The Only Seven Reasons a Law Firm Will Ever Make You a Partner |

The Only Seven Reasons a Law Firm Will Ever Make You a Partner


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Harrison Barnes' Legal Career Advice Podcast - Episode 71

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In this article, you will learn the seven reasons why a law firm would make someone a partner, what it takes to become one, and what obstacles might be in the way.

Over the past few years, when I have been on airplanes or in other circumstances with limited entertainment options, I have seen several documentaries about the training of Navy Seals. Maybe it is related to the killing of Osama bin Laden—I do not know. These training shows are so plentiful that I have concluded that anytime I am stuck somewhere with only a few channels of television to watch that a Navy Seals training documentary will be on.

Want to make partner in your law firm? Find out how in this article.

A recurring theme of these documentaries is that some soldiers are forced to work so hard they give up, put down their helmets, ring a bell, and quit the training. There are always multiple images of the bell and of helmets sitting next to the bell, as well as commentaries from remaining soldiers:

A. Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes

“It just got too much for him and he could no longer cope.”

“They were hard on him but the Seals are only for the strongest.”

“It’s not easy being a Seal and that is why so many quit.”

The announcer, in a deep and serious voice, will then offer a few words about how many try and fail and that being a Seal requires an extraordinary amount of endurance to succeed.

In every class of recruits, many would-be Seals quit training because it is very, very difficult. On little sleep, a recruit is forced to run long distances, hold his breath for extended periods of time, endure extreme cold, and deal with all sorts of unreasonable stress that is not normal by any stretch of the imagination. At each step, recruits simply put down their helmets because it is just too difficult.

The training culminates in something called “hell week,” where there is even less sleep, harder work, and the conditions are even more perilous. Fewer recruits then think they will end up making it—and many more quit.

Recently, as I was watching one of these documentaries, it occurred to me that a lot of what is going on with soldiers who want to be Navy Seals is similar to what is going on with attorneys who want to be partners in large law firms:

  • They put down their hats too soon.
  • They do it too close to the finish line.
  • They could make it, but most do not.

Many rewards come with being a Navy Seal, including being tasked with important assignments and being endowed with the “identity” of a Navy Seal. I have met several Seals, and one was even in my family for some time. These soldiers are proud of the tremendous accomplishment of becoming a Navy Seal, and those who know them also are proud to be affiliated with a Navy Seal. It is more than just being in the Navy—it is about being a Navy Seal. Navy Seals also tend to feel a tremendous amount of confidence in other areas of their lives because of what they achieved.

When people talk about an attorney, it is much more meaningful to say the attorney made partner at a given law firm as opposed to saying the attorney was just an associate or of counsel there. There are plenty of attorneys all over, as well as those who have practiced in a major law firm, but there are few attorneys who had the staying power and ability to become partners. It is difficult to do this. However, the main hurdles —just as in Navy Seal training—are often psychological and even physical. They are not impossible to overcome.


For the past 15+ years, I have spent my days speaking with attorneys. I have watched some of them become partners in major law firms, but I have watched far, far more not become partners and instead leave their firms to do something else—go to work for the government, become counsel, go in-house, or (most common) quit the practice of law altogether. All of the choices other than becoming a partner are similar to putting your helmet down and ringing the bell. These are easy choices and available to everyone.

You can put your helmet down, ring the bell, and suddenly have less responsibility, more free time, and less pressure. It is that easy. The question every attorney needs to ask, though, is whether he really wants to be a partner in a large law firm.


Law Firms Do Not Want to Make Partners

Law firm partners love it when you put your helmet down and ring the bell. The more people who ring the bell, the greater the impact is on making existing partners (who did not ring the bell) feel and look that much more special. The existing partners feel better about themselves and those around them (other attorneys and staff) also tend to view the partners with more respect.

Significantly, there is that much more money left over for existing partners.

Most law firms do not want to make you partner. Of course, that is true. If they make you a “real” partner, they will suddenly have to share profits with you and that will decrease the income that the partners in the law firm make. You will suddenly be sharing the money they are bringing in and they will have to share with you regardless of what sort of money you are bringing in the door. They are not interested in this. Every partner in every law firm would prefer that you stay an “employee,” and they have all sorts of brilliant ways to keep you one:

  • They will keep you an associate as long as it passes the “straight face” test—a 20-year associate is generally not acceptable.
  • They will make you “counsel” and limit your income.
  • They will make you a “non-equity” partner—a brilliant invention meant to keep you an employee and give other attorneys in the firm the perception that it is possible to become a partner.

When I talk to senior associates in large law firms or counsel attorneys, they frequently say things such as “the firm has not made a partner in this office in 15 years …” and so forth. The fact that being a partner is such a “monumental” accomplishment means that in the eyes of most attorneys there is nothing wrong with giving up, quitting, going in-house, going to work in a “boutique law firm,” or doing something else entirely. One attorney I know from a major New York City law firm decided to open up an ice cream store after becoming an expert in corporate securities and billing 2,800 hours a year for 12 years of his life.

