There is plenty of negativity surrounding Biglaw nowadays. Time for a little positivity, with some help from the audience. I want to hear about young partners in Biglaw who are making a difference in their firms, for their clients, or in the lives of their colleagues. Good examples for us to learn from and emulate. If you know of someone deserving of recognition, let me know. The nominations will be kept anonymous, and I will only follow up with the permission of the person doing the nominating, and the nominated young partner as well.
Ground rules? Age matters. The younger the better, if only because the younger the partner the longer the potential Biglaw career. And nominees must be succeeding within the Biglaw framework. This is not a generic “great young lawyer” award. I know there are plenty of great young lawyers out there. I want to know about the ones doing cool things within the Biglaw framework. The same framework that usually skews older than your typical post-golf round brunch at a Scottsdale resort.
What kinds of cool things? Succeeding at business development, and especially helping others do the same. Using technology in a way that improves client service, and the lives of colleagues as well. Introducing new management techniques to a practice group, or teaching associates the skills that they need to move forward. All the things that we used to expect older partners to do, before clients decided to add a zero to the profits-per-partner of many firms, and everyone from Biglaw’s gold-laden generation developed the attention span of a four-year old with a confiscated iPad when it came to anything other than money. Take a broad view. There are at least one or two such innovative, dynamic, and pleasant junior partners at every Biglaw firm. Let’s hear about them….
Even if I don’t follow up with individual partners (though the publicity could be pretty good for anyone brave enough to submit to an interview or profile), we can all learn a lot from hearing about young partners who are doing things right. Even those young partners with the best of intentions have a hard time making the adjustment to their new positions. And it definitely is an adjustment, going from celebrated, super-profitable senior associate to newly-minted partner who may or may not have equity, and may or not be making more money as they juggle new-found partner expenses and buy-in financing.
Anecdotally, it is clear to me that the young partner experience runs spans a spectrum. I have friends who are equity partners at lockstep firms who have never worked harder than they have been since making partner. And I also have friends at non-lockstep firms who are also producing outsized profits for their firms, while wondering when they get to share in those gloriously high PPP numbers bandied about with such abandon by the legal media. Of course, there are also others I know who are struggling along with their firms and practice groups, wondering what they need to do to at least feel like they have some job security in this demanding environment. Still others, and I put myself in this camp, have found that the most invigorating thing about making partner is the ability to focus on doing those things that will lead to a sustainable and fulfilling career: business development, cultivating inter- and intra-firm relationships, and focusing on delivering to clients high-quality legal service with confidence and a smile. Being able to do those things without the distractions inherent in the associate experience can be a great boon.
There is a need for this kind of Biglaw coverage, as positive stories about young partners are hard to come by. In today’s Biglaw, they get dumped on pretty hard. Not as hard as secretaries, or service partners with no business to service, but pretty close. In contrast, hagiographies of living Biglaw legends, even well-deserved ones, abound. While those are nice inspirational reads at times, the reality is that Biglaw does too much navel-gazing regarding its illustrious past, and way too little in terms of helping its next generation of partners succeed.
Two indicators of the latter. One, there is a review that takes place at many firms whereby a prospective partner is put under tremendous scrutiny as part of the “partner election” process. Intense focus is placed on the prospect’s productivity, performance, personal reputation, and a myriad of other factors in the months leading up to the all-important election. Afterwards? “New partner, please enjoy us ignoring you for a couple of years while we figure out what to do with the rest of our business, including those colleagues of yours who did not make the cut for partnership this time around.” Second, at many firms strategic decisions are made with absolutely zero input from young partners. No one is saying that every new partner needs a say in firm administration, but how about letting those expensive consultants talk to a few of the firm’s young partners before you wholesale act on (or more likely ignore) their “strategic” recommendations? Yet, despite these challenges, many junior partners flourish. But no one pays them much mind, and that should change.
Biglaw’s future is being shaped as we speak. By a variety of players occupying a variety of roles. For once, I would like us to spend some time thinking about and acknowledging those who have been effective in the role of the “junior” partner in today’s Biglaw. And the Biglaw of the future. I have previously written that an important way of assessing a Biglaw firm’s future prospects is to look at how they treat their junior partners, and in return how willing the firm’s junior partners are to invest in the firm’s success now and in the future. Hopefully we will get to hear about some partners who are getting this critical phase of their Biglaw careers right, and enriching the lives of others in the process. Bring on the nominations.
What do you think is the number one quality a young Biglaw partner needs to have? Let me know by email or in the comments, along with your nominations of those who will play a role in shaping Biglaw’s future.
Anonymous Partner is a partner at a major law firm. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.