I was interviewed recently by LawFirmAmbition about the most common questions surrounding the topic of becoming a partner in a law firm. The questions below focus on the necesary skills needed to be an effective partner as well as the levels of responsibility and obligations you may take on in your new role. You can read the answers to previous questions here:
There are a wide variety of support measures.
Many firms allocate partnership mentors to help new partners become accustomed to their new role and to be a helpful source of counselling when required. Others make use of external coaches.
Development courses include those provided by local law societies and professional advisers. Courses can sometimes be delivered in-house to a single firm with a number of delegates from the firm undertaking the programme together, or as a public course with delegates coming from a number of different firms.
Issues you may want to cover include business development, people development, strategy, financial knowledge and the personal implications of becoming a partner.
Although there may be an expectation that partners should win more instructions from clients, it is not a given. Partners may be allocated more business development time, which should make it easier to form the relationships that generate new business from new or existing clients.
In some cases, potential clients may only want to deal with a partner in the firm. From that perspective, it may be easier for you to convert a prospect to a client on becoming a partner.
Business development skills do not come naturally to everybody. To an extent, they can be learned over time and also by attending development sessions.
In the vast majority of cases, the levels of responsibility and influence will increase on becoming a partner. The exception to that can be the very large firms which are managed by a small group of people, where most partners do not have much influence at all.
The levels will vary depending on the size and management structure of the firm, and also the personalities within the partnership. As partners become more senior, it is likely that their influence will increase and so the input into the strategic direction of the firm – and responsibility for delivering results based on the strategic plan – will grow.
More firms, even the smaller ones, are now moving to a management board structure where a small number of partners take positions on the board with certain powers delegated to them from the partnership. This prevents the need for all partners to discuss and then vote on all matters. Speeding up the decision-making process can allow the firm to move ahead of competitors.
In more progressive firms, board positions may be held by business professionals with the skills, experience and qualifications to run a business, rather than partners. This allows the partners to return to looking after clients and concentrate on what they do best.
In such situations, the level of influence of the partners is likely to be reduced. However, the partnership as a whole should still hold certain vetoes, voting on key matters and agreeing the strategic direction that the board will then be responsible for implementing.
Specific obligations will vary for each partner role in each firm. In smaller firms, additional obligations are likely to include responsibility for heading certain internal functions of the firm, such as IT, HR and marketing. In larger firms, those internal roles are likely to be filled by non-lawyer professionals rather than partners.
Other additional obligations could include taking on department head roles with responsibility for the profitable growth of the department, technical development and people development/recruitment.
Trust is vital in partnership, so it should be hoped that the existing partners will put forward what they believe to be a fair offer of partnership. If you accept an offer that you later realise was not offered in good faith, that trust will be broken and the partnership will not operate as effectively as it could, harming both you and the existing partners.
That said, it is human nature to be swayed to offering financial and other terms that best suit one party or the other. This can be particularly so if the existing partners may not remain long in partnership.
It is best practice to engage external support in evaluating an offer. Full due diligence or a valuation exercise would be cost-prohibitive for many in this position. However, a ‘lifting the bonnet’ service from an experienced adviser does usually highlight risks, and provides questions for you to ask of the existing partners based on the specific circumstances.