Why Law Firms Make Partners

Law firms will generally only make you a partner if they have to. There is no other reason for them to do this and no other incentives whatsoever for a law firm to make you partner. They are not going to make you a partner because they like you, or because it seems “fair,” or any other reason. The only reason you will be made a partner is because the law firm has no other logical choice but to do so. It is as simple as that.

These are the only reasons why an attorney will generally make partner:


1. You Have (or Look Like You Will Have) a Ton of Business the Law Firm Can Exploit


Law firms will make you partner—without a doubt—if you have a lot of business they can exploit. Why do I use the word “exploit”? I use this word because if you have $2 million in business you are likely to take home somewhere between $400,000 and $700,000 (maybe less or maybe more). What happens to the rest of the money you collect? It is spent on things you have no control over such as the law firm’s overhead (office space, salaries, and so forth) and also distributed to partners more powerful and higher up the food chain than you. Perhaps it is even used to try to open new offices.

Who knows?

The point is that when you have a lot of business you will be paid a fraction of it and the rest will be gravy that the firm will use for a variety of self-serving purposes, including enriching those more powerful than you. It is not much different than being an associate.

When you bring business to the table your value proposition is as simple as this:

“Hey, guys! If I give you $2,000,000 a year, can I have an office, a secretary, $500,000, and call myself a partner? You can do whatever you want with the extra $1,500,000 I give you each year!”

“Well, things are very competitive here and we do not just admit anyone to the partnership. Let us give it some thought for the next three seconds and we will get back to you after a ‘vote of the partnership.’”

Two seconds later …

“Well, we all met and voted. Congratulations on making partner!”

It is a no-brainer for firms to make partners attorneys with lots of business. A good amount of business means different things at different law firms because some firms require more than others. At a major American law firm with extremely high profits per partner, it may take far more than $2,000,000 to be a serious contender for partnership. I work with attorneys at giant New York law firms all the time who have that much business, but they are still associates, and their prospects of becoming partners are “iffy” at best. They may need much more business to be taken seriously, possibly as much as $3,000,000 or even $4,000,000.

Some of these attorneys simply move down the food chain a bit and get a warm and welcoming reception from other great law firms, just not the most prestigious law firms of them all. It all depends on the firm.

If you do not have a ton of business but are (1) continually (over a period of years) bringing in business and (2) the amount of business is constantly increasing, the law firm will be interested and take this seriously. If the firm sees a ton of potential for what you are likely to do in the future and you look like you will be able to make the firm money, then it will make you partner. Some attorneys just have a “knack” for connecting with people and getting business. These sorts of attorneys are frequently made partners in large law firms.

The more money you bring to the table or look like you will bring, the more likely law firms will make you partner. Money is the driving force of the entire equation. If you are doing work but sucking up money, then you are a liability if the work goes away. If you are bringing in money to feed the army, then you are the most valuable commodity in the entire picture. Law firms need people like you and depend on people like you for profits per partner and all of the overhead that goes into making a great law firm. If you truly want to be a partner, you need to find ways to bring in lots of business and keep it coming.


2. You Are Connected to a Powerful Partner (or Group of Partners) with a Ton of Business the Law Firm is Exploiting


In large law firms, a common way for attorneys to make partner is to be closely connected to a powerful partner (or group of partners) with a ton of business that the firm is currently exploiting. As an associate, one of the most important things you can do is get close to partners with lots of business. These partners bring business that supports the firm and the people who work there. These partners have a lot of power in the firm. The more business they have, the more sway they have.

There are numerous partners in major law firms in every good-sized legal market who have $5,000,000 or more in business—and many of these partners (there are some in most firms) have well in excess of $10,000,000 in business. These partners are throwing a lot of money into the pot each year and supporting a lot of people, including other partners. They are giving other partners in the firm work to do, keeping things moving, and paying for a lot of private schools, German luxury cars, and expensive vacations. There is no way that anyone wants to piss these people off, and when these partners want something, the other partners whom they support are generally happy to give it to them.

Here is how to think about this: Imagine you are a partner who has some business but not a ton of business (a scenario that fits a decent percentage of partners in major law firms) and you have an opportunity to be a brown noser and impress someone who gives you 500 or so hours of work a year. These hours are important because they allow you to get to 2,000 hours a year, which keeps you employed and appearing productive in the eyes of other partners. In fact, if you did not have these hours, your income would be dramatically different.

Imagine also that your benefactor comes to you wanting something: “Nancy’s doing a good job for me and I would appreciate your support in voting for her.”

Do you think you would choose not to vote for Nancy to be made partner? Of course, you will help your benefactor, which helps Nancy. Partners who leave firms often do so because (for whatever reason) they are not supported when they try to propose associates for partner. Sometimes there are even groups of partners in the firm who are not supporting the more powerful partners because they are not getting work from the powerful partners or even are jealous of them. This sort of stuff occurring behind the scenes in partnerships is often the reason firms get in trouble and is part of the day-to-day drama of most law firms. The best law firms manage this political stuff well and the worst ones, which are those that have lots of problems, do not.

