New partners in Texas consider a book of business vitally important for career success, but firms aren’t necessarily giving them resources to bring in new clients.
According to 19 new partners in Texas who responded to ALM’s recent 2017 New Partners Survey, 57.9 percent said developing their own clients is very important to their career, and another 36.8 percent consider it somewhat important. But nearly half of the new Texas partners—47.4 percent—said their firm does not give them a budget for professional or business development.
The new Texas partners apparently put more stock into developing their own clients than new partners do on average across the country. Only 37.2 percent of new partners nationally consider developing a book of business as very important, while 53.1 percent consider it somewhat important. About the same percentage of new partners nationally as in Texas —44.9 percent of 394 lawyers who responded to the survey —said they get no budget for professional or business development.
At three large Texas firms contacted for this story, partners aren’t given individual budgets for professional or business development, but have access to money through their practice groups or department. Firm leaders said obtaining financial support for business development should never be an issue.
“Even associates are encouraged to connect with people, take people out to lunch and do different things,” said Mark Sloan, managing partner of Thompson & Knight. “We don’t tell a particular lawyer you have “x” dollars budgeted for business development.”
Despite encouraging all lawyers to establish personal relationships with contacts at firm clients, the firm doesn’t look at the dollars spent, Sloan said.
Strasburger & Price does not budget money for business development on a per-partner basis. “We budget by industry, by practice unit, by client team, and the needs, the requests of individual lawyers,” said Mark Golman, a partner in Dallas who is firm development and lateral hiring partner.
He said the goal is building long-term relationships with clients.
“We are not saying young partners get $5,000, go spend it. We want to be a little more strategic than that,” Golman said.
Mark Kelly, chairman of Vinson & Elkins in Houston, said the firm encourages all lawyers to go out and meet with clients, but much of the day-to-day decision making on particular activities is done at the practice group level. He said some lawyers prefer one-on-one lunches or meals, while others like to speak at seminars.
Kelly said it’s not accurate to say the firm’s business development budget is unlimited, but “we are very open and free with expenses.”
Bailey Pham, a new finance partner in V&E in Dallas, said she prefers to meet with clients over lunch or dinner, but sometimes plans a happy hour for a group of 15 to 20 clients from a bank in Dallas located close to the firm’s office. “I grab other partners and associates with our group to go and meet with them,” she said. Pham said she also participates in seminars where she meets bankers.
Pham said when she was a junior associate, most of her business development was with a senior associate or partner, but she got into the habit early on of initiating client development lunches or dinners. She said she is fortunate that she has a lot of connection in the Dallas area to network with because she graduated from Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law in Dallas and formerly worked for an accounting firm.
In Texas, 36.8 percent of the new partners who responded to the survey are equity partners and the others are nonequity. Those are roughly the same percentages for the national group of 394 new partners.
The new Texas partners who responded to the survey became partner from 2014 through 2017. They practice in these areas: banking, corporate, labor and employment, energy, intellectual property, international, litigation, M&A, securities, tax, and trusts and estates. They work in Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Houston and San Antonio.
In Texas, 57.9 percent of new partners said they changed firms before they were promoted to partner, while only 46.3 percent of new partners nationally did the same.
Nearly half of the new Texas partners, 47.4 percent, said they agree with the assessment that it is nearly impossible for associates at large firms to become partner. Nationally, only 35.7 percent of the new partners agreed with that assessment.
All of the new Texas partners said their firms had prepared them adequately to become a partner, compared with only 87.8 percent of new partners nationally. But new partners in Texas and nationally agreed that the ability to develop and cultivate new clients was somewhat important in their promotion to partner, while the ability to perform “first-class legal work” was very important.
Kelly said V&E does consider a lawyer’s ability to build their own practices when deciding which associates to promote to partner, and the firm wants to give them the tools and resources to do it.
“That’s half the fun of being a lawyer,” Kelly said about business development.