Can an Attorney Make Partner in a Law Firm or Move When Senior Without a Book of Business? |

Can an Attorney Make Partner in a Law Firm or Move When Senior Without a Book of Business?


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Summary: Are you stuck at a firm that doesn’t encourage business development? Are you not gaining the experience you hoped for? Learn what your options are in this article.
Learn what you can do if you are stuck at a firm without a book of business.

Show Me the Money!

Question. I’m a senior litigation associate at a big firm and I don’t think I’m going to make partner. The firm and the partners that I work for don’t encourage business development, so I don’t have a book of business. And, I’m not getting the trial experience I’d hoped for. What are my options?

Answer. So, you spend your summer at a big (or even smaller firm) and get great experience for a Summer Associate (along with being wined and dined a little … or a lot). Based on that experience, you believe it is the right place for you to begin your journey as a lawyer. Indeed, much like Renee Zellweger in the movie Jerry Maguire, the firm “had you at hello.” Everything seems great for the first few years. You are researching and writing memos, motions, briefs, maybe even preparing outlines for depositions and preparing for trials and arbitrations. However, a few years in, you want more and realize you are going to need more to make partner.

Two of the most common complaints that recruiters hear on a regular basis are as follows:

One, you aren’t getting the hands-on litigation experience that you were hoping to get. For some, this is the whole reason they go to law school – to be a trial lawyer. But, you are working at a big firm and clients pay top dollar. Because of that, often times the clients want the big guns (partners) to do all of the heavy lifting (taking depositions, making oral arguments, chairing the trial). So, you are relegated to a seemingly permanent supporting role. Or, perhaps the partner just isn’t great at developing associate talent and enjoys being the face of the case.

Two, the partners or the firm discourage or don’t actively encourage associates to build a book of business. Perhaps the partners neglect to bring associates along on pitches, new client meetings or other key networking opportunities. Or maybe you are working too many hours and you feel you have no time to go to conferences or network. Or maybe the firm doesn’t reimburse or pay for business development. Or, perhaps you have tried to bring in business but, either the firm’s rates are too high or there are too many conflicts. Now here you are in your 7th or 8th or 9th year, with no clients and you know the firm is going to require you to have a book to promote you to partnership.

What are your alternatives?

Pay Attention Early On

Perhaps it goes without saying, but one of the best ways to ensure that you are on track in your 9th year is to pay attention and be proactive in your 1st, 2nd, and 3rd years. Seek out those partners that are better at fostering associate talent and giving associates opportunities to learn on their feet. Even if it means working later hours or weekends, ask for assignments from those partners. Better yet, make them your mentor. While many firms have formal mentorship programs, where more senior attorneys are assigned to mentor more junior lawyers, informal mentors may be an even better resource. Ask a partner out to coffee or lunch so you can pick their brain a little about how they started building their own book of business.

As your rise in your class level, you should also be seeking out opportunities to get involved in industry organizations. Better yet, don’t just get involved, take a leadership role. Seek out speaking engagements, publish articles, sit on the board, become an industry expert (on something). This will not only increase your visibility to your own and other partners, but will help you develop your own skill set so that you can determine and be in charge of your own destiny.

Making a Move

The honest truth is, without a book of business, it can be harder to make a lateral move as a senior litigator (or associate). And, firms that are looking for senior litigators are often looking for associates with proven experience, including actual trial, arbitration and mediation experience. So, here are a couple of tips to making a move.

First, start early and be patient. Don’t wait until you see the writing on the wall and feel like you have to make a move. It may take some time to find the right position.

Second, specialize! While general senior litigation candidates can sometimes be harder to place, we find that senior litigators with highly sought after specialized knowledge and experience often have more opportunities than general litigators. Specializations such as certain IP litigation (computer and life sciences such as DNA, large molecule and bioinformatics are particularly hot right now), healthcare litigation, employment litigation or environmental litigation, may open more/different doors.

Third, be flexible in class year. If a new firm offers you a position, but wants you to take a haircut in class year, many recruiters will encourage you to seriously consider this as an option. Coming in a year or two more junior will, in all likelihood, give you a longer runway to make partner. While the idea can, at first, sting a little, remember that most firms won’t consider laterals for partnership until they have been at the firm for approximately two years anyway. So, this will buy the time you need to to gain the trial skills that you don’t currently have and that you’ll need to be partner, to bring in and develop a clientele base, and/or gain the support of the new partners (in and out of your department/office) who will be deciding your fate when you are put up for partner.

Fourth, be open to mid-size and smaller firms. If it is hands-on trial skills that you are seeking, a mid-size or small firm may be a great option. Mid-size and smaller firms may be more leanly staffed and, therefore, associates may get more time in the courtroom, more face time with clients and opportunities to see a wider variety of litigation phases (from intake to mediations to appeals). Moreover, if you don’t have the connections to bring in the big bank as a client at your AMLAW 200 firm, billing rates and lack of conflicts at smaller firms may allow you to build a smaller, but respectable book of business that will open more doors for you in the long-run. True, the salary will likely be lower, sometimes considerably lower. Only you can make the right long-term decision that will make sense for you … and make YOU happy!

Fifth, network, network, network. Keep in touch with college and law school friends. They will be climbing corporate and legal ladders and, as you all grow and mature, so will your ability to help one another. Friends can be your greatest source of business. While they aren’t necessarily helpful as the young investment banker working 1000 hours a week, they may be a great resource once they are the VP of a company. Remember those industry groups and leadership opportunities that you took advantage of as a junior associate? You can call on those connections when you are looking for that next great opportunity.

While it is true that the sweet spot to make a lateral move is generally between your 2nd and 5th year of practicing, making that lateral move as a senior can be done. Sometimes it will be with the help of a recruiter and sometimes you will have to network your way into a new position. In the words of Jerry Maguire: Help me … help you! Give us a call to see if we might have any senior positions that could be right for you!

See the following articles for more information:

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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