It is as simple as that. From a political standpoint, if you get close to a partner who has a ton of work and you work extremely hard for that partner, then your odds of making partner are very good. What also sometimes happens is the more powerful partners end up leaving their current firms and taking loyal associates with them and demanding that they be made partners at the new firms as a condition of joining.

One of the smartest things that any ambitious attorney can do is to get close to a partner with a ton of business and then do everything within his power to impress that partner and get that partner’s loyalty. The support of powerful people goes a long way.

You get this kind of support by

  • working incredibly hard,
  • making them look good,
  • giving them credit for your work,
  • covering up their mistakes,
  • billing clients in a way that helps the partner (the partner may want you to under-bill certain clients to keep them happy),
  • saying nice things about the partner to clients,
  • being the confidant of the partner and keeping the partner’s secrets,
  • helping the partner develop lots of business,
  • never talking behind the partner’s back,
  • making the partner’s life and job much easier,
  • being at work before the partner gets there and leaving after the partner goes home,
  • prioritizing the partner’s work and life above your own,
  • correcting the partner’s work when necessary,
  • being a personal assistant (happily) when necessary and without being asked to do so—even if you think the work is beneath you, and
  • turning in perfect work to the partner that does not require any review because the partner already knows it will be exceptional.

This is how it is done. If it is offensive to you to do to any of these things, then you are going to have to make partner in a different way. When you make others feel important and significant, their natural reaction, over time, is to reciprocate by doing whatever it takes to make you feel important and significant as well.


People who do not become partners let their egos get in the way. They think they should not have to work so hard, that they should not have to kiss ass, that they did not go to law school to be someone’s personal assistant, that the quality of the work of their benefactor is not their concern, that they are their own people and can talk about others how they like, that they are employees and do not owe a high degree of loyalty to anyone in particular.

All of these thought patterns are fatal. They also go against how people have gotten ahead in the world for just about as long as human history has been recorded. Everyone needs to kiss ass—the president of the United States, CEOs of huge companies, the owners of huge firms, billionaires, rock stars, famous actors. Why should you be any different? Because you did well in college and on the LSAT, went to a great law school and now work at a big firm?

While I hate to be so blunt, you will see a profound difference in your level of success and prosperity if you learn how to kiss ass and be a servant.


3. You Are Connected to a Powerful Client (or Group of Clients) That Gives a Ton of Business to The Law Firm and Is Being Exploited


While it is not as common as being made partner due to a connection with a powerful partner, numerous attorneys in large law firms become partners each year due to connections with powerful clients that they are able to exploit to their benefit.

If you are an associate and tasked with working directly for a large client, your objective should be to do everything within your power to impress that client. That means that you want to do the best work possible for the client, try to keep the client’s bills down and be the best attorney that the client has ever had. The more you understand about the client and the client’s business and the more you help the client and are the client’s point person, the better off you will be.

Part of getting close to a client and doing exceptional work for a client is becoming more available and more impressive to the client than even the partner who brought in the client to begin with. You want to be in a position where the client is calling you for answers to questions, where the client is calling you with new matters (which you will not get credit for) and—dare I say this—where the client feels ignored by the originating partner and coddled by you.

You need to be careful with this. If the firm (or the partner who brought in the client) thinks you are getting too close to the client or potentially going to steal the client, then the firm will either get rid of you or not let you work for the client anymore. This happens all the time and these decisions are made quickly. Therefore, the way you get close to the client needs to be subtle and take place over an extended period of time. By the time the law firm sees you have become indispensable to the client, it will be too late for the firm to penalize you, because if the firm puts you on matters not involving the client or fires you, then the firm will face a real danger of losing the client.

The process of getting extremely close to the client generally needs to occur over a period of years. It needs to be such that your connection grows so strong that the client demands you be the point person on all of the client’s matters and trusts you even more than the partner who brought the client into the firm to begin with. You need to be brilliant, save the client money, make the client money, and be outstanding to the client in all respects. If you do this, at some point the client will say to you:

“Have they voted for you to be a partner yet?”

If this is not said, the conversation will come up as a matter of course, especially if you are friendly with the client. If the client is large enough ($5,000,000+ in billing a year for a major law firm, less for smaller firms), the client may volunteer to go to bat for you (or you can just flat out ask). When you get a client like this to go to bat for you and the law firm subtly feels that it might lose the client if it does not advance you, this might be all it takes.

In some firms it might be difficult for you to develop outside business or get close to a powerful partner. A good option for making partner in this case is to get close to clients and become indispensable to them. You must be seen as honest, brilliant, a fair biller, hard-working, out to save them money and more. You must also cover up their mistakes and protect them from being exposed when they do something wrong. You need to have their back 100% and you need to figure out ways to bend rules to their advantage.

4. You Have Worked So Incredibly Hard That to Not Make You Partner Would Demotivate Other Hard-Working Associates the Law Firm Is Exploiting (Making the Ongoing Cycle of Exploitation Difficult for the Law Firm to Sustain)


Hours matter to law firms. They matter a lot. In fact, without attorneys billing a lot of hours the law firm does not make money. Therefore, law firms love it when there are attorneys inside the law firm who set a good example for all other attorneys by billing incredible numbers of hours.

