Signs I will make partner?

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Signs I will make partner?

Post by Anonymous User » Wed Aug 19, 2020 7:25 am

I’m going on 7th year commercial/general/white collar lit associate at v30. Office is located in either a small major market or a large secondary market, depending on how those terms are defined. The office is a little on the smaller side for the firm but it’s by no means tiny/satellite and based on recent lateral partner hires they’re definitely looking to expand it.

I really like my firm. I have mentors who give me a ton of support, including providing me with substantial client contact, state and federal argument opportunities, trial work, deference to my own strategic thinking, etc. I get the top of the line evals each year and sail past the hours requirement. I get tasked with a number of interesting and complex briefing assignments, and am told to figure out the best way to argue them and execute. My thinking is rarely if ever second guessed. Edits are typically pretty minimal. And FWIW, I get good results for the clients more often than not.

Re: business, I have brought in only a couple of relatively small matters and I can’t say that I anticipate my business bringing in ability to skyrocket in the next few years.

Though my firm is big, my specific subgroup (of my office) is relatively small. There are only 4-6 associates (lack of specific on purpose). I am the second to most senior, and the next one is a few years below me. There are 3-5 partners in the group (lack of specificity on purpose). My biggest concern is that I do not believe anybody has been promoted straight up from within since my firm took over a boutique in the area a decade or two ago.

I have not been expressly told that I’m on partner track, but also have not been told the opposite. If I’m not on partner track, I need to start thinking of a backup plan: lateral to a v10-ish for the resume stamp (think quinn or something) accepting I won’t make partner there but that I’ll spin it into something else, start looking towards usaos, lateral to an amlaw lower 100 or 200 and gun hard for partner, maybe leverage clerkships and other relevant accomplishments and scholarship to make a mid career move to academia? Something else? FWIW I do not want to go in-house, as I really like all things litigation and don’t want to sit on the sidelines even if it means a better work life balance.

So now I’m wondering what to do. I am scared to ask directly if I’m on the partnership track because it feels a bit presumptuous given that nobody has ever been promoted from within, but more importantly I don’t want to ask because they’ll probably know that if they give me less than a resounding yes I’ll start looking elsewhere and I think that’ll affect the dynamic because to date all seniors have started looking in house around my year. I could alternatively just sit tight for a couple more years and figure that they like me too much to give me anything more than a soft push in the event I won’t make partner. And the third option I guess is to just start applying elsewhere over the next year or so.

I don’t know. Has anybody been in a similar situation? Any and all advice would be appreciated.

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Re: Signs I will make partner?

Post by 2013 » Wed Aug 19, 2020 7:53 am

No advice, but that seems like a very top heavy litigation practice at a V30.

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papermateflair

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Re: Signs I will make partner?

Post by papermateflair » Wed Aug 19, 2020 9:54 am

Do you have a mentor, or a partner in your group who you trust? I think it's worth having a conversation about career planning. The partners may be wondering if you are actually interested in making partner (or...they may have made assumptions about what you want that could be incorrect). I've found that partners often don't realize/remember during the year where their associates actually are on the promotion track - they could have forgotten you're a 7th year and not a 5th year. It's time to start having these conversations (if you can). I think it's fine to say "my goal is to be a partner at this firm, what do you think I need to do to get there" and then see what they have to say. You don't need to ask if you're on partner track (if you're a senior associate hitting your hours and being given this much independence, then it sounds like you are), but you can talk through what things they need you to do so they can make a case for you, and what they think the timing will be. If you think *asking* about how to build your career at the firm will make them realize it's time to push you out then it's probably time to start exploring other options.

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Re: Signs I will make partner?

Post by Anonymous User » Wed Aug 19, 2020 10:27 am

Anon b/c of job-specific info.

I went through the same process a few years ago (large lit department of national firm, main office). The above poster is right. Reach out to a few partner mentors and have coffee/lunch to ask them about the process and their experiences and how you can best position yourself for success. Don't be afraid to be up front that you'd like to make partner. It's good to ask both senior and junior partners. I got a lot of great advice/input about the process from my mentors, even though I didn't end up making partner.

