Joi Bourgeois

Maybe you’ll make partner next year.

Back when I was at the law firm, billing more hours than I knew were in a week, there were people who thought I was “gunning” for partnership. I billed a ton of hours, had basic social skills and a good mentor, and hey, I’d look pretty good in any “diversity” partner puff piece. Just add ten years of sustaining a maniacal pace, learning how to generate rain in a shrinking market, and navigating the political minefield of kissing the right people’s asses, and maybe I could have had a shot.

Suuuure I would have. Making partner at the Biglaw firm that you started with is functionally impossible. It happens so infrequently that setting it as a goal is about as realistic as children saying they want to walk on the Moon when they grow up. The odds were long before the economic crisis that caused partnerships to close their ranks and protect their profits like dragons hoarding treasure.

It’s not going to happen, but trying to get there ruins a lot of people. They can be having perfectly fine, perfectly serviceable Biglaw careers, but then somebody starts dangling the possibility of “partnership” in front of them, and suddenly they are trying to schmooze late into the night and kick their billable hours up into the 3,000-a-year range. And maybe if they’re lucky they’ll be able to get into a less prestigious firm, slog another couple of backbreaking years as “counsel,” and then get equity at some other shop.

Am Law Daily has the story of a man who finally got his shot at the brass ring, was fired over his alcoholism, and died a short while later. It’s a sad and extreme story, but many people fall in all sorts of ways on the path to partnership….

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