  • In many law firms with large institutional clients, it is often extremely difficult to get business.
  • It can be extremely difficult for some attorneys to become the “go-to person” for any particular client or powerful partner.

In such situations, the best way to show your value to the law firm is to dedicate your life, heart, and soul to billing as many hours as humanly possible. You need to show the law firm and partners within it that nothing is more important to you.

How many hours is enough? It depends on the firm. Here are some general rules of thumb based on what I have seen work:

  • If the average attorney is billing 1,800, you should be at 2,500.
  • If the average attorney is billing 2,000, you should be at 2,800.
  • If the average attorney is billing 2,200, you should be at or over 3,000.
  • If the average attorney is billing 2,500, you should be at 3,300 to 3,500.
  • If the attorneys you are competing with to be partner are at or near 3,000, you should aim to be as close to 4,000 as possible.

Are such expectations inhumane, crazy, or awful? I do not think so. If there is no other way to get ahead, you need some way to distinguish yourself from the pack and look the best you can to the people who will be voting on your success. You need to make them as much money as possible and show them how dedicated you are.

This is where most people put down the helmet and ring the bell. They say “I want a life outside of work” or “It’s not for me,” or something similar. These are valid reasons not to work long hours. If you have no other way to truly get ahead (and most attorneys do not), then you need to do what you can to work these sorts of grueling hours for years. Most people will not do this. If you do this, however, you are showing the firm how dedicated you are and how much the work means to you and how much the job means to you. Once the firm sees this, to not advance you becomes extremely difficult for it to justify.

People want to help those who are unbelievably dedicated.

The problem with this sort of work ethic is that it does not always end with success. But it does more often than not. It is not easy to bill 2,000-plus hours because the attorney needs to be good enough and talented enough to get this amount of work from other attorneys in the firm and also the firm’s clients. He needs to be doing something right to be able to get this much work and create this much work.

As an aside, one of the most important skills an attorney can possess when it comes to making money is the ability to create work and find work to be done. You need to be able to convince clients and other attorneys to spend money on research and other tasks. Attorneys who bill 3,000+ hours a year have a special skill of finding and creating work to be done. They also have a skill in selling the idea to clients, partners, and others that certain work should be done and that they should do it. This is a skill and billing a lot of hours shows the partnership that the attorney has the potential to get work from clients in the future and create wealth.

Finding work to be done creates wealth. Those who are not creating wealth are not finding work to be done.

The other advantage of billing an incredible number of hours is that all of the associates and others in the firm will know who is and who is not billing an incredible number of hours. If you are always in the office and billing an incredible, hard-to-believe number of hours, then you are going to be a “role model” for everyone in the firm. To not make you partner after years of this will send shock waves through the ranks of other associates and demotivate the entire firm and show that working these sorts of hours may not be worth it. This is the sort of risk that firms are not interested in taking if they can help it. They need to reward extremely hard work, because if they do not, then the entire system will crumble. When law firms do not reward the hardest workers there becomes no incentive for the legions of other attorneys to work harder. From a purely economic perspective, showing the troops that their sacrifice and hard work will be rewarded makes everyone work harder and keeps everyone motivated.

In large law firms, the most common way for attorneys to make partner is to work extremely hard for an extended period of time. Most attorneys give up after a few years of doing this and few have the fortitude to work like this for 10+ years. It is like becoming a Navy Seal—things just keep getting harder the closer you get.

It is very common for the largest law firms to pass attorneys over for partnership two, three and four times. Each time the attorney is being tested: Does he really have the commitment to go the distance? If the attorney keeps working incredibly hard in the face of rejection and discouragement, then his resilience and persistence are often rewarded.


5. The Law Firm Is Being Shaken to the Core by a Series of Departures and Needs to Set an Example to Keep People Around That It Can Keep Exploiting


In some situations, a law firm may be facing a sea of departures for various reasons and it suddenly looks quite unstable. It may be losing top partners, associates, and others as people feel they are on a sinking and rudderless ship. In these sorts of situations, law firms will often attempt to prop up morale and keep you from leaving too. In these instances, you likely would have made partner anyway, but the process is just sped up.

Keep in mind: Law firms will only make partners when they have to.

When attorneys are made partners under these sorts of conditions, they are often less than excited. They may already have been considering leaving and have been in the midst of talking to other law firms. The attempt to hold on to the attorney is often met with skepticism by the attorney receiving the offer. In addition, because there is often a buy-in involved for these attorneys to become partners, they are often even more skeptical about investing money in what they perceive as a sinking ship.

Nevertheless, most law firms that are in any sort of trouble or shaken up with morale issues eventually recover. Getting a partnership in a major law firm in the midst of a crisis can often be a huge gift. This should be taken seriously and embraced if possible. You may never get an opportunity like this again.


6. The “Partner” Title Is Meaningless


For a substantial percentage of law firms, the title of “partner” is basically meaningless and is generally something in name only.

