Why become a partner in a law firm? Is it worth it?
I often work with law firms to assist associates and partners who are leaving the firm to find new jobs. Many of the associates say they have no desire to ever become a partner anywhere as it represents a crushing workload and high stress that no amount of money can make up.
So why do lawyers want to become partners? What are the advantages of partnership that make some lawyers willing to make the sacrifices to get there?
I’ve had this discussion with a number of senior partners recently in large downtown Vancouver law firms. While a significant increase in compensation is an obvious advantage – none of these partners listed this near the top of their list or even as the primary motive for wanting to be a partner.
Almost all of these partners listed the advantages of being an owner – the independence and leadership – as a primary motivation. I read an article recently citing the reasons why people are happy at work. The number one reason for the most satisfied workers was the ability to have control and make independent decisions around their work. People who have this independence were much happier than those who work under the direction and control of others. This lack of control over the the of work and the hours worked is a common complaint of many unhappy associates.
Secondly, these senior partners talked about their long-term relationships with clients whom they liked and whose work was satisfying. As one Managing Partner described it, it’s the ability to be a “trusted advisor” to clients with whom you have worked for 20 years. It is a very satisfying work relationship. This is usually more important than a partner’s relationship with the other lawyers in the firm – which can be acrimonious.
A third reason, cited by one senior partner was the fun of being a rainmaker bringing in the work that she could then pass on to more junior associates to carry out. She said what could be better than being out there with the clients while handling the higher level strategy and more complex matters while her associates drafted the documents that she had long since stopped doing. This again ties into the autonomy of being an owner.
Interestingly, all of the partners with whom I spoke, put compensation at the end of the list. If they weren’t happy being a partner they said, then all the money in the world would not compensate them for partnership.
So who makes it through to partnership? I will write about this in my next blog. Stay tuned!