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You are attending a partners meeting, listening as candidates for admission to partnership are being presented. “Our next candidate recorded 3,000 billable hours and has an effective rate of $1,000 per hour, plus a generated book of business worth $3,000,000 — and keeps a herd of other associates working their hearts out.” How do you vote? In most firms, the answer is a no-brainer: That candidate would be made a partner. The punch line is that, even with those remarkable numbers, he or she might be inappropriate for partnership admission. Which firms would know this? Which would have the courage to say no? When it comes to tapping new partners, the boom of the 1990s led many firms into temptation. Work was flying in the door and firms compromised, promoting people who would not have passed the threshold in normal times. But firms had excuses: The busiest partners needed help, and lesser competitors were bribing the best candidates to join other firms, so they had no choice. Now it is time for course corrections. Courageous corrections. This article is not about culling the herd; it’s about making partnership decisions for the long haul. First, we must slay the seven demons called “Yes, but . . .” You will recognize the “Yes, but . . .” demons in the following utterances: • Yes, but she is such a good lawyer. • Yes, but he is so smart. • Yes, but she bills a lot of money. • Yes, but clients love him. • Yes, but she has such a large book of business. • Yes, but he attracts so many new clients. • Yes, but she is one of the foremost experts in a challenging field. Please note that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with any of these statements. They are demons because the “Yes, but . . .” suggests that we accept sins along with the positives, and that is the fatal mistake. If “Yes, but . . .” is allowed to rule the day, partnership decisions will not be defined by internal guidelines or policies or values — or anything else, really — just the brute force of a short-term, strip-mining mentality. If that is what firm leaders want, fine, but don’t pretend to have admission criteria. IN THE YEAR 2020

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