Generally, an attorney’s first brush with partnership will be as an income, non-equity partner. Some firms advance attorneys to this title as a matter of course after a number of years and others treat it more seriously. While this job is no different than being an associate for the most part (albeit, with somewhat more income and an impressive title), it generally comes with some pressures that are quite significant.

Income partners may be given a few years to get business (using their new titles), and if they do not succeed, they literally may lose their jobs. This is very common and never fun. In fact, many of the income partners I have spoken with in the past say they wish they had been able to stay associates. Some firms will let income partners stay income partners for a long period of time provided there is enough work.

In other law firms, the compensation system and formula for partners are such that while you may get a nice title (and even a share of the profits), you may make less—or the same as—senior associates and therefore having the title is somewhat meaningless.


7. You Have Some Sort of Expertise, Special Skill, or Connections the Law Firm Needs and Cannot Find Elsewhere


In rare cases, you may be made a partner due to possessing some sort of expertise that the law firm is worried it will not be able to find elsewhere. The type of skills and expertise you have could be as varied as the practice of law.

  • You could be such a brilliant and exceptional attorney that the law firm never wants to lose you.
  • You could be an incredible trial lawyer with persuasive skills that are world-class.
  • Your writing ability could be so skilled that you win most motions.
  • You could be trained in an obscure area of transactional law that the law firm could not possibly find elsewhere.
  • You could be a brilliant patent attorney who has an understanding of a technical niche that is almost impossible to find in the market.

Law firms want to advance the smartest and best attorneys. If you are really, really exceptional at something, then this is valuable to them. Rather than have you take your skills elsewhere, the law firms may make you partner. They may also make you partner simply to reward or legitimize your skills and contribution.

Equally important are attorneys with special connections.

  • You could have worked in a position in government that is important to the law firm (and its clients).
  • You could be from an important family with connections to the law firm, government, or industry.
  • You could be a well-known attorney for one reason or another (and not necessarily have business).

There are all sorts of possibilities for why a law firm might want to make you partner due to various skills, expertise, or connections – and this often happens.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Do You Make Partner At A Law Firm?

After graduating from a good law school and passing the bar, you worked as a young associate for a large law firm. Despite all your hard work, there is still one last brass ring you are aiming for - becoming a law firm partner. In addition to legal expertise, handling business transactions and being market savvy are also required to succeed in the partnership track. As a partner in an American law firm, you must stand out from your colleagues in terms of your expertise and ability to attract new corporate clients and enhance the firm's reputation. In an American law firm, becoming a partner typically takes between 5-7 years.

Step 1: Honing Your Skills

1. Specialize in a niche area of law. As an associate, you are probably working in a specific area of your law firm, so you are already specialized. Try to specialize even further, however, to become partnership material.
  • Find out what is missing from the specialty areas your department's partners have carved out for themselves. Do you have any legal questions in which no one in your firm is an expert? You may be able to help out.
  • While big, high-profile cases may seem prestigious, working on them does not do anything to help you stand out from the rest of the associates. Do not take on large cases that turn on small legal interpretations.
  • If available, obtaining additional certifications in your niche can enhance your reputation as an expert in that field of law.

2. Develop a reputation for consistently delivering high-quality work. Businesses are built on the results they produce, including most firms. If you do not always provide good results for your new and existing clients and your firm, you will not be considered for partnership.
  • If you need help, do not be afraid to ask. You will not help yourself if you claim to know how to do something and then do it incorrectly.

3. Identify a partnership mentor early on. You may be assigned a partner to serve as your mentor, but that law firm partnership may not necessarily be the best one for you. Find someone with whom you share a common interest who can guide you through potential pitfalls on the path to partnership.
  • It is ideal to find someone with a similar background to yours. Consider finding a female mentor if you are a woman. You can rely on her expertise to navigate the particular challenges of being a woman in a male-dominated field.
  • Having more than one mentor is okay. Mentors outside your firm may also be helpful, especially if you do not seem to have much in common with any of the partners in your firm. They might not help you find a partner, but they can help you grow in your legal profession.

4. Become a volunteer for a niche project. It would be best to speak up when you hear about projects that could benefit from your knowledge and experience to establish yourself as an expert. Do not be afraid to present yourself as an expert in your area and get in touch when a project could use your expertise.
  • If a partner or associate is handling a particular case you have never worked with before, introduce yourself and explain your expertise in the field. Describe how you can be of assistance.

5. Establish yourself as an expert in your field. A good way to increase your chances of becoming a partner is to establish your name as an expert in your specific area, and there are many ways to do so. You can raise your profile by writing articles for law journals or legal blogs, speaking at bar events and seminars, or getting quoted in local or national news.
  • Having your name in a respectable publication can also enhance your firm's reputation and potentially bring in new clients. Readers of your articles may contact your firm when they need legal assistance and ask for you by name.
  • Consider teaching a continuing legal education (CLE) course in your area of expertise through your state or local bar association. The act of teaching CLEs not only establishes your knowledge but also allows you to network with other attorneys in your area of practice.

