In January, many firms announced promotions to partner.

Did you just make partner in your firm? Do you know someone who just made partner in your firm or another firm?

Suppose you made partner or one of your friends made partner, now what?

Dating back to when I was practicing law in my old firm, I have given several presentations to new partners at their orientation and to senior associates who are being considered for partnership.

Justice Blackmun once said:

A Wedding is an Event; a Marriage is an Achievement.

Making partner is an Event; Becoming a successful partner is an Achievement.

There are a variety of important steps to become a successful partner. Clearly, one of the most important is to develop a team that will enable you to provide the highest quality work and extraordinary service for your firm’s clients. Developing the team and retaining associates has always been a challenge.

As you may know, I wrote a book: It Takes a Team. (The Kindle version is available for $2.99.)

I recently told someone that the book is about every ______ partner I have ever met who treats associates and staff like ____. You may have worked for lawyers like David.

David has a fixed mindset. He is bright, hard working and has developed a big ego. He acts as if he has never made a mistake. He is sure that successful partners are born not made. His superior attitude is insufferable because he projects that everyone else is out of step. Behind their backs, he describes lawyers others think are very talented, as dumb or lazy.

It Takes a Team

On your path to partnership, you surely received mentoring and you personally responded to these challenges yourself.

As a first step, I suggest that you revisit what you learned from your mentors and how you focused on establishing and achieving your goals. Your ability to lead and supervise younger lawyers will pay a large role in your success as a partner.

A lawyer I coached a couple of years ago called me to discuss a problem every lawyer wants to have.

Her client development efforts have paid off and now she is generating so much business that she has to be able to delegate work. She also mentioned that her clients expect her to work on their matters.

Clients hire lawyers first and foremost. Even when they say they are hiring a firm, they hire the firm because a particular lawyer, or a team, is there.

I wish I had a dollar for each time a client told me:

Cordell, we did not hire Jenkens and Gilchrist, we hired you.

My challenge was to convince great clients that the lawyers who worked for me were at least as good as me, if not better. As your practice grows, that will be your challenge also. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Hire and train highly motivated lawyers with good people skills.
  2. Have a junior lawyer sit in on important telephone calls.
  3. Bring a lawyer who is helping you to a client meeting and don’t bill for your time.
  4. If you conduct workshops or presentations, have a junior lawyer be a co-presenter.
  5. Put a younger lawyer in your client’s office (or, in my case a construction project) for a week at no charge.

If you want more of my thoughts on this important subject, take a look at my Practical Lawyer article: Practical Supervision Skills For Attorneys.

You might also find valuable ideas in It Takes a Team, a book I co-authored that is available on your Kindle, iPad or Nook.

Does your law firm have a partner who generates lots of business, but at the same time chases off associates?  I have written about this before.

Every large firm has one of those and some small firms do also.

As you likely know, I wrote about a lawyer like that in the book I co-authored with Brice Voran: It Takes a Team: You Can’t Make Rain By Yourself.

David is a composite of several lawyers I have know over the years. Here is Jack Wainwright, the firm managing partner describing David:

You’ve probably met lawyers like David. He may be right or he may be wrong, but he’s never in doubt! Clients like him because he has a ‘can do’ attitude that inspires confidence. But in addition to what I’ve already mentioned, associates hate him because he makes them feel like they never measure up. When they work with him, it is never good enough or fast enough. And he doesn’t give them feedback and suggestions on how to improve their work product. Instead, he’ll tell them the work they did was fine, and then insult them behind their backs. Like any law firm, word travels fast, so before long, associates know what he is saying. I know he talks about me behind my back, but instead of sharing his concerns or ideas with me, he complains to others about my leadership.

So, how do we get David to change his ways? I guess you will have to read the book to get the answer. In addition to the hard copy, it is available on your Kindle, Nook and in iTunes.

I will leave you with this hint about David. Bruce who is trying to help David and his firm tells the managing partner:

David is an individual who’s pulled himself up by his bootstraps – someone who doesn’t necessarily possess innate legal skills and talents, but who’s become a star by riding himself hard, working harder than anybody else to improve his performance.

Do you watch “Suits?” If so, you likely know that no associates want to work for Louis Litt. I suspect that the associates would like the opportunity to work for Harvey Spector, but they may not enjoy the experience.

Louis is a really smart lawyer, but lacks confidence. That makes him a challenging partner. Yet, if you watch this short video clip you know he has many redeeming qualities.

Harvey, on the other hand, may not be as smart as Louis, but he is smooth and confident. He is also a narcissist, which makes him a difficult partner.

Brice Voran and I wrote about a really smart lawyer who was also a rainmaker in our book: It Takes a Team: You Can’t Make Rain by Yourself. David is a narcissist, like Harvey.

You either have what it takes to make partner, or you don’t. You’re born with it, or you’re not. You have it in your genes – innate work ethic, abilities and talents that steer you to the top – or you sell used cars. Bottom line: Keith doesn’t have it, so he’s blamed his shortcomings on me and bailed. What a loser.

Just reading that line, you get a strong sense why David has chased off another associate and why Keith is moving on to another firm.

What are some things that make partners difficult? I am not speaking of things that would subject a partner and the firm to a lawsuit. I am speaking of speaking of assigning work and supervising the work. In my experience, difficult partners:

  • Don’t think any young lawyers measure up
  • Talk behind the backs of their associates
  • Make unreasonable demands
  • Do not explain assignments
  • Do not give their associates “the big picture” of the project
  • Give assignments at the last minute
  • Complain, but offer no constructive feedback
  • Are not consistent
  • Lose their temper

Lawyers like Louis Litt, Harvey Spector and David are not likely to change how they treat the lawyers who work for them until they see changing is in their own best interest. The most difficult partners don’t ever change.