Now You’re a Partner: How to Think Like One |

Now You’re a Partner: How to Think Like One


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The responsibility of creating your own business is often hard for new partners to swallow. How many times have partners with no business said to me,
You were recently named partner in your firm. Congratulations!  Your life is about to change significantly.  Some of these changes, like an increase in prestige, and hopefully, compensation, are obvious and easy to embrace.  However, with these benefits come increased responsibility and a change in the way you are viewed.  You need to start viewing yourself differently if you want to succeed.

The responsibility of creating your own business is often hard for new partners to swallow. How many times have partners with no business said to me, “My firm values me because I work really hard.  My job will never be in danger.”  I believe that this amounts to thinking like an associate.  Now that you have finally achieved your goal of becoming partner, you need to think about how to remain a partner for the rest of your career.  It is time to stop thinking like an associate and start thinking like a partner.

The Way Your Partners View You Has Changed.

As a partner, you are directly responsible for the success or failure of the firm.  Many new partners utterly fail to grasp this.  You are no longer a bright kid with a great work ethic.  Generally speaking, at your level, firms are much more interested in your ability to generate dollars in the form of business than they are in the excellence of your legal mind or your high billable hours.  Nothing will make you a more marketable or a more powerful lawyer within your firm than having high originations.  They will make you recession-proof.

You therefore need to think about your business generation game plan.  Ask yourself: what is my long-term feasibility in my firm?  It is generally not advisable to plan on a career as a support partner to someone else’s clients in a large firm.  Certainly, many partners have spent entire careers without a dime of their own business.  However, those of us who lived through the last downturn know better than to rely on a career of client-free partnership.  Your willingness to work hard becomes almost worthless when times are hard.  Are you willing to gamble your career on a perfect economy?

Usually, on entering partnership, firms do not expect you to have your own business.  Many firms actively encourage new partners to create their own opportunities.  Don’t fall into the trap of never having enough time to build your own business because you are billing time on someone else’s clients.  What opportunities does the firm offer?  Have you expressed your interest in learning the ropes and being included in cross-selling efforts?  If the firm does not promote cross-selling, you need to think about your potential for inheriting business.  If there is no potential, you might think about avenues outside your firm for generating a little business, and, as soon as you have some, you might think about moving to a firm with a better platform for business development.

Many large firms have had the same institutional clients for many generations.  If you are set to inherit one or several from a retiring partner, that’s great.  However, you should be quite sure that a) the client plans to stay with you, and b) the retiring partner plans to encourage that client to stay with the firm, and, specifically, with you.  Retiring partners often do not like to discuss these things, and it is important that you not assume anything.

The Way Clients View You Has Changed.

Clients want to put their trust in attorneys who have a successful record of selling business.  No one wants to be your first client.  Therefore, if you can manage to get smaller clients at first, I encourage you to take them, even if it means lower rates or making cheaper up-front project rates.  This way, you create recommendations for your work, and this will help you generate more and bigger clients down the road.

Clients may know you from having worked with you as an associate or junior partner.  Now, they will speak to you on a different level.  You will know much more about the inner workings of the company, and they will confide in you in a way that is more intimate than before.  Allow yourself to get to know your clients on a deeper level.  Listen for cross-selling opportunities for which you may refer your colleagues.  Hopefully they will return the favor, and the client becomes even more a client of the firm.

The Way Other Law Firms View You Has Changed.

If you do decide it is time to make a move, you will find that the way you are viewed by other law firms has completely changed.  When you were an associate, firms were interested in your prior law firms and where you went to school. Now firms want to know one thing: the dollar amount attached to you.  Mid-sized law firms generally seek at least $500k in annual portable business, with large firms asking for $1.5-2M.  If you have none, it is very unlikely you will be brought in as an equity partner (you may be brought in as a counselor senior associate), or worse- not considered at all because you are seen as too expensive.  If you have been promoted to partner in your firm, you absolutely must work to create a portable book of business; it is the only thing you have to sell.  Whenever I have a stellar partner who has no business, the first question a potential employer always has is, why not?  What is wrong with this attorney that he has no business of his own?  A total lack of business creates an immediate red flag in the eyes of any law firm.

The Way you View Yourself Needs To Change.

If you take nothing else away from this article, take this piece of advice:  you are only as marketable as the business you can bring.  Period.  When the economy first started to turn in 2008, I was inundated with partners who had no business.  Some had 30 years’ experience supporting work they did not originate.  I could do nothing for them, because in a down economy, a partner with no business is essentially a highly-paid associate.  This is not a position you want to be in.

If you are in a situation where you see no potential for creating business, I would advise you to create some of your own small opportunities, through friends, the bar association, and other professional associations.  At least then a firm can see that you have some potential for creating business, which goes a long way.  Then, look elsewhere, and make sure your new firm provides the support you need for business generation.

