Congratulations to the newly minted Biglaw partners out there. Despite Biglaw’s current problems and murky future, it really is a signature professional achievement. So take a night, or a week, or even two to celebrate. And then get ready to start re-evaluating your entire life, top to bottom. You may not get a better chance, ever.
What am I talking about? Simple. In order to make partner in today’s Biglaw, you have made numerous sacrifices. Whether it be your student debt, your relationships, your waistline, or anything else, your sacrifice has now been validated. You now occupy a new professional status, and the nature of making partner is such that no matter how badly you screw up the rest of your life, you have accomplished something very rare. It is a life milestone, on par with getting married or winning the lottery in terms of its immediate alteration of your identity. A minute ago, you were single. Now, married. A minute ago, you were just another Biglaw associate. Now, you are a partner. Beautiful.
I am not discussing here the “professional” aspects about making partner, such as the need to start building a book of business, and how to handle yourself at the office. You will learn most of what you need to know on that front at your new partner orientation — a gloatfest galore, typically — and you will then spend a career figuring it all out.
Rather, I want to address some of the “personal” ramifications that hearing the good news of your “election” or “promotion” will lead to. Because it would be a shame to waste this golden opportunity to change the things about your life that you are less than perfectly satisfied with….
First, family relationships. Just like a lottery winner gets very good, very fast, at learning to fend off newfound friends and family looking for a handout, so should you actually take steps to jettison the toxic relationships, family or otherwise, in your life. You are a partner in Biglaw, and you deserve the respect of not having your time wasted trying to mediate a family dispute between your first cousin and their tenant in South Dakota. Your days as the family lawyer are over, as is your availability to do mundane nonsense for other people. If you feel bad for them, chip in and pay someone else to handle it.
Of course, you really need to take some time to acknowledge those family members whose sacrifices helped you along the way. The uncle who loaned you his apartment while you were a summer associate, or the parent who was always willing to babysit on those rare occasions that you were able to sneak away for a long weekend with your spouse? Be humble, and gracious, but unwilling to stand for abuse — that’s my point.
Your new primary obligation, other than to immediate family in situations where your direct help will make a real difference, is to your firm. It sounds harsh, but it is an important step to making the mental transition from being an employee to, at a minimum, a prospective owner in the near term (if not at your current firm, at a different firm perhaps willing to lateral you in as an equity partner). Honestly, if your family really cared about you, and respected your accomplishments, they would never dare to bother you with nonsense. To be fair, they may not understand the magnitude of your accomplishment.
We forget sometimes what an insular world Biglaw is, and how much time gets wasted obsessing over incremental “prestige” differences that seem of such great importance to us, but to the average person are meaningless. Regular people think we are a bunch of overpriced aliens, and sympathize with our clients’ plight in having to hire us. Find a regular person and ask them what they think about Biglaw. Marvel at the indifference in their reaction.
Family, check. Lovers? First of all, if you don’t have one, get one. It should be easier than ever and you have a lot to offer as a companion. And if you are in any way unhappy with the one you have, there will never be a better time to make a clean break. Or at least to start setting the stage for one. You are a partner, and thus a “catch,” and you do not need to tolerate relationship drama from your current significant other. In short, making partner likely gives you immediate “hand,” and you are best advised to use it while it is strongest.
It is actually very liberating when you realize that you are making a relationship decision out of free will, rather than as a result of boredom or a fear of being alone. There will never be a better time to dump the long-term girlfriend that you really never plan on marrying. Or to rid yourself of the emasculated “husband” who has stayed home the last three years shuttling your toddlers to piano lessons so you could put in the hours at the office to make partner — despite being married with children and female.
Be honest with yourself, and admit that you want a pretty little thing, a few years younger than the perfectly nice marketing assistant you have been dating who is approaching thirty and starting to drop unwanted hints like guano about getting married soon. Or that you want a decisive, accomplished man in your life, one who would take your “offer” of playing Mr. Mom so you can have your career and laugh long and loudly in your face. Someone who you do not have to tell what to do, but is more than willing to tell you what to do, and who thereby relieves you of the constant stress of being “in control” and “having it all.”
Be honest, or doom yourself to a droning unhappiness, one that culminates all too often in inflicting more hurt on your “love” down the line, than a clean break would hurt them now. Blame it on making partner and having it be an epiphany that you will never “be what they need you to be” if you need to. But do it, if you feel even the slightest inkling of disappointment in your current mating choice.
Of course, if you are fortunate enough to be in a happy relationship, make sure to acknowledge, in a meaningful way, the sacrifices your significant other shared with you in order to help you reach your goals. Commit yourself to paying them back by using your newfound status to help them find whatever professional or personal fulfillment they seek. When you are in a healthy relationship, accomplishments, like life itself, feel shared at a very basic level. Everyone owes it to themselves to find that connection, and nurture it if they have.
Congratulations — now the real work starts….
Next week, I’ll turn to some of the financial considerations that new partners should think about. In the meantime, let me know, by email or in the comments below, what making partner did for your personal relationships…
Anonymous Partner is a partner at a major law firm. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.