5 Signs Your Firm Will Pass You Over For Partner

Pass You Over For Partner

The Road To Partnership

A partnership at a law firm can seem daunting.  Several requisites must be met before one can even be considered, including your billable hours, proper mentorship and the ability to bring in new business.  You want to make sure you’re properly qualified so your firm doesn’t pass you over for partner.

So you’re at your firm, working hard and learning a ton.  The partnership may seem so close, however, you are competing with fellow colleagues and want to keep your eye on the prize.  Don’t lose focus and slip up.  To help you get your partnership, here are a five signs you want to steer clear from that will pass you over for partner.

  1. Staying at the same firm you started at.

You may be thinking that staying at the firm you started at throughout all these years demonstrates loyalty.  While that may be true, you started there as a young lawyer, most likely straight out of college.  The unfortunate scenario here is that your firm will have a preconceived view of you as the kid that started at the firm and may have a very difficult time getting the image of you being the new guy out of their head.  No matter how much time you have spent there, you may never rise in the ranks solely because people could never see the old you in the new position. 

Back in the days of early law, the Cravath had a philosophy called ‘up or out,’ meaning if you never got promoted or made partner you were forced out of the firm.  Modern day philosophy follows an ‘over and up’ model.  This means that when you have gained enough experience and confidence in your career, you switch to a different law firm.  This new law firm will not have a preconceived view of you as the kid straight out of college but the already successful and skilled lawyer. 

I’m not ruling out that the firm you started out at will make you partner, however, “switching while you are hot will make you a much more valuable candidate in the eyes of unbiased partners.” –Shari Davidson, President of On Balance Search Consultants

2. Being a good lawyer but not bringing in business

Being a good lawyer these days is not enough to become partner at your firm.  For example, at an equity partnership, you own a small part of the firm when you become partner.  The amount you make is part of a bigger pie that all the partners share.  If everyone is bringing in a bunch of new business and you are not, then you are selfishly taking your share of your partners’ hard work and not contributing any profit of your own.

You want to give the other partners a reason, other than being good at law, to make you a partner.  If you can really make it rain and bring in clients, then the partners won’t be able to resist offering you a partnership position.  You also do not need to be a partner to bring it.  Although bringing it in as an associate may be a bit more difficult, it will show drive, initiative, and ambition

3. Billable hours

It’s not that complicated, it’s all about making it rain. Don’t’ just show up for work, listen, learn make it happen. Show me the money! 

4. Working exclusively for one partner, or mentor

In this case, you should think of it as a, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” approach.  When working for a partner and trying to meet your billable hours, it may seem easier to just pick one partner to work for.  However, think of the scenario which may be ‘worst-case,’ but isn’t too far out there either.  Imagine you’re well into your years at a firm and you’re confident the partner you’re working for will help you get chosen as a new partner, then suddenly, that partner leaves the firm.  You are now left with nobody to vouch for you and a lot of hours that need to be filled with work.

Having a second partner you do work for can prevent this from happening.  Try not to choose only one partner to develop a good relationship with because an unfortunate departure of you partner can significantly hurt your chances at succeeding in your path to partner.  If, for some unfortunate reason, you are stuck in this situation, remember the ‘over and up’ philosophy we spoke about above.  If you think getting a new mentor at your firm may not happen, you can always bring your expertise to another firm where you could possibly be viewed as a stronger candidate.

5. Not being involved in professional panels or professional groups

Some lawyers will tell you that being on a professional panel or group is a waste of time.  Although there is no right or wrong answer whether you should or should not be involved, they are much more important if you want to bring prestige and recognition to your firm.  It makes your more valuable to your firm and raises your firm’s value in the legal community and to your clients.

Taking advantage of professional panels and groups can also be a great resource of new clients.  This can also help your path to partner – as we mentioned in a previous point.  Getting exposure to more people and being able to add value to your existing position at your firm can help generate new clients and shine a light on you.

Take these signs as a precaution so that you can steer away from them as quickly as possible and turn them into something positive.  Becoming partner may seem daunting but it is definitely not impossible.  Just by reading this article you are demonstrating initiative and preparation.  Good luck in your path to partner.

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About On Balance Search Consultants
On Balance offers great insight and industry intelligence.  Shari Davidson, president of On Balance Search Consultants, advises law firms on how to take a firm to the next level and helps rising talent make the transition to the right law firm.

Contact us today.  Call 516.731.4300 or visit our website at https://www.onbalancesearch.com

Please note that the content of this blog does not constitute legal advice and is only intended for the educational purpose of the reader.  Please consult your legal counsel for specifics regarding your specific circumstances and the laws in your states pertaining to social media and any legal restrictions regarding the law


Shinners, M. (June 7, 2012). How to Become a Law Firm Partner. Litigation, American Bar Association.

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