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Top tips for making partner or getting promoted

Tips to help you make partner or get promoted at your law firm

Most attorneys are highly competitive. Among other things, that means that they’re not likely to be happy maintaining a subordinate role in their law firm for any longer than absolutely required.

What many young associates may not understand, however, is that partnerships and promotions are not just handed out as a matter of right after being employed for seven years.

On the contrary, the people who are considering elevating you to partnership are constantly evaluating whether they want you to be a co-owner in their business. Not everyone will make the cut. Here are our top tips for skewing the odds in your favor.

Be trustworthy

There’s a lot on the line when you’re practicing law. Your clients may be facing tremendous changes in wealth, family status, job status, employment status, and even freedom. The work that you do is critical.

The partners in your firm understand this. and they want you to act in a way that demonstrates your understanding as well. The best way you can do this is by being a trustworthy associate.

This means that you do things like complete assignments on time, communicate openly and honestly with partners when you see problems with a case, work extra hours when you are committed to a tough deadline, and ask questions when you don’t know how to proceed.

By proving your trustworthiness as an associate, you’re signaling to partners that you can be trusted to share in their business long-term.

Be a great communicator

The truth is, being a lawyer in and of itself requires above-average communication skills.

If you want to make partner in your firm, however, you better be great at communicating.

This means you’re able to talk to all kinds of people effectively: your bosses, clients, non-attorney staff, court personnel, and even the servers who take your order when your bosses take you to lunch.

You also need to be great at communicating different types of information.

If you’re a great appellate advocate but you’re unable to deliver bad news to a client, you may not be a good enough communicator to make partner. If you can write the best brief in the firm but you can’t hold your own in a conversation on the golf course, you may not be a good enough communicator to make partner.

If you don’t know where you stand in this regard, ask. Your partners want you to succeed and should provide you with areas you can work on.

Understand marketing and business development

The practice of law isn’t just about being a great lawyer. If you want success over the long haul, you have to become a great business developer as well.

Ultimately, this means that you have to be able to market yourself and your firm effectively.

Marketing doesn’t come naturally to everyone. That’s ok. There are a plethora of resources available online that will teach you how to grow your firm’s business.

And while some firms don’t expect you to actually land clients until you’re a senior associate, you should be thinking about your strategies for developing business very early in your career.

Be a good leader

When you become a partner in your law firm, you’re not just a co-owner in the business. You’re also a leader in that business.

In fact, you’ll need a whole host of different leadership skills to succeed as a partner.

This is an area where a little self-awareness goes a long way. Think about whether you’ve ever actually had the opportunity to lead – maybe through sports, parenting, social organizations, and the like.

If you haven’t had much experience, it’s time to start learning. And don’t worry if you’re not a natural-born leader. There are plenty of courses you can take specific to leadership and management within the law firm environment.

Watch your reputation

Perhaps more than in any other profession, your reputation matters in the practice of law. When it comes to making partner, this is a two-fold challenge that includes both your internal and external reputation.

Your internal reputation is how your colleagues perceive you. Tip #1 is critical here – you need to be trustworthy from a professional standpoint.

Be careful. Don’t be the associate who always gets too drunk at holiday parties. Don’t be the one that everyone sees as a hot-head. While those traits may get laughs as a young associate, they’re not qualities that will help you on your path to partnership.

Your external reputation is earned through things like your involvement in community service and how you treat opposing counsel. If you earn a solid reputation within your legal community at large, it will make it difficult for your firm to deny you partnership when the time comes.

Know when you’re off track

This is another area where self-awareness is critical.

The truth is, many associates will never make partner. If you’re one of them, your firm has probably known it from very early in your career.

Fortunately, there are several telltale signs that you’re not currently on partnership track. These include a lack of substantial assignments, not being trusted to interact with clients, and the fact that no one is talking to you about partnership.

If you’re in this boat, you need to recognize it early and ask what you can do to put yourself in a better position. For example, if you’ve missed some deadlines, you need to make some adjustments so that you can rebuild that trust.

If making partner or getting that next big promotion is high on your priority list, it’s never too soon to start taking these tips to heart. Good luck and Godspeed!

Author

  • Jennifer Anderson practiced business litigation in California from 1999 to 2016. When she’s not writing from her floating cabin on the Columbia River, she can be found hiking or kayaking around the Pacific Northwest.