Is Making Partner Still the End Goal?

By Neetal Parekh on November 17, 2009 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

They painted an enticing picture.  The law firm equivalent of blue-water beaches or endless rolling hills.  But here, the picture offered job security, leadership opportunity, hefty compensation, and maybe a corner office.  Ah, to make partner.

But for hardworking associates in the mix the question may arise, is the pinnacle of 'making partner' still the ultimate be-all end-all  goal?  Surprisingly, or maybe not at all, it depends.

The game of BigLaw has changed since the 1950's structure of entry-level associates who 'put in their time' before being anointed with the title of partner.  Now, there is no presumption of certainty that working at a law firm for 7, 8, 10 years will ensure you the top spot with the firm. 

It seems that now partnership is a path, an option of how to relate to a firm, and is less becoming the overarching goal when working at a law firm.  In an article by BCG Attorney Search, Attorney Peter Smith suggests that three types of associates are pegged for partner in many law firms.  According to Smith, there is the "rainmaker" who drums up business and connects with clients and potential clients, the "service partner" provide niche legal expertise, and the "hybrid" firm attorney is characterized by strong leadership skills and a strong client base.

But to even be considered for law firm partner, there are the requisite years of long hours and tolling case loads to contend with.  And that can cut into personal life, family life, and even an associate's health.  While many associates follow the path to partnership in textbook fashion, others experience a few years and then reassess their goals. They may trade in their BigLaw associate pass for one in a small or mid-sized firm.  Or they may opt to pursue government positions, in-house counsel options, or roles in non-profit law organizations.

If your firm is pruning you for a top spot, then partnership may be an exciting challenge you are eagerly pursuing. However, if you are unsure about BigLaw life or are fairly sure that the firm hasn't slotted you for a corner office, then suddenly "making partner" may just not be an optional ending in your own "Choose Your Own Adventure", career edition. But you can choose your own, remember.

This article is courtesy of BCG Search.

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