“Being a partner at an elite law firm isn’t what it once was,” as I recently wrote in a Wall Street Journal book review, but “while the brass ring might be tarnished, it still gleams brightly for many.” And with good reason: even if it’s harder than ever to become (and remain) a partner, for those who do manage to make it, the pay, perks, and prestige are plentiful.

The American Lawyer just released its latest New Partner Survey. The magazine heard from almost 500 lawyers who began working as partners between 2010 and 2013. About 60 percent of the survey respondents are non-equity or income partners — which makes sense, given the proliferation of two-tier partnerships, as well as how junior these partners are — and the rest are equity partners.

What are the most notable findings from the survey? Here are five:

1. Partners are paid well.

Hardly shocking, but here are the details: “Most — 82 percent — had seen a boost in compensation after becoming partner; 62 percent say they are either ‘very satisfied’ or ‘satisfied’ with their compensation. A minority, however, complained that their take-home pay actually dropped or stayed the same because of changes in taxes and how pay is distributed to partners compared to associates and counsel.”

Will that satisfaction wane over time? Perhaps. A survey conducted last year by Major, Lindsey & Africa, targeted at partners in general, not just new or junior partners, found that 58 percent of them believe they should be better paid. Welcome to the hedonic treadmill.

2. Partners feel well-prepared for their posts.

Again, not surprising; making partner requires a certain amount of self-confidence, so you’d expect partners to feel ready for their responsibilities. Per Am Law, “[a] large majority — 85 percent — felt adequately prepared by their firms for the job. Most of those who didn’t feel prepared cited a lack of training in one key area, business development.”

(If you’re a partner in need of guidance on this subject, check out Anonymous Partner’s three-part series on business development, focused on cold calls, intelligent use of firm resources, and referrals. Business development isn’t easy — as in-house columnist Mark Herrmann has written, “nothing you can say or do can cause me to retain you” — so look for advice wherever you can find it.)

3. Switching firms might help you make partner.

Midlevel to senior associates, maybe you should pay more attention to those phone calls from recruiters (especially the ones who are our advertisers). According to Am Law, “almost half [of survey respondents] said they switched employers before being promoted, with most of them making the move at least four years before becoming partner.”

It makes sense that laterals might do well in the partnership race. If you’re brought aboard at a new firm as a midlevel or senior associate, it’s probably because your new firm needs greater capacity or wants to build out your practice area. If you spend your entire career at one firm, there’s no guarantee that the type of work you evolve (or settle) into doing is a priority for that firm.

4. Making partner is nearly impossible.

That’s a direct quotation from Sara Randazzo’s survey write-up. But if you’re an associate feeling pessimistic about your partnership prospects, maybe the fault is not in your stars, but in yourself. As one new partner told the American Lawyer, “Most asso­ciates are lazy and entitled. Hard work, dedication, and intelligence are still avenues to making partner.” Ouch.

5. And it’s even harder for women.

We knew this already too, but Am Law provides concrete details. It takes longer for women to make partner (more than three-quarters of male respondents made partner within 10 years, compared to just two-thirds of the women); fewer women feel well-prepared for partnership; and fewer women expect to be rainmakers (a third of women, compared to 50 percent of men).

Despite the challenges, Biglaw partnership is still a great gig for many. A strong majority of partners say that their goal is to be “a valued member of their current firm,” with only a few hoping for in-house or government opportunities. You know you have a good job when you’re not already thinking about the next one.

As the old saying goes, “making partner is like winning a pie-eating contest where the prize is more pie.” It’s intended as criticism of partnership, but people seem to forget: eating pie is pretty awesome.

Survey: New Partners Feel Well-Prepped and Well-Paid [American Lawyer]
Book Review: ‘The Partner Track’ by Helen Wan [Wall Street Journal (sub. req.)]

Earlier: New Data on Law Firm Partner Compensation
Nothing You Can Say Can Cause Me To Retain You
10 Reasons To Leave Biglaw


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