Making Partner: Reaching the Top of the Law Firm Hierarchy
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Making Partner: Reaching the Top of the Law Firm Hierarchy

17 August 2021

For any ambitious legal professional, making partner in a law firm is an essential milestone. It’s more than just a recognition of your knowledge of law. Being a partner demonstrates that you’re chimed into the important business aspects that accompany the profession.

Throughout university, you’ll learn how to think and write like a lawyer. In the professional world, you'll learn how the business of law works. Becoming a partner is a recognition of this development, and a testament to your ability to see the bigger picture and bridge the business with the practice. Here, we’ll give you practical guidance on how to take the right path towards becoming a partner.

Nurturing relationships

The professional relationships you cultivate as a lawyer are the bedrock of your success. You should go out of your way to ensure good relationship management to maintain a diverse network, and in turn bring in more business to your firm. Treating everyone as an important contact is a way of showcasing to partners that business development is consistently in the back of your mind.

An important aspect to remember is that as a case comes to a close, your relationship with the client shouldn’t. Nurturing the relationship beyond an individual case is crucial to developing long-term business, be it with the initial client or via a recommendation to another. You could consider sending a quarterly newsletter to update your client base and place your name in the back of their minds should litigation needs arise.

The way you market and sell yourself to clients and contacts, and how you communicate with people from different fields and backgrounds will tell partners in your firm a lot about your potential. When important clients respect and rely on you, and you inspire confidence in your network, you can be certain people will take notice and your professional stock will rise.

Niche opportunity

Finding your niche within the field of law is not only a powerful way to distinguish yourself from the crowd, but will also make you invaluable to a firm. Having a specialisation allows you to target specific networking events to develop important business associates in that field. You’ll learn the language used to talk about the industry or sector, making it easier to nurture trust and confidence when communicating with clients about their business. Becoming an authority in that field will also help your name and reputation grow organically amongst a comparatively smaller network. If you build a reputation as a specialist bringing clients from that sector to the firm, they’ll go extra lengths to maintain your employment and elevate your career path.

When choosing your niche, you’ll have a chance to demonstrate your ability to forward think and spot a lucrative trend, an essential prerequisite to becoming a partner. Think about potential high growth areas where businesses will need to commit to investing in legal services, such as developing tech areas like blockchain and data management. Thinking about long-term business opportunities and economic cycles is the type of mentality that makes partner material.

Meet your mentor

Rising the ranks in law won’t come without support. As with any profession, in law you are always learning. So, surrounding yourself with knowledgeable professionals who are willing to share their experience with you is crucial to get to the top. Finding yourself a mentor, either inside or out of the firm, will help to keep you focused on your ambitions and relevant work, and not get tied down in unimportant legal bureaucracy.

Aside from the wisdom and experienced legal mentor can impart with you, having the right advocate who will share their client relationships could be a huge step towards growing your network. As your skills and experience develop, a good mentor will be able to guide you in the right direction, and importantly, towards the right people. Every successful lawyer has climbed through the ranks themselves, so many are happy to help less experienced and ambitious professionals, so don't be afraid to ask.

Economics watch

As we alluded to at the beginning of the article – making partner means more than being a good lawyer. It means having a good business mentality. Understanding the economics of legal firms is crucial to moving towards a partnership. The senior partners in a firm will examine a lawyer’s billable hours, their productivity, the number of clients, and the potential profitability of the cases being worked on. Bear these in mind as you develop business and evaluate your current case load. Making the right decisions on cases and clients will demonstrate that you understand the grander vision of your firm, which they would expect in any partner at the company.

An example of this could be with higher-profile cases. For some unexperienced lawyers the chance to work on what might seem like a prestigious, headline-grabbing case for a large organisation might inadvertently push you towards a generic admin-heavy role that could drags on for years. Partners are professionals who have managed to differentiate themselves from what most lawyers can do. Steering away from more obvious cases will help you with finding that niche that you can develop your experience in.

It comes down to value

Remember, the questions it comes down to when the big decision is being made is ‘’why should we make you partner? What’s in it for us?’’ You should be able to answer them confidently, and demonstrate that you have, and can continue to bring, value to the firm. Real value comes in many different shapes, depending on the size and nature of the firm. Your judgement in assessing what this value is to your firm will be key on your journey. Once you start thinking and acting like a partner, your leadership capabilities will not go unnoticed.