What Is Expected from a Partner?

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Partnership requirements evolve. Some may still remember the days when after a few years of hard work and having earned the respect of the other partners, an associate was offered a seat at the table. It reflected a more genteel profession and legal marketplace. Today, the requirements for partnership are far more exacting, as are the profession and the marketplace. The partner of tomorrow will need skills and competencies that are different from today. Some we can anticipate; many we cannot yet see with sufficient clarity. What we do know is that law firms make incredibly profound and far-reaching decisions when they offer partnership. It is imperative that firms exercise due diligence in those partnership admission decisions and thereafter as the partners continue on with their careers.

Partner contributions should and do change over time; and partnerships should expect their partners to perform accordingly in order to remain a partner – partnership is not a life tenancy. It is equally important that firm leadership keep a sharp eye on the future to identify how the profession is changing and how the ownership structures of their firms will need to adapt to those changes. The stagnation of equity partner ranks and growth in non-equity partner ranks since the 2008 recession is an example of how partnership structures and expectations can change.

There are now competitors outside the traditional legal profession who are looking at how to serve law firm clients by leveraging technology and utilizing advanced operational design to vastly improve on efficiency, timeliness, cost certainty and value. When they interject themselves, it disrupts the status quo and law firm partners must be ready to combat that new market dynamic.

In recent years it has been imperative that each partner be able to competently use basic technology tools. Now they must do that and more, moving past the basics and venturing into advanced technology tools through experimentation in machine learning, coding and the like.

Partners would do well to learn about pricing techniques, budgeting, cost of service delivery, legal process mapping, and knowledge management. Some may become experts in these disciplines themselves; others will learn the basics so they can interact with the subject experts. Eventually those subject experts may be invited into partnership.

The profile of a law firm's lawyer ranks includes non-equity, income or similarly titled limited-ownership positions, as well as counsel and other lawyer positions. These titles conveyed to lawyers, particularly as they gain experience, have evolved to include an increasing number of place holders. Some extend the journey to partnership, some convey seniority; some assuage egos; and some divide up the partnership ranks into variously invested or limited capacities. However, the answers to who should be made partner are not found in more titles, but in a deeper understanding and accountability for what competencies are required for partners to succeed today and tomorrow. 

This article is dedicated to what the partner must contribute to earn her/his seat at the table. 

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