What you'll probably hear is that there's a lot of things that go into making partner that are out of your control beyond good reviews, client feedback, and success/hitting hours. There's the business cycle and internal firm politics and economics. Your group may be battling for resources with other groups in the department, other offices, or other departments. The people who have the juice to authorize partnership offers may not be your mentors and they may not even be in your department. I'm sure you have noticed this by now based on where the partners at your firm tend to come from and which groups bring in the most revenue.

I doubt they'd tell you definitively that you'll make partner in any specific year or that you won't make it, but if you are seriously being considered, you'll probably hear specifics around their plan for you and how you fit into the department's growth within the firm. If it's less certain at this point (as it was for me), the conversations will be more vague and will be focused more on how hard/rare it is to make partner and setting expectations. I also wouldn't read too much into early convos, as the above poster said they frankly may not have thought that hard about your particular case, as frustrating as that may sound.

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Re: Signs I will make partner?

Post by hdr » Wed Aug 19, 2020 12:32 pm

As a senior associate, you should be discussing this during your formal reviews and in informal conversations with partners you're close to. Don't wait for the partners to take the initiative because in many cases they won't bring it up. If you're exceeding your hours as a senior associate it generally means that the partners trust you and are happy with your work, so asking directly won't hurt. Worst case scenario they give you a vague answer ("we're still trying to figure out a place for you..."), but that shouldn't impact your ability to remain as an associate for a few more years and figure out your options.

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Re: Signs I will make partner?

Post by Anonymous User » Wed Aug 19, 2020 1:51 pm

Does your firm have non-equity partners and/or special counsel roles?

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Re: Signs I will make partner?

Post by Anonymous User » Wed Aug 19, 2020 1:59 pm

I have not made partner myself, but being a senior associate who has been close with the past few classes above me, the common theme seems to be that you get some pretty clear signals in reviews/discussions (albeit far from guarantees) if you're going to make it and you get much more muted support otherwise - though in the latter case, still enough to string you along so you bill 2500+ for a few years as a senior associate before getting dropped. The posts above get at what I'm saying, basically, the difference between enthusiasm for the prospect versus a laundry list of excuses followed by a "but you're still under consideration."

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Re: Signs I will make partner?

Post by Anonymous User » Wed Aug 19, 2020 2:01 pm

OP here. This has all been great advice.

So it sounds like I should be proactive and that any potential downside from doing that is outweighed by the potential upside of having a better idea about where I am at in their eyes.

I agree it’s conceivable that they would not think more about this for me for another 1-2 years. I’m concerned that if the answer is vague-ish, I might read too much into it at this stage and start to look to get out prematurely.

There is not a non equity partner but there are occasional counsel-type positions. Although I probably wouldn’t gun for that (frankly I’d rather try to jump to usao then maybe eventually leverage that into a lateral partner gig elsewhere), do you think the fact that this can be a thing means that I could land there in a worst case given what I’ve said? I honestly don’t know how the decision to do that works...whether it’s more a partner material person who just doesn’t want the pressure/hours or whether it could be used as sort of a way to train somebody to be partner from a business standpoint without that up-or-out pressure. Since I’ve been here, there has not been an associate in lit who has gone to Senior then become a counsel.

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Re: Signs I will make partner?

Post by Anonymous User » Wed Aug 19, 2020 4:41 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Wed Aug 19, 2020 2:01 pm
OP here. This has all been great advice.

So it sounds like I should be proactive and that any potential downside from doing that is outweighed by the potential upside of having a better idea about where I am at in their eyes.

I agree it’s conceivable that they would not think more about this for me for another 1-2 years. I’m concerned that if the answer is vague-ish, I might read too much into it at this stage and start to look to get out prematurely.

