and the firm.
- Be Honest. Nobody likes to get the runaround or receive a vague lawyerly B.S. answer to a direct question. So when asked, “How am I doing?” be honest and specific. If your associate is doing well, not only tell him/her but also explain why and how. If s/he is underperforming, communicate this message as well…with specifics. And discuss a plan to course correct. Sometimes these conversations are difficult and the default for many partners is to avoid it or give an insufficient response. But as a partner committed to the success of your colleague, you owe it to them to be straight.
- Provide Encouragement Along the Way. When you notice a job well done or a great effort, provide recognition and encouragement outside of a formal review. And be specific. People love to be recognized for doing well and supported in tough times. It doesn’t take much effort and goes a very long way to maintaining morale and staying motivated.
In the Modern Day Law Firm, making partner is tough requires a Herculean effort. And associates and Of Counsel know it. This belief combined with a lack of direction and real support contribute to the high attrition law firms are currently experiencing. So if you have a promising lawyer who you’d like to encourage from the start, you’ll need to go way beyond positive feedback and commit more meaningfully to his/her success. It won’t be easy – as partners are busy and focused on their own survival. But the future of your firm depends on the development and success of the up and comers…and it will be up to you to lead the way.