5 Skills to Develop Now to Make Partner in 5 Years

For any lawyer, making partner represents a major career milestone. Whether as a non-equity partner, or equity partner where an ownership stake is involved, the title carries the added responsibility of bringing in new business, so being named partner is not something taken lightly by attorneys or the firms bestowing that title. What follows are 5 key skills that should be developed today to get your feet firmly planted on the path to partnership.

1) Relationship Building

This applies across the board. Whether talking about relationships with other attorneys and existing partners, clients or potential clients, a partner is expected to be a recognized and respected face of the organization. People should know who you are, and implicitly trust your leadership ability and work ethic. Forging and nurturing these key relationships is a skill that will help not only in the office and courtroom, but will be invaluable in bringing in and retaining new business. Being partner is an all-encompassing role, and to be successful at the relationship building piece, it must come from a genuine internal desire to develop those relationships, not simply from an effort to impress in an attempt to be recognized. Anyone can network, building meaningful relationships is a skill.

2) Develop Business Skills

The title of partner sits at the crossroads between practicing attorney and business owner. This requires wearing multiple hats and the ability to shift mental gears on a dime as necessary. Partnership means ownership, and that means having direct responsibility for the firm’s bottom line. This will require sales skills, not just to win over new business, but to identify and capitalize on cross-selling opportunities with existing clients. A potential partner should be knowledgable about clients’ business, and aware of major changes, industry trends or market regulations that may affect them. They should demonstrate that awareness by seamlessly cross-selling their firm’s other practice areas as potential solutions. Even if it means late hours or weekend work, a potential partner should get excited at the possibility of new business because it helps the firm. Keeping the title of partner is often contingent on bringing in new business, so learning how to sell the firm is key to success. Consider hiring a personal marketing coach who specializes in the legal profession if sales is currently a foreign concept.

3) Learn to Market Yourself

A critical piece to making partner is to show firm principals that you’re eager and multitalented. This can be accomplished in part by marketing yourself, which sometimes happens in subtle ways. You want to develop a reputation as someone capable of taking on their own responsibilities but who’s always on the lookout for more, particularly if that leads to more business for the firm. Find out if the partners have opened any new files and offer to help with them. Over time it becomes known that you’re someone who can handle a diverse range of tasks and deliver on time, which increases how much they’ll rely on you. Further developing your skills and presence on your free time, through pro-bono work, bar association activities or helping organize firm events, also shows your dedication and makes you more of a known quantity at the firm. It also helps establish a more casual, outside-the-office connection with firm leaders.

4) Be Autonomous

An associate who wants to be considered for partner should be a self-starter whose very presence at a firm leads to more billable hours and more happy clients who get the best possible outcomes. Their client work should frequently branch off into other opportunities to cross-sell or conduct additional research on their behalf. That ability to generate more work is a valuable asset when it comes time to present a case to be made partner. Firms are more likely to promote associates with a track record of making them more money, particularly if that additional work results in stronger cases for their clients. Don’t send scattershot “how can I help?” emails to partners. Approach them having done your research and already knowing where they need help, with a specific plan to put your skills to use to their benefit.

5) Master Office Politics

Ascension to partner requires a delicate balancing act of promoting your achievements (and your ever-sharpening skills) without getting under anyone’s skin and alienating people along the way. This will require skillful reading of people to learn to avoid their triggers and not step on anyone’s toes or bruise any egos. Treat every firm employee with respect at all times and conduct yourself in a way that commands respect. Be a team player by sharing credit on group efforts, not the kind of associate who clamors to take the spotlight from others. It’s also important to always support your colleagues, and be front and center in celebrating their successes.

The long path to partnership requires a significant level of dedication. Far more than simply flipping a switch to prove your mettle when the right people are watching, becoming a partner requires a longstanding track record of hard work, reliability and dedication to the firm. To reach this vaunted status, your skills as both an attorney and a business person must be demonstrable and proven.

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