There is not a non equity partner but there are occasional counsel-type positions. Although I probably wouldn’t gun for that (frankly I’d rather try to jump to usao then maybe eventually leverage that into a lateral partner gig elsewhere), do you think the fact that this can be a thing means that I could land there in a worst case given what I’ve said? I honestly don’t know how the decision to do that works...whether it’s more a partner material person who just doesn’t want the pressure/hours or whether it could be used as sort of a way to train somebody to be partner from a business standpoint without that up-or-out pressure. Since I’ve been here, there has not been an associate in lit who has gone to Senior then become a counsel.
Anon who didn't make it here. Absolutely you need to be proactive. Don't be demanding or entitled, but just make it known to your mentors that it's something you'd like to pursue and you are willing to make the type of commitment necessary to succeed. Also ask whether you should speak to anyone else about your career path at the firm.

At my firm, which sounds similar to yours, counsel was a position for associates who developed specialized/hybrid skillsets that cut across multiple practice areas, not a way to try out quality senior associates as quasi-partners for a few years. For those senior associates, the guidance was to hang on for a few years while the dept tried to make a business case for that associate, which led to associates making partner at Y11 or 12.

As for up or out - speaking from experience, if you are well-liked and profitable, you will be given a long leash if it is not in the cards and the firm will try to support you through your transition with job opportunities. Is your firm one that has a lot of super-senior associates? If so, shows they are flexible with this type of thing.

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The Lsat Airbender

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Re: Signs I will make partner?

Post by The Lsat Airbender » Wed Aug 19, 2020 5:10 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Wed Aug 19, 2020 2:01 pm
There is not a non equity partner but there are occasional counsel-type positions. Although I probably wouldn’t gun for that (frankly I’d rather try to jump to usao then maybe eventually leverage that into a lateral partner gig elsewhere), do you think the fact that this can be a thing means that I could land there in a worst case given what I’ve said? I honestly don’t know how the decision to do that works...whether it’s more a partner material person who just doesn’t want the pressure/hours or whether it could be used as sort of a way to train somebody to be partner from a business standpoint without that up-or-out pressure. Since I’ve been here, there has not been an associate in lit who has gone to Senior then become a counsel.
Counsel positions are super firm-specific and even individual-specific. So you need to ask around and find out what your firm is like. The best counsel roles are unicorns where you get paid $700k to advise colleagues on some niche practice area while running medium-sized cases to keep your billables above 1200. The worst ones are 11th-year associate gigs where you get worked like a dog by people who assume you're going to to be gone next month. So that's something to investigate.

At my firm, getting shifted over to Counsel would be a realistic outcome for someone like you (well-regarded senior associate, no book of business, presumably hard to replace with a lateral), but it sounds like yours is different. All the more reason to talk to people you trust.

Also, you keep mentioning USAO. If that's something you'd like to do, might as well start applying now. Openings can be sporadic in USA offices and you might get an opening now that won't be there in 2022.

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Monochromatic Oeuvre

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Re: Signs I will make partner?

Post by Monochromatic Oeuvre » Wed Aug 19, 2020 6:24 pm

Sorry bro, but nothing ITT implies bullishness about your chances of partnership.

-Most of the V30s are looking for seven-figure books even out of their junior partners, and while most people are not immediately starting with that, there has to be some reason to think you'll develop to that level sooner rather than later. Your "couple of relatively small matters" is probably more than most senior associates you know but you said yourself it's not really indicative of major potential.

-Having no evidence of any internal promotion in A DECADE OR TWO (!) should be an enormous red flag that, if it's not downright impossible to make it, the firm at least places almost no weight on promoting people it knows and could vouch for. Obviously circumstances could have changed (rainmaker retirements, economic developments), but going years and years with no promotions goes beyond blips of no qualified candidates and turns into a trend of a ladder that was pulled up a long time ago.

-The saying goes that the people who make partner are the ones that are already being functionally treated like partners. If that's not managing your own book, then it usually means running deals with essentially no oversight/being the point person for clients without any intermediary. You described being treated as essentially a trusted subordinate, not someone expected to really lead all of your work.

-Most nebulously, but also most importantly, *most* firms usually imply a chance of partnership to more senior associates than they're actually genuinely considering (and certainly, way more than will ever make it), often informally and certainly in reviews (where people often get some bullshit variety of "we think you've got a bright future here!"). Someone can correct me here, but I've never heard of anyone making partner who wasn't long beforehand, at a minimum, told they were under serious consideration. So being told you are under consideration is sometimes just puffery to get a few more years of grinding out of you before you see the light...but NOT being told anything of the sort is ordinarily a pretty sure sign you're not heading upward.