About Harrison Barnes

Harrison Barnes is a prominent figure in the legal placement industry, known for his expertise in attorney placements and his extensive knowledge of the legal profession.

With over 25 years of experience, he has established himself as a leading voice in the field and has helped thousands of lawyers and law students find their ideal career paths.

Barnes is a former federal law clerk and associate at Quinn Emanuel and a graduate of the University of Chicago College and the University of Virginia Law School. He was a Rhodes Scholar Finalist at the University of Chicago and a member of the University of Virginia Law Review. Early in his legal career, he enrolled in Stanford Business School but dropped out because he missed legal recruiting too much.

Barnes' approach to the legal industry is rooted in his commitment to helping lawyers achieve their full potential. He believes that the key to success in the legal profession is to be proactive, persistent, and disciplined in one's approach to work and life. He encourages lawyers to take ownership of their careers and to focus on developing their skills and expertise in a way that aligns with their passions and interests.

One of how Barnes provides support to lawyers is through his writing. On his blog,, and, he regularly shares his insights and advice on a range of topics related to the legal profession. Through his writing, he aims to empower lawyers to control their careers and make informed decisions about their professional development.

One of Barnes's fundamental philosophies in his writing is the importance of networking. He believes that networking is a critical component of career success and that it is essential for lawyers to establish relationships with others in their field. He encourages lawyers to attend events, join organizations, and connect with others in the legal community to build their professional networks.

Another central theme in Barnes' writing is the importance of personal and professional development. He believes that lawyers should continuously strive to improve themselves and develop their skills to succeed in their careers. He encourages lawyers to pursue ongoing education and training actively, read widely, and seek new opportunities for growth and development.

In addition to his work in the legal industry, Barnes is also a fitness and lifestyle enthusiast. He sees fitness and wellness as integral to his personal and professional development and encourages others to adopt a similar mindset. He starts his day at 4:00 am and dedicates several daily hours to running, weightlifting, and pursuing spiritual disciplines.

Finally, Barnes is a strong advocate for community service and giving back. He volunteers for the University of Chicago, where he is the former area chair of Los Angeles for the University of Chicago Admissions Office. He also serves as the President of the Young Presidents Organization's Century City Los Angeles Chapter, where he works to support and connect young business leaders.

In conclusion, Harrison Barnes is a visionary legal industry leader committed to helping lawyers achieve their full potential. Through his work at BCG Attorney Search, writing, and community involvement, he empowers lawyers to take control of their careers, develop their skills continuously, and lead fulfilling and successful lives. His philosophy of being proactive, persistent, and disciplined, combined with his focus on personal and professional development, makes him a valuable resource for anyone looking to succeed in the legal profession.

About BCG Attorney Search

BCG Attorney Search matches attorneys and law firms with unparalleled expertise and drive, while achieving results. Known globally for its success in locating and placing attorneys in law firms of all sizes, BCG Attorney Search has placed thousands of attorneys in law firms in thousands of different law firms around the country. Unlike other legal placement firms, BCG Attorney Search brings massive resources of over 150 employees to its placement efforts locating positions and opportunities its competitors simply cannot. Every legal recruiter at BCG Attorney Search is a former successful attorney who attended a top law school, worked in top law firms and brought massive drive and commitment to their work. BCG Attorney Search legal recruiters take your legal career seriously and understand attorneys. For more information, please visit

Harrison Barnes does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for attorneys and law students each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can attend anonymously and ask questions about your career, this article, or any other legal career-related topics. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom

Harrison also does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for law firms, companies, and others who hire attorneys each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom

You can browse a list of past webinars here: Webinar Replays

You can also listen to Harrison Barnes Podcasts here: Attorney Career Advice Podcasts

You can also read Harrison Barnes' articles and books here: Harrison's Perspectives

Harrison Barnes is the legal profession's mentor and may be the only person in your legal career who will tell you why you are not reaching your full potential and what you really need to do to grow as an attorney--regardless of how much it hurts. If you prefer truth to stagnation, growth to comfort, and actionable ideas instead of fluffy concepts, you and Harrison will get along just fine. If, however, you want to stay where you are, talk about your past successes, and feel comfortable, Harrison is not for you.

Truly great mentors are like parents, doctors, therapists, spiritual figures, and others because in order to help you they need to expose you to pain and expose your weaknesses. But suppose you act on the advice and pain created by a mentor. In that case, you will become better: a better attorney, better employees, a better boss, know where you are going, and appreciate where you have been--you will hopefully also become a happier and better person. As you learn from Harrison, he hopes he will become your mentor.

To read more career and life advice articles visit Harrison's personal blog.

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