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Around the country, hundreds of attorneys celebrated last month because their law firms tapped them to become partners. But what does it really mean to join the upper echelons? Maybe there was a time a couple of decades ago when the law partner stereotype allowed for at least a little daydreaming about playing 18 holes in the middle of the week. Today, that image is far from the truth. The responsibilities of partnership are wide-ranging, of course. Many partners compare it to winning a pie-eating contest, where the reward is more pie. In truth, there are three main areas that are new partners must consider in their brave new worlds: finances, leadership and rainmaking. FINANCES Many new partners are surprised to learn that there’s more to their new financial situation than increased compensation. In fact, new partners are often shocked to learn how little of their compensation they get to keep. H. Thomas Davis Jr., a New York-based partner at Carter Ledyard & Milburn who has written on issues that face associates, says new partners need to get up to speed quickly on their changed financial picture or face unwanted consequences later on. “Many financial implications of being a partner are not immediately understood [by lawyers]. Associates are employees of the firm, so the firm takes out income taxes and Social Security, and your benefits are subsidized. When you become an owner of the firm, the rules change. There’s no withholding and you have to pay for 100 percent of your benefits. You need to have the financial discipline to set aside Uncle Sam’s share so you don’t end up with a bigger tax bill down the road,” says Davis. New equity partners also have to make a significant capital contribution. After all, partners are owners of a business. New partners must put up some cash to buy into that business. The exact amount of that required contribution to the partnership pot obviously varies among firms. According to Lisa Smith, a Washington, D.C.-based legal consultant at Hildebrandt International, the average capital contribution expected in Washington firms is 20 percent to 30 percent of a new partner’s compensation, though there are those both higher and lower. Dollarwise, she says that tends to run between $30,000 and $50,000. But that contribution doesn’t have to happen all at once. Smith says that if firms want the amount in one lump sum, most help with the financing, either through the firm itself or with a bank. Others allow new partners to pay in installments over three to four years. And that initial capital contribution is not the last time the firm digs into partners’ pockets. Partners can expect additional requests for capital further down the road. As a result of these changes in financial status, a new partner’s gross income may rise considerably, but for the first couple of years, he or she could take home less than he or she did as an associate. Of course, many attorneys who climb through the partnership ranks eventually see great financial benefits. LEADERSHIP Besides finances, other big changes come in the category of leadership and with the partner’s new role in the community. Legal career coach M. Diane Vogt likens the partnership transition to another life passage. “It’s like being a freshman in high school all over again. As a senior associate, you’re like the eighth grader at the end of middle school. You know your way around and what’s expected in that setting. But then, all of a sudden, you’re a freshman in high school, and you have to figure things out all over again,” she says. Vogt, also an attorney in Tampa, Fla., is the author of the American Bar Association publication “Keeping Good Lawyers: Best Practices to Create Career Satisfaction.” New partners must spend more time on administrative and management tasks. Legal consultant Felice Wagner of D.C.’s Sugarcrest Development Group believes that, in making the transition from associate to partner, lawyers must develop the ability to motivate and inspire co-workers, as well as cultivate leadership and management skills. Although many firms still expect new firm members to get up to speed on their own by observing others and finding a style that suits them, other firms take a bigger role. Some law firms provide formal management and administrative training. A few have truly embraced the development of new partners. For instance, some firms put new partners on their hiring, associate development or pro bono committees to help them gain insight into their firm’s management and leadership philosophy. DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary has created a mentoring system of what it calls “accountable partners.” “If a more-senior partner advocates that an associate should be promoted to the partnership ranks, that attorney becomes accountable for maximizing the chances of success of the new partner by being a mentor and support system,” says Ted Segal, the managing partner of DLA Piper’s D.C. office. A few firms have even started their own “universities” to address some of the challenges faced by new partners. Littler Mendelson has created one of these programs, which it calls the Littler Academy. The “academy” aims to develop two skill sets: leadership and mentoring, and marketing and business development. Wendy Tice-Wallner, the managing partner of Littler Mendelson’s San Francisco office, says it’s important to give attorneys these tools to succeed. She says that in creating the academy, her firm looked at what some of their corporate clients had done to train their own employees. The academy brings in outside experts to emphasize the importance of marketing abilities. Kendal Tyre, a D.C.