As others said, it behooves you to actually ask fairly directly at this point--7th year is pretty late to have no clue where you stand. If you get some sort of vague response (as is probable), you can weigh how much it would suck to waste time/work like a dog for several more years in a place that has no intention of seriously rewarding you for it while you plan your next move.

Although there are still a few holdouts on the up-or-out model, most firms now have serious numbers in the counsel/non-equity ranks, and they're less likely to be pit stops for future equity partners as they are to be places where they indefinitely keep people who have specialized expertise/bill a fuckload of hours but are not expected to ever generate serious business. It's up to you to decide whether that's a life you want to live. It's not true everywhere yet, but increasingly, firms are happy to pay people $400-600k forever as long as they're good and they bill 2000+ every year.

Every firm operates a little differently and there's no assurance your firm operates according to the above, but those are general trends to keep in mind.

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Re: Signs I will make partner?

Post by BeeTeeZ » Thu Aug 20, 2020 5:30 am

Non-equity partner? You're a shoe in.
Equity partner? Not a chance.

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Re: Signs I will make partner?

Post by Anonymous User » Thu Aug 20, 2020 7:17 am

OP here. Thanks again to everybody even the more bearish takes. This is exactly what I needed.

A few things, though...and I want to say up front that I’m not purposefully trying to be defensive or contrarian or anything and doing my best not to have any delusions.

So to be clear, I do run cases worth millions without any partner oversight. Oftentimes the partners just occasionally rubber stamp stuff, but I have all the strategy, do all the arguing, and run virtually all the client calls (if the partner is even on the call). Big clients, including fortune 100 companies, have contacted their relationship partner at my firm and expressly request that I run their cases (or to be specific this has happened twice, with clients who had previously had a case with which I was involved...but partners were quite pleased/impressed when it occurred and didn’t shy away from making it known throughout the group).

But I am inferring that people say my chances are minimal because I don’t have a real book of business myself PLUS the apparent rarity of promoting from within, the latter probably being what’s making most on this thread say ehhhhh. And frankly that’s probably the only thing that’s ever had me even somewhat considering lateral moves to peers, which I always stop myself from doing because I get well above market performance bonuses at this firm and have a good thing going. Anyway, I highlighted the rarity of promoting from within specifically because I see it as the best evidence that I won’t make it. On the flip side, we don’t have a ton of associates in the group and I’m just not sure that the standard in-house departure at 7-10th year are not mostly self-selection. Maybe that’s naive on my part, but I haven’t heard or seen anything to suggest that there’s been multiple all star 10th years who gun hard and get rejected due to lack of a business justification for promotion...but then again I’m not sure I would have heard about it had it been the case.

Also, to the portable business comments, I have to ask: what type of late sixth/early seventh year lit associate is bringing in major work based on their own relationships? They only graduated law school 6 or whatever years ago, so even if they have the relationships with talented classmates going in house, are those classmates really high enough at their respective companies yet to have a major say in which biglaw firm to use? And to the extent that a lit associates’ friends have recently gotten that kind of say, what are the chances that their company has gotten sued since that happened?

Anyway, you all are definitely right: I literally just need to ask, and it probably makes sense to do so in the context of this upcoming round of evals. If I get anything less than a “we’re seriously thinking about you. As your evals have indicated and your recent success have demonstrated you have unique skill. We’ll be thinking hard over the next year about whether we can justify it from a business perspective,” then perhaps I should start planning my exit. The more I think about it, I’d say my most likely move would be USAO.*

*FWIW I got pretty deep in the process at my local somewhat competitive USAO last time there was a round of hiring and my creds/experience are a direct match and I have people in there and now at my firm who will vouch, so maybe that’s why I’m fairly bullish on my chances of lining up that gig. I suppose I’m apprehensive about jumping too soon though, as I’m finding a ton of success here and I like the job enough that I don’t even really mind the hours. Maybe even more significantly, I’m trying not to end the gravy train prematurely, as my personal (and very arbitrary) nest egg target is still a little ways away.

