1.800.973.1177CAREER COUNSELOR’S CORNERPAGE 1 continued on backThe Partnership Dilemma and the Momentof Clarity We see it all the time: A graduateof Yale or Stanford Law or wherever joinsa highly regarded international law firm inNew York City or Los Angeles. The luresare spectacular: Name brand clients knownworldwide; Powerful senior partners, a fewof which may even be media figures; back-upsupport staff to dream for -proofreaders,legal assistants, schedulers; plus fellowlawyers equally brilliant and success-driven.For all-work-and-no-play achievers, suchan achievement is like landing in Heaven. Allthat hard work has paid off.The panic, if it can be called that, sets inquickly.You may not recognize the panic, or itmay rest just beneath the surface of yourconscious life. This panic is centered onthe uncertainty of a young lawyer’s life. Thefirm’s standards may at times seem impos-sibly high. A typo on a document might senda pantheon of powerful partners into a fury.The hours can be long. A client might wantsomething overnight. There are partnerswith no private life, spending all their work-ing hours at the firm. There appear to be nobenchmarks other than hours billed -andthe more hours the better. Stories circu-late, such as: At X Firm, one senior associ-ate billed 3,100 hours his eighth year andanother billed 2,950, the associate with themost billed hours making partner and theother lawyer forced to leave the firm. Such astory may be merely apocryphal but servesto highlight the overriding importance ofbillable hours. In this type of environment, alawyer cannot help but ask him- or herselfthe following questions:1. Am I cutting it? And just what is requiredto ‘cut it.?’ Am I up to this and can I keep itup for 30 years?2. Do some partners prefer working withcertain associates? If so, what are these as-sociates doing that I’m not?3. Which types of practice and which partnersseem to hold the most power?4. Which partner might become my mentor?Will any partner ever take on this role withme? How do I get the process rolling?5. Which associates seem to be making themost headway?6. And if certain associates do seem to bemaking more headway, why is this happen-ing? What are they doing that I’m not doing?Or, what am I doing wrong?7. How can I stand out from the other associ-ates without causing some sort of backlashfrom them?8. Finally, how long will it take me to makepartner? What are my chances? Who is likelyto be my primary competition?Metaphorically Moving From Hell to HeavenBeing an associate in a large firm can bepleasant when a collegial atmosphere existsnurtured by partners, associates, supportstaff and clients. If an attorney lands in apractice area which he or she finds intellec-tually stimulating, so much the better. Buteven if the work situation is optimal, thereremains doubt lying just below the surface,an angst that concerns the unknown futureand the attorney’s position in it. To be anassociate is, in a sense, to always remain in aform to indenture to the firm’s partners. Thismay well be tolerable through the first, say,four years, when the attorney is establish-ing work habits and developing skills tolast a life time. But such indentured statusbegins to grow somewhat stale as the typicalassociate begins to run a docket of caseswith minimal partner supervision. Attorneystypically report what can only be describedas a moment of ‘clarity’ somewhere betweenthe end of their third and beginning of theirsixth years.The Moment of ClarityThe attorney has begun to realize that thesenior partners he or she works with everyday are not gods, and that most of the workis routine and does not require a brilliant,break-through intellectual analysis. In short,the romance is gone. What is left is a futurestretching into decades filled with ‘more ofthe same.’ The attorney realizes that he orshe is just as competent as everyone else buthas flaws. Perhaps these flaws have to dowith social-interaction skills. Perhaps thereis a lack of connection with certain partnersthat may prove to be harmful. Perhaps theattorney finds it impossible to bring in newbusiness. Perhaps there is a relationshipwith another associate that causes daily,gnawing resentment. What the Moment ofClarity amounts to is a combination of sum-ming up one’s experience in the firm and asimultaneous dropping away of the veils ofexpectation, idealization, hope and promise.One’s life and one’s position in the firm isThe Partnership Dilemma and a Moment of Clarity[Jamie Barnes]Partnership is the ultimate goal for many attorneys - but what happens to those attorneys that wait it out at a ﬁrm and never move beyond the senior associ-ate level?
1.800.973.1177CAREER COUNSELOR’S CORNERPAGE 2seen simply and starkly for what it is.The Search for Legal NirvanaWhat rests behind this Moment of Clarityis the contrast between what one’s life hasbecome and what an individual seeks, whichis complete control over one’s life. Suchfreedom, if there is indeed such a state, is in-stinctively sought, and this complete freedomis envisioned by most associates as earning apartnership in a big firm. Getting a partner-ship offer is the problem. There are no rulesto follow, no G.P.A. to be achieved, not LSAT topass. Instead, political skills, sheer determi-nation and billable hours come into play. Itmay seem unfair that having run the gauntletof high school grades, SAT, college grades,LSAT, law school G.P.A., law review, federalclerkship, and acceptance by a name-brandfirm, the battle begins with new rules not castin stone. These rules, as undefined as theyare, seem to call upon one’s ability to formbonds and deflect criticism. They seem toinvolve outworking everyone else. They seemto involve who can parlay enough family andother contacts into billable clients. And whatdoes any of this have to do with being a goodlawyer?!!The problem with the associate’s search forways to make partner is that just running upthe most billable hours is not enough. On theother hand, bringing in several million dollarsof business and being able to keep at leastnominal control of it would certainly guaran-tee a partnership -or, as a Plan B, the abilityto move elsewhere with clients in tow. If onecan achieve this, the associate’s personalityconflicts inside the firm, if any, become lessimportant.But What If A Lawyer Doesn’t Want To Be ARainmaker?What then? Can one still make partner withoutbringing in clients? Yes. There are other ways.One can become an unrivaled expert in somenarrow but revenue-producing corner of thelaw. Clients with specific types of problemswill be drawn to the firm because it has areputation for solving them. The associatewith expertise in this field will get the bulkof this new work or have an important say inhow this work is conducted. One can bill morehours than his or her competition (other asso-ciates in the same class). One can get visibilityoutside the firm by serving on commissionsand boards. One can marry the managingpartner’s daughter or son. One can watch asother associates jump ship and hope that heor she will be the last one standing at the endof eight or so years.ConclusionOkay, so you’ve got big-time angst. You don’tknow what to do. Here’s a solution. Let thesituation play out. The worst that can happenis that you must leave big-firm life and tryfor happiness at a medium-sized firm. Youmight not make partner or find happinessthere either, but you are more likely to keepyour job and develop a life outside the firm. Insuch a scenario, the trajectory of your life isdictated for you by outside forces. Not a pleas-ant thought. On the other hand, everyone’slife is dictated by outside forces, even thosewho stayed behind at your prior firm andmade partner. For instance, they will die at amoment not likely to be of their own choos-ing. In the meanwhile there will be deaths inthe family, divorces, possible disappointmentswith children and other unpleasantness. Thekey is to be content with a combination of whatyou have achieved and what is forced uponyou. Partnerships are not at the center of suchconsiderations. You only think they are if youallow the culture of the law firm to dominateyour thinking. It is in the Moment of Claritythat you can gain a new perspective. Happi-ness won’t likely be the result, but a senseof calm and acceptance will make the rest ofyour life that much better.