Work + Growth

Don’t Make These Mistakes If You Want to Make Partner


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  • Lawyers who want to make partner need to avoid mistakes to get there
  • Not staying busy and not being accountable are two of the biggest blunders a partner-minded lawyer can make
  • Making partner is unlikely for a lawyer without a plan—have a strategy as you develop skills and cultivate relationships

Any lawyer who wants to make partner needs to focus on taking careful steps toward that goal.

Young lawyers not only need to work hard but must ensure they stand out—and they don’t want to stand out in the wrong way. Getting on the partner track and staying there without being derailed by common but avoidable slip-ups takes thoughtful planning. Do you really know what lawyer mistakes to avoid if you want to make partner?

Mistake 1: Not staying busy enough.

Everyone has slow days, but if you want to make partner, you should make it your business to stay busy. If you’re not busy enough, take the initiative to ask where you can help. A smart move is to get in good with a busy partner and continually request and accept challenging assignments, giving you opportunities to impress them.

Mistake 2: Not being creative.

It’s not enough to simply make yourself available for work. You must also prove why you’re more valuable than the next few associates offering to help. Do you find creative ways to solve problems? Do you have bold ideas? You should also not just spend time doing grunt work for hours; position yourself to receive as many creative, choice assignments as possible. At the very least, be sure to work on different types of tasks and cases.

Mistake 3: Not being accountable.

Ok, so you’re staying busy and being sure to get your hands on the creative, interesting assignments. You also need to make accountability for your work a big part of your brand. Be known for following up. Be known for following through. Partners need to trust your handling of the small details, even those that don’t directly benefit you. Make a name for yourself by meeting deadlines and exceeding expectations. Take responsibility for every part of an assignment and demonstrate that you have the character expected of a future partner.

What do you do to make sure you’re accountable for the assignments you work on?

Mistake 4: Not having sponsors.

Every lawyer knows how important it is to have mentors who can advise and counsel you when you have questions. A sponsor, however, will advocate for you. A partner or otherwise more senior lawyer recommending you and letting others in power know why they should choose you for special projects or advancement is invaluable on your journey to making partner. Think about who you can develop relationships with and how likely they’ll be to tout your abilities when they have a chance to do so.

Mistake 5: Not having a plan.

You need to start thinking like a partner to become a partner. When considering your career, think past the current deal and the next year—think about what you want your future to look like and what it takes to get there. What does your plan need to include to put yourself on the partner track? What steps are necessary to take, which ones are a gamble, and what actions should you avoid?

Your plan will likely be different from other lawyers at different firms; simply copying what worked for someone else probably isn’t a great idea. Your plan should be tailored to your strengths, your particular skills, and the type of law you practice.  You may end up needing to make a lateral move from one firm to another if you find that making partner where you start out is prohibitively difficult. Just remember to be strategic as you develop skills, cultivate relationships, and advocate for yourself.