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Re: Signs I will make partner?

Post by alawyer2018 » Thu Aug 20, 2020 8:09 am

You should ask,but someone with less than at least 10 years of experience being promoted to EQUITY partner at a V30 would be the extremely rare exception, and not the rule, particularly for a litigation attorney.

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Re: Signs I will make partner?

Post by Anonymous User » Thu Aug 20, 2020 8:50 am

alawyer2018 wrote:
Thu Aug 20, 2020 8:09 am
You should ask,but someone with less than at least 10 years of experience being promoted to EQUITY partner at a V30 would be the extremely rare exception, and not the rule, particularly for a litigation attorney.
Point taken. But what happens then at firms that don’t have a junior/non equity partner position? The more I think about it, the more I think my firm might sometimes use counsel/of counsel as a holding ground in these circumstances.

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Re: Signs I will make partner?

Post by alawyer2018 » Thu Aug 20, 2020 9:29 am

I think the situation that Monochromatic Oeuvre described in his post above re: toiling away for $400K - $600K indefinitely is becoming more of the norm, particularly for litigation attorneys in Big Law. If you stick it out 15+ years, then maybe equity partner is a possibility, but chances of equity partner are becoming increasingly slim. It's not enough to be an excellent litigator. In order to justify being paid $1M+, you need to be an excellent attorney + a book of business (or the strong prospects of generating significant business in the future) + support of key partners in your group/firm to achieve that promotion. At least, that's how I think it is at most Big Law firms, again, particularly for litigators.

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Re: Signs I will make partner?

Post by Anonymous User » Thu Aug 20, 2020 11:21 am

alawyer2018 wrote:
Thu Aug 20, 2020 9:29 am
I think the situation that Monochromatic Oeuvre described in his post above re: toiling away for $400K - $600K indefinitely is becoming more of the norm, particularly for litigation attorneys in Big Law. If you stick it out 15+ years, then maybe equity partner is a possibility, but chances of equity partner are becoming increasingly slim. It's not enough to be an excellent litigator. In order to justify being paid $1M+, you need to be an excellent attorney + a book of business (or the strong prospects of generating significant business in the future) + support of key partners in your group/firm to achieve that promotion. At least, that's how I think it is at most Big Law firms, again, particularly for litigators.
I think this is a very important point that is not often discussed on these forums. Anon, because the following is the result of extensive talks with equity partners at my firm on making equity either there or elsewhere.

To become a non-equity partner anywhere, you're not going to need a book of business, and it's going to be an option after 6 (Kirkland), 7 (McDermott), or 8 (everyone else)* years at the vast majority of shops if you're a very good associate (and sometimes just even a high biller).

* I'm sure I'm missing some other pre-8 non-equity partnership tracks/early birds before everyone freaks out on me for forgetting X, Y, and Z.

For equity, you either (1) definitely will not need a book of business or (2) will need to show you have a high likelihood to develop a big book (if you don't have one already). If you land in (1) or (2) will depend on your practice group.

(1) If you do M&A/Bankruptcy/Capital Markets/Litigation/a few other practices, you might not need a book of business, but it has to be pretty clear that you've made significant client contacts and that you're very likely to be a player in the space. You're running big transactions/cases essentially independently, and there is an idea that new/existing clients are going to start coming to YOU specifically to run future transactions/cases for them. If it doesn't look like you're going to be generating some origination in the near future, you're not getting equity in the traditional rainmaking practices. If you are pulling in some origination though, you could make equity between 8-10 years. Eight is pretty insane in the current climate (outside of Wachtell/Cravath), but I've seen it done in V50 rainmaking groups.

