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After I graduated from law school 20 years ago, I did a one-year stint as a law clerk and then, like many, became an associate at a law firm. I was assigned to the firm’s litigation team, and became a partner on Jan. 1, 1988. I must confess, however, that I gave that transition very little thought at the time. It did not occur to me to reflect on what it meant to be a partner at any sort of law firm, let alone one as well established and prominent as the one I had joined. In this, I suspect, I was not alone. Many associates at law firms focus so much on “making partner” that they tend not to give any thought to what it means beyond the outward manifestations of partnership status. To the associate, those outward manifestations were always pretty clear. David Maister catalogued them in one of the chapters in his seminal work, “Managing the Professional Service Firm: equity participation, tenure, greater autonomy, opportunity to participate in policymaking, generally higher income and internal and external recognition.” SeeDavid Maister, “On the Meaning of Partnership,” Managing the Professional Service Firm, at 186 (Free Press Paperbacks, division of Simon & Schuster, 1993). In general, these goals are what most would-be partners perceive they will get, too. But this is only half of the picture. A partnership is like a marriage. A person cannot “get, get, get” all the time, or the marriage will not survive — one has to give, too. As a young partner, particularly a young litigation partner, it is easy to give in the same manner one gave in order to achieve partnership. That is, it is easy to continue to work very hard, demonstrate superior technical skill and knowledge in an important area of a law firm’s practice, and retain the confidence of more senior partners (both within and outside of the litigation department) for whom a young litigator works. But, in today’s increasingly competitive environment, that cannot be all one is prepared to give, because to become a partner is to become a business “owner,” with all that that entails. As a business owner, being a great lawyer and delivering superior client service are merely baseline expectations. In addition to that, the owner must contribute in more intangible ways to the health and prosperity of the organization. At my firm — and I suspect, many other law firms — the litigation department is divided into smaller groupings of practice-focused attorneys. For example, my firm has a financial services litigation practice group, a real estate, construction and land-use litigation practice group, a commercial litigation practice group and so on. Each litigation partner must be an active member of at least one practice group, and that entails certain practice-focused responsibilities. PARTNER = BUSINESS OWNER The partner must contribute significant “investment time” (i.e., nonbillable time) to the group’s activities and practice development plan. This of course may mean different things to different partners, depending upon their age, stage and talents. For some, it may mean significant time writing articles or speaking at seminars. For others, it may mean significant leadership involvement in a trade association, bar association or community organization, or significant networking with prospective or existing clients. For others, it may mean mentoring or training of associates. In practice, it is likely to mean some combination of several different areas of contribution. The partner must develop and maintain specialized expertise in one or more of the practice group’s service areas, so as to be on internal or external “short lists” and be in a position to attract, retain and expand the group’s legal work. This also requires significant investment time, some of which may overlap with the time needed to make practice group contributions, some of which may not. Finally, the partner must commit to cooperating with the group and supporting its decisions — regarding topics such as staffing, intake or pricing — and to being accountable to the group and its goals, not just to individual goal achievement. Without this commitment, the group devolves into a collection of individuals, rather than a true team. Note that all this activity is in addition to learning (and implementing, which is much more difficult) the routine business aspects of running a law firm — setting billing rates and collecting fees, understanding how the firm’s cash flow operates and understanding how partners get paid. MAKE A PLAN This is what ownership now entails. And the key to formalizing and monitoring expectations and holding partners accountable for their achievement is a practice plan, both at the practice group level as well as the individual attorney level. The practice plan creates a framework for the group and individuals within the group to set specific goals and commit to specific tasks and tactics designed to achieve those goals. The individual plan should be derived from and support the group plan. For example, if one of the goals of the real estate, construction and land-use practice group is to expand business received from a major land developer client, the practice plans of individuals within the group could be geared to supporting that goal. One group member may commit to writing an article on the impact of “smart growth” initiatives on local land use and zoning regimes. Another may commit to developing a closer relationship with key executives of the client. In this way, the varied strengths and talents of all the group’s members are harnessed and focused toward a goal identified and agreed upon by the group at large. It is the planning process that provides focus and identifies opportunities for the marketing and client-building responsibilities of partnership/ownership. I became a “partner” more than 14 years ago. I began to act like an “owner” much more recently than that, however. In part, that is because I did not need to act any other way. Like any other good goal-oriented litigator, I figured out what I needed to do in order to achieve a certain result and then executed it. The problem was that the result on which I was focused was too narrow. My goal, quite frankly, was to ensure that I (individually) had enough to do. I was not focused until many years later on the need to build a practice that would utilize the talents of other lawyers. But this team- building behavior is the hallmark of being an owner. Today’s litigation associates who want to become partners should be aware of and respond to the need to live and display “ownership” qualities, because today that is the ticket to partnership in virtually any firm. At my firm, this is expressed as the need for the partnership candidate to demonstrate the “overall economic viability” of his or her practice. Other firms may articulate the criteria differently, but the thought is the same — the candidate must show, before admittance, that he or she will be a contributing owner of the enterprise, not just a good or even great lawyer. This no doubt can be shown in many different ways: the development of a self-sustaining, independent and leveraged practice; a significant capacity for business development (the ability and willingness to attract legal work to the firm, whether from new or existing clients); a significant capacity and willingness to manage other lawyers and staff in the performance of legal work; the development of special expertise; and an outstanding reputation in an important area of the firm’s practice. Ultimately, in today’s world, that is what it means to be a litigation partner. Kiran Mehta is a partner in the litigation department of Charlotte, N.C.’s Kennedy Covington Lobdell & Hickman. He is the leader of the department’s real estate, construction and land-use practice group.

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