Making partner is often the ambition of new attorneys. It is a serious journey that, while rewarding, requires a lot of time and personal sacrifice (there’s a lot to consider when deciding whether to pursue partnership). I have had the pleasure of working with and getting to know partners in various law firms and practices, and have compiled some of their best pieces of advice below:
Take control of your career.
Eventually, you will need to step outside of the nest your law firm and company’s formal mentoring and professional development programs. These programs are a great start—but keep in mind that you will have to take charge of your own development and growth. This means looking for your own additional training opportunities. Clients and supervising lawyers notice affirmative steps that associates take to shape their own professional development.
It is important to understand the economics underlying your work and role. Learn to ask questions and find out what a clients’ budget is for a project. Pay attention to what a particular client’s tolerance is for the cost of certain types of work. In your assignments, in addition to reviewing whether you’ve looked at all of the angles of an argument, consider whether you have looked at your client’s big-picture interests or position. Find out the forces behind your client’s desire to reach the finish line and make sure that is addressed in your work.
Know your clients’ industries.
To be as forward-thinking and to minimize risks for your clients, you need to, on your own time, study the necessary industries of your clients. Understand where they are coming from by learning what you can about their trade, and consider how a client may be affected by developments your area of practice. All lawyers can provide research and writing—a trusted partner is expected to provide real value through identifying tomorrow’s issue, one the client has not yet considered, and counseling the client on how to resolve it.
Respond to communications.
New lawyers often do not acknowledge that they have received the email and are working on the matter discussed. More experienced lawyers almost always provide some type of acknowledgment to comfort the sender that they are paying attention and will deliver. If clients don’t hear from you, another lawyer who gives an eager impression to do the work will find a way into your relationship. Take the extra two minutes to let your client know that you are on it.
Similarly, let your clients and supervising lawyers know about your progress on assignments (especially let them know if you are unable to meet a deadline in advance). They shouldn’t have to reach out to you for status reports. Otherwise, they will stop reaching out to you at all.
Remember, when you are writing your updates, to write clearly; if the writing is unclear, clients and supervising lawyers will suspect that your thinking is unclear.
Be [the best version of] yourself.
Relationships, and the quality of an associate’s connections, make them partners. A heavy workload shouldn’t keep you from maintaining existing friendships and relationships or seeking out others. Treat everyone with whom you work as if one day they might become your client. If you do so, some of them very well may. Get involved in your networks and community.
BUT—do all of this without succumbing to the temptation to conform to how you believe they want you to be. As long as you act professionally and with courtesy, being yourself will expand your professional and personal contacts and make you happier while at work. Clients are people too, and most people prefer to work with those with whom they connect with—and we connect with people who are happy. Clients have many great lawyers to choose from; the lawyers they hire are people whose company they genuinely enjoy.