(2) If you're a non-equity partner in a non-rainmaking/support group, you definitely do not need a book of business to make equity, but it's going to take you ~12-15 years these days. You need to show that you are a true expert in your area of law, can run your niche part of the transaction independently at its highest level, make all the rainmaking partners' lives significantly easier on every transaction, and partake in the management of your department. While rainmaking groups might have 1-2 equity folks who are the "heads," "co-heads," or "chairs" of the group with 20 other equity partners wheeling and dealing along with a small army of non-equity partners, support groups are generally 1-2 equity folks in the leadership posts and then maybe 1 or 2 other partners, if any, outside of leadership have equity among 5-6 of the partners outside of leadership posts. I know this is the case in at least a few V50 firms in my practice area.

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Re: Signs I will make partner?

Post by Anonymous User » Thu Aug 20, 2020 12:36 pm

Anon former biglaw lit associate. None of the lit partners who made equity at my old firm had any business when they made it beyond maybe one small matter or really any real prospects of growing their book as jr partners to the point where they could even cover their draw. But plenty of good senior associates trusted by senior partners to run major cases/investigations with minimal supervision missed out. What separated the people who made partner from the ones who didn't was a case for why the firm needed a partner at that time as opposed to a really good senior associate and that had a lot more to do with what was happening at the partner level than the associate's ability to run cases or be well liked by clients, which was assumed.

OP - Knowing the partners you work and your group's workload and clients, try to make a business case for yourself. When I was going through the process I spoke to a lot of partners and a couple of scenarios kept coming up.

- Was a senior associate on major client relationships originated by the group and the relationship partners wanted to spend more time growing those relationships or building new ones.
- Was consistently trusted to run matters originated by other groups that partners would normally be staffed on (but nobody really wanted to handle) and was pitched to the firm as a person to handle litigation work for those groups.
- A partner with a particular skillset was retiring, another partner was stepping up to their role, and they needed a jr partner to run cases. For example, partner A who specializes in trials was exiting, partner B who does a couple trials a year but mostly runs cases wanted to do more trials, and the firm needed a junior partner to come in and run partner B's cases.

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Re: Signs I will make partner?

Post by Ohiobumpkin » Thu Aug 20, 2020 1:09 pm

Monochromatic Oeuvre wrote:
Wed Aug 19, 2020 6:24 pm
Sorry bro, but nothing ITT implies bullishness about your chances of partnership.

-Most of the V30s are looking for seven-figure books even out of their junior partners, and while most people are not immediately starting with that, there has to be some reason to think you'll develop to that level sooner rather than later. Your "couple of relatively small matters" is probably more than most senior associates you know but you said yourself it's not really indicative of major potential.

-Having no evidence of any internal promotion in A DECADE OR TWO (!) should be an enormous red flag that, if it's not downright impossible to make it, the firm at least places almost no weight on promoting people it knows and could vouch for. Obviously circumstances could have changed (rainmaker retirements, economic developments), but going years and years with no promotions goes beyond blips of no qualified candidates and turns into a trend of a ladder that was pulled up a long time ago.

-The saying goes that the people who make partner are the ones that are already being functionally treated like partners. If that's not managing your own book, then it usually means running deals with essentially no oversight/being the point person for clients without any intermediary. You described being treated as essentially a trusted subordinate, not someone expected to really lead all of your work.

-Most nebulously, but also most importantly, *most* firms usually imply a chance of partnership to more senior associates than they're actually genuinely considering (and certainly, way more than will ever make it), often informally and certainly in reviews (where people often get some bullshit variety of "we think you've got a bright future here!"). Someone can correct me here, but I've never heard of anyone making partner who wasn't long beforehand, at a minimum, told they were under serious consideration. So being told you are under consideration is sometimes just puffery to get a few more years of grinding out of you before you see the light...but NOT being told anything of the sort is ordinarily a pretty sure sign you're not heading upward.

As others said, it behooves you to actually ask fairly directly at this point--7th year is pretty late to have no clue where you stand. If you get some sort of vague response (as is probable), you can weigh how much it would suck to waste time/work like a dog for several more years in a place that has no intention of seriously rewarding you for it while you plan your next move.

Although there are still a few holdouts on the up-or-out model, most firms now have serious numbers in the counsel/non-equity ranks, and they're less likely to be pit stops for future equity partners as they are to be places where they indefinitely keep people who have specialized expertise/bill a fuckload of hours but are not expected to ever generate serious business. It's up to you to decide whether that's a life you want to live. It's not true everywhere yet, but increasingly, firms are happy to pay people $400-600k forever as long as they're good and they bill 2000+ every year.

