Last week, I wrote about face time considerations for associates. In Biglaw, face time is important for partners as well, albeit in a different way, with a significant exception for “pure” service partners.
Service partners are like associates when it comes to face time, with one major difference. In contrast to the often large constituency that associates need to please, your typical service partner needs to focus more exclusively on the specific rainmakers who provide them their work. That is why you will frequently find a service partner who is dependent on a particular rainmaker trailing that rainmaker around the office like a faithful Lab trailing a treat-bearing little kid. Or never leaving until the rainmaker leaves for the day. Vacations? Either timed to the rainmaker’s vacation, or planned with the idea that one would be perfectly accessible should the rainmaker call. Most of the time, this behavior by service partners happens naturally. When you have limited sources of work, it is folly not to stay close by those sources on a constant basis.
As important as face time is for senior and mid-level partners, it is even more important for junior partners….
For younger service partners, the equation is simple: as noted above, they need to remain “front of mind” for their rainmakers in order to continue receiving assignments. With competition from “above” in the form of older service partners, and “below” in the form of senior associates, junior partners must continue to be around the office on a regular basis. At the same time, it is important not to be so rooted to the office that business development activities are limited to calling former colleagues who are now in-house to complain about how nothing really changes when you make partner.
No one said this was an easy way to make a living. But the more you remember that Biglaw is a “social” business, the easier things can be.
Younger partners looking to develop business, particularly those without a rainmaking patron to call their own, need to tailor their face time strategy to make the best possible impression on the partners in their office who have the ear of central management. That means making small talk as often as possible with the office managing partner, and making sure that your department head is fully apprised of your activities at regular intervals. The overall impression to leadership and your fellow partners has to be one of action: you are in the office, making things happen for the firm on a daily basis. No one likes the hibernating bear partner — unless their book of business pays for their cave, and the caves of those who would otherwise complain about their reclusive habits or frequent disappearances from the office.
Of course, rainmakers are seemingly immune from face time in the traditional sense. Their face time is reserved for clients, whether it be in a hosting, visiting, or social capacity. Aspiring rainmakers should model their behavior likewise, and take whatever opportunities present themselves to get out of the office and spend time with current and potential clients. This is especially true when things are a bit slower than usual on the billable hours side. Despite the tendency of partners to squeeze every last six-minute increment out of billable matters when things are slow, that approach is often short-sighted, both in terms of keeping existing clients happy and increasing the likelihood of garnering new ones.
In fact, many partners have a tendency to slow down in response to reduced demand for their services. For example, it is not unusual to see corporate partners in between deals doing the 10-to-5 “show up and slink away” for a few weeks at a time. Ditto for litigators coming off a spate of settlements. The occasional indulgence in this partner perk is nothing shameful, but partners need to make sure that this approach does not become commonplace. Better to be out of the office meeting people for lunch or drinks, or even attending a CLE or bar event off-site, than becoming a permanent fixture at the 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. coffee breaks in the pantry. Put another way, a day at an industry conference is worth ten such “normal” workdays in the office.
An additional thought,tied to the increasing distributed global presence of many Biglaw firms: if you are in a firm with multiple offices, it is a mistake to think of face time as limited to the office you happen to reside in. Opportunity comes from meeting your colleagues in person, so you should make at least semi-annual visits to two or three key “foreign” (be it Chicago or Dakar) offices. There is a reason that firm management and the firm’s rainmakers are always on the road. The idea of course is not to time your visits to take advantage of better weather (you just look cheap if you are a Boston-based lawyer specializing in advising local companies on their Massachusetts state tax obligations who just happens to swing by the Miami office every January), but instead to determine which of your firm’s other offices present cross-selling opportunities and make sure to visit those offices as regularly as possible.
In addition to targeting other offices that have complementary client bases or practice groups, it is also important to know the various centers of practice group power in your firm and to be visible to others in your group. In today’s environment, the title of partner will not serve as much of a shield against the de-equitization axe, especially if you are viewed as just another service drone. Better to be doing things, and keeping others in the loop as to what you are up to. Sometimes that means getting on a plane, and at other times it means making sure that you speak up at the monthly practice group meeting. The idea that all the people you need to impress are located down the hall is no longer true. Biglaw has gone global, and so have face time requirements for partners. Can’t wait to see you around.
Do you think partners are subject to face time requirements, and if so, how do you think it is different for partners and associates? Let me know by email or in the comments.
Anonymous Partner is a partner at a major law firm. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.