Step 2: Generating Business for the Firm

1. Learn about law firm economics. Even though law school teaches you to "think like a lawyer," it does not teach you much about the business of being a corporate lawyer, particularly at a major law firm. Practicing law will be the best way to learn this. As you better understand how major firms make money, you will discover ways to contribute and increase your firm's bottom line.
  • The most important thing is to understand how your productivity relates to your worth as an associate. You can become a partner if you are making money for your firm as an associate. However, you also need to show that you are doing things to expand that value and ultimately generate new business.

2. Develop a business plan for yourself as an associate. Your work as an associate should be viewed as a business plan to make money for your firm. Set concrete steps to achieve your goals using the basic business development plan model and present them to your firm's partners
  • A business development plan shows your senior partners that you are already thinking like an owner, rather than seeing yourself as an employee who follows orders. It shows that you understand the need to build a volume of business to serve your clients and generate a profit.

3. Establish close relationships with your clients. Your clients will notice if you go above and beyond to provide excellent service. Make sure your clients are aware of every step you are taking and ask questions if they have any.
  • Identify any other legal needs your clients might have and find ways you can meet them. You will help your firm expand its business with that client.
  • One day, you might have clients who ask for you by name when they contact the firm. This shows the partners that you have a potentially irreplaceable relationship with that client, making you a valuable asset to the firm.

4. Recruit new clients by attending industry events and functions. You should not only specialize in a law area but also in the industry that you are serving. You can use industry events to market your services to potential client relationships and educate them on legal issues they might face.
  • Your clients will appreciate your understanding of their particular needs and demands. If you know how their business operates, they will feel more comfortable with you.

5. After the case has been completed, stay in touch with your clients. You may work with a client on a direct legal matter only for a few months, but if you keep in touch, you can form a lifelong relationship and ensure they will come to you for future legal needs. Establish regular lines of communication with your clients and keep them informed.
  • Create a short, simple email newsletter that you can send out once a quarter, for example. You could cover cutting-edge legal issues affecting your clients' industry in your newsletter.
  • You may also check in on a client personally once a month or so if you worked closely with them.

Step 3: Building Professional Relationships

1. Maintain casual relationships with colleagues and partners. Attending lunch or engaging in idle chit-chat around the office might appear like a waste of time, but it helps you form relationships with other attorneys. Being known and liked within the firm increases your chances of becoming a partner.
  • A partnership is all about relationships. They will be more likely to invite you to be a partner if they like you and enjoy being around you.
  • Organizing company-sponsored events, such as holiday parties or summer picnics, is a great way to expand these relationships. But you also want to socialize with your coworkers in a more informal setting.
  • Do not feel obligated to participate in activities you do not enjoy - you will not make good company and your relationships will not be genuine. Maybe you do not have to go to the firm's annual golf retreat if you do not like golf.

2. You can work with several different partners at your firm. When many different partners are familiar with you and your work, your chances of making partner increases exponentially. Early on in your associate's career, be available to help other partners with their caseloads.
  • Do not be afraid to do the grunt work that no one else wants to do. You will show that you are a team player who is willing to do whatever it takes to make the firm successful by taking on menial tasks.

3. Participate in local, state, and national bar associations. As part of a bar association, you have the opportunity to build deep, long-term relationships with other attorneys, both inside and outside of your own firm. Professional opportunities, as well as client referrals, can result from these relationships.
  • Develop relationships with attorneys who practice in related fields for client referrals. If you specialize in wills and trusts, you might network with family law attorneys, whose clients often need estate planning services.
  • You can also expand your expertise in your niche by joining specialty associations.

4. Participate actively in firm committees. As a member of your firm's committees, you build relationships with other committee members and demonstrate your commitment to the firm. Do not be afraid of volunteering for committee assignments.
  • As a member of a committee, you can also show off your leadership skills. Taking the lead on a successful project will impress your committee partners.
  • Look for an area where your company could benefit from an organizing committee and volunteer to set one up. To streamline your firm's recruiting efforts, for example, you might offer to organize a committee to organize the recruitment of new associates if your firm does not have one.

If you make it as a partner, be sure you know what they are proposing. Know the many levels of partnership at your company, as well as how the revenue pie is sliced and when it will be distributed. Many businesses pay partners a draw first and then distribute profits to partners on a quarterly or annual basis.

The majority of BigLaw firms provide two types of partnership: equity and non-equity. Because an equity partner is a genuine partnership, you will need to finance your participation. The assets and liabilities of the firm are owned by its equity partners.

Equity partnership is for firms that want to offer their employees the opportunity to be partners and enjoy the benefits without relinquishing control. You get the benefit of a partner title and prestige through non-equity partners, but you do not own a part of the company.

How Long To Become A Partner In A Law Firm?

According to the current trend, partnership lasts between 7 and 9 years, although how long varies significantly from firm to firm. In most law firms, partners are given the title even though they are merely "income partners," i.e., salaried lawyers who do not share in the firm's profits and often work on contracts. Typically, equity partnership is only available after 4-6 years of being a partner in firms with multi-tiered partnerships. In firms with only one tier of partnership, i.e., equity holders are the only ones allowed to hold the partner title, it is not unusual for associates to practice for 10+ years before becoming partners. These firms will often give associates job titles such as "counsel" or "senior associate attorney" after seven years or so until they become partners.