Every firm operates a little differently and there's no assurance your firm operates according to the above, but those are general trends to keep in mind.
+1

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Re: Signs I will make partner?

Post by Anonymous User » Thu Aug 20, 2020 6:26 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Thu Aug 20, 2020 11:21 am
alawyer2018 wrote:
Thu Aug 20, 2020 9:29 am
I think the situation that Monochromatic Oeuvre described in his post above re: toiling away for $400K - $600K indefinitely is becoming more of the norm, particularly for litigation attorneys in Big Law. If you stick it out 15+ years, then maybe equity partner is a possibility, but chances of equity partner are becoming increasingly slim. It's not enough to be an excellent litigator. In order to justify being paid $1M+, you need to be an excellent attorney + a book of business (or the strong prospects of generating significant business in the future) + support of key partners in your group/firm to achieve that promotion. At least, that's how I think it is at most Big Law firms, again, particularly for litigators.
I think this is a very important point that is not often discussed on these forums. Anon, because the following is the result of extensive talks with equity partners at my firm on making equity either there or elsewhere.

To become a non-equity partner anywhere, you're not going to need a book of business, and it's going to be an option after 6 (Kirkland), 7 (McDermott), or 8 (everyone else)* years at the vast majority of shops if you're a very good associate (and sometimes just even a high biller).

* I'm sure I'm missing some other pre-8 non-equity partnership tracks/early birds before everyone freaks out on me for forgetting X, Y, and Z.

For equity, you either (1) definitely will not need a book of business or (2) will need to show you have a high likelihood to develop a big book (if you don't have one already). If you land in (1) or (2) will depend on your practice group.

(1) If you do M&A/Bankruptcy/Capital Markets/Litigation/a few other practices, you might not need a book of business, but it has to be pretty clear that you've made significant client contacts and that you're very likely to be a player in the space. You're running big transactions/cases essentially independently, and there is an idea that new/existing clients are going to start coming to YOU specifically to run future transactions/cases for them. If it doesn't look like you're going to be generating some origination in the near future, you're not getting equity in the traditional rainmaking practices. If you are pulling in some origination though, you could make equity between 8-10 years. Eight is pretty insane in the current climate (outside of Wachtell/Cravath), but I've seen it done in V50 rainmaking groups.

(2) If you're a non-equity partner in a non-rainmaking/support group, you definitely do not need a book of business to make equity, but it's going to take you ~12-15 years these days. You need to show that you are a true expert in your area of law, can run your niche part of the transaction independently at its highest level, make all the rainmaking partners' lives significantly easier on every transaction, and partake in the management of your department. While rainmaking groups might have 1-2 equity folks who are the "heads," "co-heads," or "chairs" of the group with 20 other equity partners wheeling and dealing along with a small army of non-equity partners, support groups are generally 1-2 equity folks in the leadership posts and then maybe 1 or 2 other partners, if any, outside of leadership have equity among 5-6 of the partners outside of leadership posts. I know this is the case in at least a few V50 firms in my practice area.
I'm an M&A senior associate at a V10 firm. The last two paragraphs above most accurately reflect my experience to date.

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Re: Signs I will make partner?

Post by Anonymous User » Fri Aug 21, 2020 2:09 pm

OP here. This is super helpful.

Let me ask: beyond the top of the top evals which correspond with considerably above market bonuses throughout the midlevel associate years, is it particularly common for partners to at some point say “we’ll probably make you equity one day”?

In other words, should the fact that I have only gotten the former and not the latter be interpreted as an indication that this is not in the cards for me?

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Re: Signs I will make partner?

Post by Sangamon » Fri Aug 21, 2020 3:25 pm

OP: Send me a PM so I can learn more.

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Re: Signs I will make partner?

Post by hdr » Fri Aug 21, 2020 4:50 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Fri Aug 21, 2020 2:09 pm
OP here. This is super helpful.

