What Does It Mean To Be a Partner at a Law Firm?

Updated June 24, 2022

Many law firms, large and small, rely on strong partnerships to bring in new clients and revenue for the company. Senior law associates seeking to become partners can benefit in many ways while providing valuable guidance and direction to the firm. Partners are responsible for fostering strong client relationships, bringing in new business and voting in important business matters to improve a firm's performance. In this article, we discuss what being a partner at a law firm means and how to become a partner along with several frequently asked questions relating to law partnerships.

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What does being a partner in a law firm mean?

Senior lawyers that are partners at a law firm are generally responsible for generating revenue at the company. Partnerships can mean different things with different organizations, but many partnerships are reliable for bringing in new clients and maintaining strong existing client relationships. Depending on the specific partnership structure of a company, a partner may share in the profits of that firm's revenue.

Related: Partner vs. Principal: What's the Difference?

How to become a partner in a law firm

Although the particulate methods of becoming a partner can vary between firms, there are several similarities between partnership paths. Here are several steps to help you become a partner at a law organization:

1. Apply yourself to your work

Many potential partners of a law firm have a large workload to gain experience and show their dedication to the company. This can help show existing partners the dedication you have to the company and its success. It can also help show partners that you can take on more responsibility within the firm. Some additional ways to apply yourself include providing direct assistance to firm partners, taking client calls or cases and researching case details.

2. Build and retain client relationships

Building relationships with existing clients, especially with the important clients of a firm, can help keep those clients longer. Fostering these relationships can help the organization see your potential to bring in new clients and increase firm revenue. Retaining these essential clients contracts can help the financial performance and generate new client leads. Methods to help retain client relationships include providing consistent follow-up communication, being honest, billing services accurately and fostering positive client interactions.

Related: How To Get More Clients and Grow Your Business

3. Source new business

Seeking new business is an essential component of growing a company's revenue. Actively seeking new clients can increase your worth to existing partners, but can also increase the firm's overall profit. Furthermore, expanding your client or case portfolio can show existing partners your valuable experience and legal expertise. Some ways you can source new business include advertising your services on social media, attending community networking events or creating a client-oriented website.

4. Build professional relationships

Building professional relationships, both inside and outside the firm, can help you on your path to becoming a partner. Working with multiple partners and attorneys within the firm can help you understand the larger operation of the company and elevate their opinion of you and your work. Seeking relationships outside of the firm, such as other recruiters or respected leaders, can help you if you decide to seek a partnership with another company.

Related: 10 Jobs You Can Find in Law Offices

5. Specialize in a niche practice area

Familiarizing yourself with specialty practice areas can help partners see your value to the firm. It may also mean that you are the first person they consult for specialty cases. Some examples of niche practice areas include admiralty laws, environmental law, health care law and patent law. Some ways to help you decide a niche specialty include researching different specialties, participating in niche cases to gain an understanding of that specialty and reflecting on areas of law that you enjoy.

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FAQs about being a partner in a law firm

Here are some frequently asked questions about becoming a partner at a law firm:

How long does it take to become a partner in a law firm?

Many firms promote senior associates that have been with them for seven to 10 years. This time can vary between organizations or firm sizes, but many associates can determine if they are on the right partnership track after three years with a single company. Many partnerships can start as a non-equity partnership but as time progresses, they can transition to an equity partnership.

Related: 33 Law Firm Interview Questions and How To Answer Them

What is a non-equity partnership?

A non-equity partnership is where an individual is a partner of the firm but is typically in a salaried position. Many firms use this type of partnership before making that partner an equity partnership. Some responsibilities may remain the same between senior associates and non-equity partners however, the salary of non-equity partners is typically larger than associates.

What is an equity partnership?

An equity partnership is where an individual owns a share of the company and can receive some of their income from profits. Many equity partners invest in the firm, usually in the form of real estate or monetary investment, and help to increase revenue margins. Additionally, equity partners can vote on important decisions that can help drive growth and profit.

How does compensation change by becoming a partner?

The national average salary of a senior associate is $119,046 per year where partners can earn an average of $124,182 per year. This number can change based on the company's performance and specific partnership contracts. This can also change with the amount of monetary investment you have with the firm.

What are the advantages of becoming a non-equity partner?

Non-equity partners have several benefits over senior associates and equity partners. Firstly, they can hold the title partner without having to vote on business decisions or invest in the company, which can relieve the stress of making company-level decisions. They also benefit from a salary increase from senior associates to non-equity partners. Furthermore, they can still perform several duties that they held as an associate but with a salary increase and a new title.

What are the advantages of becoming an equity partner?

Due to the fact that equity partners are partial owners of the firm, they get to participate in business-level decision-making. This means they can contribute to the direction and profits of the organization. Equity partners also benefit from the company's revenue performance, as most of their salary comes from business profits.

What are the disadvantages of partnership?

There are a few obstacles to consider when deciding to pursue a partnership with a law firm. The monetary investment you make with the organization means that you are also are liable for their debt or shortfalls. Voting on company strategies and bringing in new business can help pay debts and prevent any shortfalls.

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