-based partner at Nixon Peabody, says that after three years of law school and many years as an associate, most lawyers know the law and have become expert in some legal specialty. But many times, he says, they have received little or no formal training during that time on management or marketing. To navigate his way on matters like his bigger administrative role, increased recruiting responsibilities and associate mentoring and supervision, Tyre relied on networking within his firm — something he has done since the start of his career. “If you have appropriate networks in place and develop them while you’re an associate, then when you’ve got questions or encounter problems, that same network is there to support you and help you learn what you need to know as a partner. You can’t underestimate the value of the networks you create in your law career,” says Tyre. Today, Nixon Peabody does offer more expansive leadership training to new partners. Sugarcrest’s Wagner adds that networking outside the firm can also provide insight and guidance for newly initiated partners. “It’s important to build a local network outside your firm. Sometimes lawyers may feel it’s hard to ask certain questions concerning things like business development or new supervisory responsibilities within the firm because of a fear of how it might be perceived. But if you have peers in the community, you can navigate your way through issues you need some guidance on,” says Wagner. RAINMAKING Finally, for new partners, there’s the big gorilla in the corner: business development. Generating and cultivating new business relationships is increasingly important in sustaining a law practice. Many agree this is the biggest challenge new partners face today. “Business development is one of the hardest things for new partners to grasp. There’s an inherent bias in the system for new partners to work harder, and there are plenty of things in place to facilitate that in a firm, like having your own parking space and lots of support services,” says Neil Olson, an attorney and executive coach based in San Francisco. But that’s not enough. “To avoid just billing more hours, new partners must learn to take control of the business-making process and not rely solely on the firm for generating new business,” he says. Bryan Collins, a McLean, Va.-based new partner at Pillsbury Winthrop, says he didn’t wait until he was a partner to start making that shift in thinking. When, as a sixth-year associate, he was managing his own cases, it occurred to him that if he left learning the business development end of law practice until he made partner, it would be too late. In addition to finding new business, Collins says it’s even more important to create a self-sustaining practice, where clients return for more business. While networking is important in navigating new management responsibilities, it’s also a key business development tool, according to DLA Piper’s Segal. “As an associate, I had cultivated a business relationship with someone who was in the legal department of a major client. As I was making partner, he became general counsel, and I’ve been able to continue bringing in business from that client as a result of a professional relationship that started before I was ever a partner,” says Segal. He also cautions lawyers not to forget that it’s not enough just to cultivate relationships with people, hoping they’ll give you business. Segal says lawyers have to remember to come out and ask for that business once they’ve established the necessary professional and personal foundation. Many new attorneys worry about the increased pressure to get new business. While he recognizes this, Pillsbury’s Collins says, “I don’t think there’s as much pressure as people say. In a law firm, or any business for that matter, everyone has to pull their share of the load, whether it be bringing in business, handling the legal matters that are brought in, or taking on certain administrative responsibilities.” John Sapp, attorney author of the ABA publication “Making Partner: A Guide for Associates,” says getting involved in the community is another great way to start making the connections you’re going to need down the road. To accomplish that, he says, some firms keep a list of the types of boards with which they’d like to see their attorneys become involved. For instance, some recommend nonprofit organizations such as museums and symphonies or victims’ rights and child welfare groups. That helps lawyers develop skills in a nonlegal setting that will help in their business development efforts later. Marketing your practice, both to those outside and inside, is crucial, according to Littler’s Tice-Wallner. “The key to surviving and thriving as a new partner in today’s world is to find a need and fill it. Differentiation is the key. New partners need to separate themselves from the pack by becoming the firm’s expert in a subspecialty, and heavily marketing that expertise internally so they become the ‘go to’ person on that topic. In that sense, a new partner is like any business — he or she needs to differentiate, brand and market,” says Tice-Wallner. Carter Ledyard’s Davis warns that attorneys must think about these development issues throughout their careers, not just for the first months or years of advancing to the partnership. “Making partner isn’t like getting tenure,” says Davis. “The days of kicking back to play golf and smoke cigars are gone. It’s just as possible for partners to suffer financially or be asked to leave the firm if they’re not contributing to the business aspect of the firm.” In short, there is plenty for freshly minted partners to think about in assuming their new roles and responsibilities. Joanne Cronrath Bamberger is an attorney and freelance writer in Chevy Chase, Md.

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