Tag Archives: Partners

Do you want to be a partner?

J. Nick Augustine J.D. is the principal of Law Publicist Communications, an ALR/PRA, Incorporated agency.  Law Publicist Communications is a public relations agency also offering coaching and consulting.  Nick advises and assists attorneys in transition in public relations, marketing and practice management.  Nick shares recruiting and staffing experience and tips for legal job seekers.

Attorneys are always in transition.  One of the least addressed groups is the pool of associates who want to become a partner.  The type of associate who leaves a firm to hang their own shingle is probably a rainmaker who would be a good partner.  Partnership decisions and staff/associate attorney movement often happen behind closed doors.  Existing equity and even non-equity partners might be privy to the direction of the firm and whether Attorney Bob or Sue will ever be offered partnership.

Make no mistake; larger law firms are very competitive and political.  Those who get along well with others (clients and fellow attorneys) and who excel in their practice areas have the best chance at becoming a partner.  Many associates are skilled in their practice areas, but lack other non-academic qualities to be one of the partners.

Dedication to a group of attorneys organized in a law firm should be taken seriously.  Partnerships also take on different formations.  Some firms require a capital contribution to buy-in to partnership.  Other firms invite new partners without an initiation fee or waive the right to contribution unless the attorney leaves the partnership before a determined amount of time.  Partnership agreements are as unique as those who draft them.  The commitment expected may be great, and the more you know walking into negotiation, the better you can spot the best fit.

Consider 7 questions to help you determine whether you really want to become a partner or actually want to start your own firm:

1. Do you want control over the direction of a law firm?

Some of us think we know how we want to practice from the second day of law school while others seem to frequently change direction.  If you are a dynamic practitioner, and want more freedom, then you might be happier having the ability to switch gears.

2. Are you strong in selling others on the quality of a firm?

Not everyone has the gift of marketing themselves and others are natural rainmakers.  If you practice in a competitive space and need to compete for clients then solo life may not be your best bet.  If however you are a sales savvy lawyer then you are well suited both for private practice and as well as a partner in a larger firm.  The climbing associate should consider their ability to build a book of business.

3. Is it likely you will change your practice area lineup to meet demands?

Remember how many residential real estate closing attorneys there were five years ago?  It seems like many of these attorneys opted to practice bankruptcy law instead.  Practice areas are subject to shifting economic conditions.  Will you hop on the next bandwagon or ride out the storm?

4. Have you ever managed a group of strong-willed professionals?

If you think management sounds like an annoying burden in a small firm, consider the drama that comes along with management decision making in any larger organization.  There is no quicker way to put a price on your own head when you make a decision that not all will like.

5. Does sharing profits and losses move you in one direction?

Profits per partner averages are reviewed and some partners make greater contributions to those numbers.  The partners who engage in valuable but less billable work affect the averages.  This can cause stress to other partners.

6. Are you the type who enjoys commitment or wants to see if other grass is greener?

Building a firm with valuable partners is not unlike a marriage.  The firm may expect a commitment that some attorneys are not ready to make.  It is not very easy to become a partner, and to leave that partnership is like a divorce and can be difficult and expensive.

7. Do you balance your professional, personal and community needs well?

I have heard from countless large law firm partners that the firm likes it when you spend your weekend in the office.  Yes, some firms are more flexible with outside commitments, but most do not prefer you to have much of a life outside the office.

Practice area transfers

J. Nick Augustine J.D. is the principal of ALR/PRA, Inc., a full service law practice management agency.  Nick advises and assists attorneys in transition in public relations and marketing.  Nick also shares recruiting and staffing experience and tips for legal job seekers.

Some say that tort reform hurts the business of personal-injury law.  When economic factors trigger different types of legal service needs, many service providers shift gears to new legal practice areas.  There are several considerations and options for practice area transfers.

You have all likely known a colleague who worked in insurance defense and that’s how you know generally know and remember them.  Imagine that you see them a few times in court on insurance defense cases.  All seems well with your friendly insurance defense guy until one day he takes an in-house counsel position at the insurance company.  Not only will your friend not be in court as often, his day is likely going to change drastically.

Like the insurance defense attorney, we all develop specialized skills sets in practice areas by continuing to gain practical experience in each practice area.  Over time we become valuable attorneys when we have navigated complex and various matters and have developed a feel for your area of law.  When considering transferring to another practice area, it makes sense to assess the assets you possess in one area of law and consider whether they are transferrable.

Your practice area may be dead, you will have to transfer, ask the attorneys who used to live off of real estate closings.  This can be an inevitable situation and if you find yourself in this predicament, fear not, resources are quick and easy to find.  Many general practitioners have built trips to the law library into their schedule so they could quickly research a potential client’s case in an area of law they’ve not previously navigated.  If you have to involuntarily change course in your career, make sure you locate and learn from a trusted and ethical attorney in your new practice area, someone who can help you avoid some pitfalls.

When the other side is greener, you may feel persuaded to change.  If you dislike transactional work, civil litigation may sound really appealing to you when you want to draft great pleadings and take cases to the appellate courts after a battle at trial.  The reality of litigation may be quite different than you expected on the day to day routine and set of unique obstacles.  Try asking a small firm litigator if they have time for lunch.  Seriously, if you take someone to lunch they may impart some wisdom to help you make an informed decision.

Testing the waters of partnerships requires trust and patience.  Partnering can be tailored to each unique work relationship.  You can add a partner with another practice area and you can learn from your new partner as you go and eventually you can pick up their new practice area.  Whatever you do, don’t quit your day job until you’re sure the new setup is going to last.