Let me ask: beyond the top of the top evals which correspond with considerably above market bonuses throughout the midlevel associate years, is it particularly common for partners to at some point say “we’ll probably make you equity one day”?

In other words, should the fact that I have only gotten the former and not the latter be interpreted as an indication that this is not in the cards for me?
I wouldn't put much thought into whether you've been given vague promises of equity partnership. Plenty of partners express optimism to senior associates one year and push them out the next. This subject requires more than a 30-second discussion. You should have a thorough conversation that covers a realistic assessment of your chances, specifics on the timing and process, what you should be doing and who you should get to know, etc. If you're a highly-regarded senior associate--and it sounds like you are--the partners you're close to should provide some clarity and answer whatever questions you have. Some firms require you to take the initiative; if you don't ask they'll be happy to keep you on as a senior associate for 12-13 years before figuring out what to do.

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Re: Signs I will make partner?

Post by Anonymous User » Wed Aug 26, 2020 9:39 pm

I'm a junior lit partner (equity) in a significant market, also in the V30. Dropped by TLS tonight for the first time in a long time, and this post looks like the best place I can add value.

If you're a rising 7th year, this is the perfect time to out yourself as wanting to make partner and have a frank conversation with your mentors. You don't need to ask what the odds are of making partner or whether you are "partner track," at least not using those words. But here are the related questions to which you need and deserve the answers after putting in as many as 6+ years for them:
- Do your mentors perceive a business case in the upcoming 2-3 years for a new, homegrown partner?
- What can you do to strengthen your level of internal support for partnership (e.g., broader experience with more types of litigation tasks (esp. deep depo, hearing, trial experience); range of partners you've worked with; spread of clients; involvement in business development; etc.)
- What might be the biggest challenges to your partnership candidacy and are there steps you can take to overcome them (which will depend on whether those challenges are internal to you or external to the firm, the market, the economy, etc.)
- Can they shed any insight on why there has been no homegrown promotion for a long time, and do they think that is likely to change.
- What role (if any) does a "book of business" play in the decision to promote an associate to partner? (Largely a question for one-tier firms; for a two-tier partnership, the book of business will be a chief factor in moving you into the equity tier.) What I mean when I imply that lack of a significant book of business may not be a dealbreaker for a one-tier firm is that many firms are pragmatic about the idea that litigation attorneys in years 9-12 are not often going to be at the top of the pleading in large, bet the company litigation in which partners and senior associates bill four figures per hour (which is the type of litigation V30s focus on these days.) So they are prepared to promote based on the potential for downstream business generation rather than insisting that you have 1-5M in portable business to make partner.

You should not feel presumptuous about asking these questions, nor should you dance around them (and if your firm thinks you should, there's something off-kilter there.) If the answers plainly indicate you should lateral, you will want to do so ASAP since it becomes much harder to lateral as a senior associate than a midlevel (firms are reluctant to take lateral seniors both because they don't want to demoralize their own homegrown partnership candidates and because there can be a perception that if you are trying to lateral as a senior, something must have gone wrong at your prior firm (like your being told you won't make partner).)

FWIW, here's how the signaling/dialogue worked for me with my firm (we have a nine year track):

I told my firm that I wanted to make partner at the start of my sixth year. I was concerned I was being presumptuous, and they were surprised by the declaration/seemed to think it was a little early to have the conversation. But they indulged me and laid out what I needed to do if I wanted to make partner. It was good guidance: I took notes on the conversation and referenced them throughout my associate years. By early seventh year, several partner mentors were openly (but informally) messaging me that things looked promising if I kept doing what I was doing. By the start of my eighth year, the formal guidance from the firm was that I was viewed as a strong candidate if all continued to go well, and they were prepared to invest in me as to certain opportunities reserved for partner-track seniors. By the start of my ninth year, the formal messaging was, your candidacy is extremely strong, and this is almost certainly going to happen unless something goes seriously sideways this year. I was notified of the promotion in the late fall of my ninth year.

Hope this is helpful, and good luck.

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Re: Signs I will make partner?

Post by Pneumonia » Thu Aug 27, 2020 8:15 am

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