What Is A Law Firm Partner Salary?

On average, there are about 300 lawyers for each 1 partner in a law firm. Usually, the number of partners is less in large law firms. Although some are very big with hundreds of other employees, most law firms have fewer than 50 partners each.

It depends on different factors like years experienced, experience in certain areas, and how much you can bring into the firm each year. There is a huge difference in salaries among different law firms and even though some may earn a good salary, if they do not bring any clients to their law firms, then there is no guarantee that they will be kept as partners.

Now the question 'how much do partners make' is not answered easily. The salary of a partner can range from $25K to $1 million and above. The average salary of the partners is about $100,000, but it varies depending on several factors like the area of specialization and years in the field.

Normally young lawyers who do not have any experience yet earn small salaries compared to those who have more experience.

Some salaries may be higher than $1 million, but these are extremely rare cases, and only a very small percentage of lawyers earn this kind of salary. It is normally given to those who bring large amounts of clients to the firm or have specialized in certain highly demanded areas in law firms.

Law firm partners who are more experienced and with good track records will be given high salaries. A partner's salary can increase by increasing the number of years spent in the field, and the more experience they have, the higher their income will be.

Partners also must work hard to maintain their clientele not to lose them to other law firms. This is why they need to keep a certain amount of clients brought to them each year to increase the number of their partners and even retain employees in their firms.

It also depends on where you are working, whether a large firm or a small one. A BigLaw firm allows its partners to work on many cases at the same time, which makes them earn more than those working in small firms.

What Is The National Average Salary Of A Law Firm Partner By State?

Have you ever wondered what the national average salary is for law firm partners by the state? If so, here is the data that will give you some insight into the current average salaries for firms in certain states. Keep in mind that these are averages and can vary widely depending on several factors (like the location of your office, practice area, etc.).

