Making Partner: Holy Grail or Poisoned Chalice?

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Securing the ‘holy grail’ of partnership is the prime career objective of many young, ambitious lawyers. But, asks Shruti Trivedi, Partner at Roythornes Solicitors, is making partner necessarily the right step for you and for your firm?

Before pursuing partnership, there are a number of factors that need careful consideration. It might well be that partnership is not really for you – and there’s absolutely no shame in admitting that. I know plenty of talented lawyers who would much rather bring in their own work and do it themselves than delegate the caseload to their team. That’s fine, but it’s not how it should be when you’re a partner.

If you are reading this and are on the cusp of making your next big step in your career, I would like to share a few points I learnt on the road to becoming a partner.

Ask not what your firm can do for you, but what you can do for your firm

Before you consider going for partnership, the most important thing that you should first of all ask yourself is whether you’re with the right law firm. Ideally, you should go back to grass roots and treat your quest to becoming a partner in much the same way as you approached gaining your training contract after leaving law school.

As a newly qualified graduate, presumably you looked for a legal practice that would support you in your professional development, and the same criteria applies at this stage in your career as much as it did on day one.

We’ve all met lawyers whose sole motive is to “eat what they kill”, but good partners share their work – and they go out hunting not just for themselves but for the whole firm. This stance isn’t just altruistic – it’s business savvy and financially sound. If you have a stake in the business your own earnings will be determined by how well, or not, the firm performs. It makes sense to look at the bigger picture.

You should feel perfectly happy bringing in work for your colleagues – and not just for members of your own team, but also for solicitors working elsewhere in your practice.

Being an ambassador for your firm

There obviously needs to be a business case for your firm making you up to partner – but is it the right one? I’ve seen business cases which simply don’t stack up. Yes, you can bring in the work and complete it competently – that should be a given – but are you also able to raise your firm’s profile?

At this stage in your career, you should be good at what you do and have a reputation for being very capable, but how do you feel about being an ambassador for your practice?

A key consideration is what being a partner will do for your work/life balance. Yes, partnership can mean increased earnings and higher status, but it entails making sacrifices elsewhere too. As partner you’ll need to be prepared to put in longer hours and go beyond the daily nine to five.

You’ll need to get used to networking – and quickly. You may not like being in a room full of strangers, but remember, partnership isn’t all about you. Act confidently without being cocky or arrogant.

In my role as partner specialising in planning, I’m often in situations where I know no-one but I put on my game face and get on with it. By putting yourself out there you’ll make useful new contacts. I met someone recently who has nothing to do with my area of law but has helped to open doors elsewhere in the firm.

At events you can tell as soon as you enter the room who wants to be there and who has been told to attend. It does us all good to be taken out of our comfort zones occasionally, but if you’re uncomfortable talking to people and don’t like giving presentations, then partnership is probably not for you.

Risk vs reward – and when it pays off

I’m pleased to work in a firm that takes a more holistic approach to personal development than some of the larger practices I have come across. I work alongside partners who have come to the legal professional both traditionally and via less conventional career paths, such as through working in IT first, making for a well-rounded approach to running the firm.

As long as employees tick all the boxes for technical ability, and they have the personal qualities which will fit in with your business’s culture, then how they arrived there shouldn’t matter. Our firm has an excellent reputation as a good employer – and although my own route to partner has been quite traditional, I appreciate the flexibility shown in offering partnership opportunities to the right people.

There has been a big change in the legal market over the past 10 years, and in how the public perceives lawyers. It’s a competitive world, and much in the same way that consumers go shopping for their utility firm, they’ll shop around for a solicitor.

People have so much more choice these days and their decisions aren’t based simply on cost – they want to do business with someone they like and trust. Building long-standing personal relationships with clients is a key part of any partner’s role. We have clients on our books who go back with us for generations, but we work hard at fostering loyalty.

Partnership can be very rewarding if, like me, you are with the right firm. But, before you embark on your journey to becoming partner, make sure you carry out a self-evaluation process and try to manage your own expectations of the role.

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