4 Reasons You Don’t Want to be a Partner

By and large, partnership is the aspiration of most young lawyers.  Sure, there are other options and many take them up.  However the vast majority of practitioners do their degree, get admitted, and then start working towards partnership.

But have you ever stopped to ask yourself why?

Why do you want to be a partner?  What qualities does partnership have that you actually want to grasp.

You should take a moment to pause and consider whether partnership is actually part of your desired course, or whether the real reason you want it is out of some sense of competitiveness.

Here’s a few factors to consider about partnership.

Stress

You think law is a stressful job now?  Try partnership.

Sure it comes with more money, and most partners appear to be confident and in control.

However, the stress of partnership is far greater than that of employment.  Every client that leaves affects you directly.  Every ethical breach reflects on you, and every letter that goes out is at your risk.

You know how you write letters now and assume that your partner will know if you’ve missed something or got something wrong?  Well once you ARE that partner, how will that work for you?

In all, the stress of partnership is significantly greater.

Accountability

Assuming you’re not a sole trader, the likelihood is that you will be in partnership with other people.

All with opinions.

And all lawyers.

To them you owe certain duties which mean that you don’t get to drop the ball, ever.  Your overdue debts affect them too.  Your lack of ability to delegate properly affects them.  Your poor filing practices affect them.  Every decision you make is not just your own, but that of the partnership.

So as a Partner you are going to need to think as part of that group.  Yes, you have your independent obligations and decisions to make, but they are in the context of a larger whole.  There will come a time where a partner more senior than you will take you aside and ask “why” – why that decision, or that client, or that debtor, or that lack of funds in trust.

Of course your failings now affect those around you as well, but not so directly as “that $100,000 in fees you missed out on means I can’t take my kids on a holiday to the beach this year”.

All Marketing All the Time

Among many other things, the job of a partner is to bring in the work.  All the time.

It’s not like you go “I think I’ll do some marketing today” – no, it’s a constant, overarching quality of every decision, every action, every word, and every letter.

If you are content to be a great lawyer but don’t want to focus on building the business through marketing and rainmaking, then you need to consider whether partnership is really for you.

Dealing with People

This is where the rubber hits the road.  If you’re in a firm with a few people, you’ve probably noticed where complaints end up?  If not – they end up with the relevant partner.

Sure, they may go via HR, but ultimately it is the partner’s responsibility to deal with people issues.

And guess what?  People are annoying.  Some don’t get along well, some don’t play nice in any team they get put in, some have delusions of grandeur, and the list goes on, and on, and on.

Your job as a partner, for which you have no training and little experience, is to either solve those problems or ensure that they don’t get in the way of an effectively functioning team.

So are you still keen?

I’m not trying to dissuade you from wanting to be a partner – I’m trying to ensure that you aspire to it with your eyes open.

If you’re still looking for that, then you might want to start thinking about how you are going to deal with those issues now, and begin learning and practising the qualities you might need going forward.

Happy Lawyering!

  • Hi Chris,

    I am a young lawyer, two years into my practice as a commercial litigation lawyer. I enjoy reading your articles and have actually learnt quite a lot.

    After reading this article, my aspirations of partnership hasn’t changed. I still definitely want to be a partner someday or run my own firm. I need tips for the road to partnership. 🙂

    • Good stuff Lubia – I’ll make sure something’s in the pipeline for you on that (very large) topic soon!

  • >