But, the figures below are interesting, to say the least. Enjoy!
  • Alaska: The average Law Firm Partner salary in Alaska is $243,669 as of December 27, 2021, but the range typically falls between $203,116 and $293,923.
  • Alabama: The average Law Firm Partner salary in Alabama is $203,674 as of December 27, 2021, but the range typically falls between $169,776 and $245,679. 
  • Arkansas: The average Law Firm Partner salary in Arkansas is $200,470 as of December 27, 2021, but the range typically falls between $167,106 and $241,814. 
  • Arizona: The average Law Firm Partner salary in Arizona is $214,905 as of December 27, 2021, but the range typically falls between $179,138 and $259,227.
  • California: The average Law Firm Partner salary in California is $242,800 as of December 27, 2021, but the range typically falls between $202,391 and $292,875. 
  • Colorado: The average Law Firm Partner salary in Colorado is $216,716 as of December 27, 2021, but the range typically falls between $180,648 and $261,411.
  • Connecticut: The average Law Firm Partner salary in Connecticut is $235,192 as of December 27, 2021, but the range typically falls between $196,049 and $283,698.
  • District of Columbia: The average Law Firm Partner salary in District of Columbia is $241,778 as of December 27, 2021, but the range typically falls between $201,539 and $291,642.
  • Delaware: The average Law Firm Partner salary in Delaware is $228,236 as of December 27, 2021, but the range typically falls between $190,251 and $275,307.
  • Florida: The average Law Firm Partner salary in Florida is $206,500 as of December 27, 2021, but the range typically falls between $172,132 and $249,088.
  • Georgia: The average Law Firm Partner salary in Georgia is $210,304 as of December 27, 2021, but the range typically falls between $175,303 and $253,676.
  • Hawaii: The average Law Firm Partner salary in Hawaii is $228,062 as of December 27, 2021, but the range typically falls between $190,106 and $275,098.
  •  Iowa: The average Law Firm Partner salary in Iowa is $208,021 as of December 27, 2021, but the range typically falls between $173,400 and $250,923.
  • Idaho: The average Law Firm Partner salary in Idaho is $205,156 as of December 27, 2021, but the range typically falls between $171,012 and $247,467. 
  • Illinois: The average Law Firm Partner salary in Illinois is $223,237 as of December 27, 2021, but the range typically falls between $186,084 and $269,277.
  • Indiana: The average Law Firm Partner salary in Indiana is $212,369 as of December 27, 2021, but the range typically falls between $177,024 and $256,167.
  • Kansas: The average Law Firm Partner salary in Kansas is $206,282 as of December 27, 2021, but the range typically falls between $171,951 and $248,825.
  • Kentucky: The average Law Firm Partner salary in Kentucky is $204,543 as of December 27, 2021, but the range typically falls between $170,501 and $246,728.
  • Louisiana: The average Law Firm Partner salary in Louisiana is $208,239 as of December 27, 2021, but the range typically falls between $173,581 and $251,185.
  • Massachusetts: The average Law Firm Partner salary in Massachusetts is $236,496 as of December 27, 2021, but the range typically falls between $197,136 and $285,271.
  • Maryland: The average Law Firm Partner salary in Maryland is $224,119 as of December 27, 2021, but the range typically falls between $186,819 and $270,341. 
  • Maine: The average Law Firm Partner salary in Maine is $209,543 as of December 27, 2021, but the range typically falls between $174,669 and $252,758.
  • Michigan: The average Law Firm Partner salary in Michigan is $217,542 as of December 27, 2021, but the range typically falls between $181,336 and $262,407.
  • Minnesota: The average Law Firm Partner salary in Minnesota is $222,367 as of December 27, 2021, but the range typically falls between $185,359 and $268,228. 
  • Missouri: The average Law Firm Partner salary in Missouri is $207,152 as of December 27, 2021, but the range typically falls between $172,675 and $249,874.
  • Mississippi: The average Law Firm Partner salary in Mississippi is $189,110 as of December 27, 2021, but the range typically falls between $157,637 and $228,112.
  • Montana: The average Law Firm Partner salary in Montana is $197,044 as of December 27, 2021, but the range typically falls between $164,250 and $237,682.
  • North Carolina: The average Law Firm Partner salary in North Carolina is $207,369 as of December 27, 2021, but the range typically falls between $172,857 and $250,136.
  • North Dakota: The average Law Firm Partner salary in North Dakota is $204,109 as of December 27, 2021, but the range typically falls between $170,139 and $246,203.
  • Nebraska: The average Law Firm Partner salary in Nebraska is $199,326 as of December 27, 2021, but the range typically falls between $166,153 and $240,435.
  • New Hampshire: The average Law Firm Partner salary in New Hampshire is $220,628 as of December 27, 2021, but the range typically falls between $183,909 and $266,130.
  • New Jersey: The average Law Firm Partner salary in New Jersey is $240,322 as of December 27, 2021, but the range typically falls between $200,325 and $289,886.
  • New Mexico: The average Law Firm Partner salary in New Mexico is $198,674 as of December 27, 2021, but the range typically falls between $165,609 and $239,649.
  • Nevada: The average Law Firm Partner salary in Nevada is $222,802 as of December 27, 2021, but the range typically falls between $185,721 and $268,752. 
  • New York: The average Law Firm Partner salary in New York is $233,236 as of December 27, 2021, but the range typically falls between $194,418 and $281,338.
  • Ohio: The average Law Firm Partner salary in Ohio is $212,238 as of December 27, 2021, but the range typically falls between $176,915 and $256,010.
  • Oklahoma: The average Law Firm Partner salary in Oklahoma is $204,326 as of December 27, 2021, but the range typically falls between $170,320 and $246,466.
  • Oregon: The average Law Firm Partner salary in Oregon is $216,498 as of December 27, 2021, but the range typically falls between $180,467 and $261,149.
  • Pennsylvania: The average Law Firm Partner salary in Pennsylvania is $216,933 as of December 27, 2021, but the range typically falls between $180,829 and $261,673.
  • Rhode Island: The average Law Firm Partner salary in Rhode Island is $229,106 as of December 27, 2021, but the range typically falls between $190,976 and $276,356.
  • South Carolina: The average Law Firm Partner salary in South Carolina is $203,456 as of December 27, 2021, but the range typically falls between $169,595 and $245,417.
  • South Dakota: The average Law Firm Partner salary in South Dakota is $186,067 as of December 27, 2021, but the range typically falls between $155,100 and $224,441.
  • Tennessee: The average Law Firm Partner salary in Tennessee is $197,479 as of December 27, 2021, but the range typically falls between $164,612 and $238,206.
  • Texas: The average Law Firm Partner salary in Texas is $213,449 as of December 27, 2021, but the range typically falls between $177,925 and $257,470.
  • Utah: The average Law Firm Partner salary in Utah is $205,941 as of December 27, 2021, but the range typically falls between $171,666 and $248,414.
  • Virginia: The average Law Firm Partner salary in Virginia is $216,064 as of December 27, 2021, but the range typically falls between $180,104 and $260,624. 
  • Vermont: The average Law Firm Partner salary in Vermont is $209,325 as of December 27, 2021, but the range typically falls between $174,487 and $252,496. 
  • Washington: The average Law Firm Partner salary in Washington is $232,149 as of December 27, 2021, but the range typically falls between $193,512 and $280,027.
  • Wisconsin: The average Law Firm Partner salary in Wisconsin is $214,107 as of December 27, 2021, but the range typically falls between $178,474 and $258,265. 
  • West Virginia: The average Law Firm Partner salary in West Virginia is $192,588 as of December 27, 2021, but the range typically falls between $160,536 and $232,307. 
  • Wyoming: The average Law Firm Partner salary in Wyoming is $193,457 as of December 27, 2021, but the range typically falls between $161,260 and $233,356.


There is no reason for any law firm to ever make an attorney a partner unless the law firm has to. The benefits of making you a partner have to outweigh the cost of doing so. The benefit of doing so now also has to outweigh the perceived long-term costs of doing so. If you can fit yourself into one of the seven situations described above, then becoming a partner – the Navy Seal of the legal profession – is within your grasp if you do not ring the bell and put down your helmet prematurely.

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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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