Partnership ambitions were alive and well at the Young Lawyers Section’s highly anticipated event, “Navigating the Path Towards Partnership: An Insider’s Perspective on What You Really Need to Know,” on January 29, 2015. This panelist discussion and Q&A session, moderated by Amy T. Brantly of Kesselman Brantly Stockinger LLP, exposed those critical issues that all young associates need to consider when navigating those often amorphous and “black boxed” paths towards partnership at their respective law firms. The program featured four distinguished partners from a wide range of small to midsize, and national to international law firms: Jeffrey M. Dennis, Managing Partner for Newmeyer & Dillion LLP; Richard J. Frey, Partner and Chair of the West Coast Commercial Litigation and the Labor and Employment Practice Groups for Venable LLP; Perlette Michéle Jura, Partner and Co-Chair of the Transnational Litigation Group at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP; and Amber Melius, Partner at Kinsella Weitzman Iser Kump & Aldisert LLP.
Each partner generously shared his or her own unique experiences regarding their individual paths towards partnership. But despite their differences, the overarching message from all speakers was clear: Everyone is dealt his or her own hand of circumstances. But by leveraging the opportunities presented to us – when combined with a general game plan and a bit of luck – anyone can maximize his or her potential for partnership.
That game plan, which was the focus of the panel’s discussion, was broken-up into three buckets: (1) expertise, (2) external efforts, and (3) internal efforts. In terms of the first bucket, the panel was clear that it was important to trust your own work style and to focus on the quality, as opposed to sheer quantity, of billable hours. More importantly, it is imperative for associates to take on those tough assignments and to establish themselves as go-getters. Richard Frey described this as having an “as if” attitude – meaning it is imperative for associates to act as if they were the partner running each of their cases. Jeffrey Dennis agreed wholeheartedly, and cautioned that associates must tread the fine line between challenging themselves and taking initiative, and “hanging” themselves by taking on too much.
The discussion then turned to the second bucket regarding an associate’s external efforts outside of his or her firm. In terms of developing business, joining boards for bar associations/nonprofits, networking, and otherwise getting your name out there via publications or speaking engagements, the unanimous advice was to “start early” and not wait until those final years before partnership eligibility. In terms of timing, some of the panelists opined that it is never too early to get started. Others, including Perlette Jura, believe that these external efforts can be postponed until an associate reaches a midlevel position – instead focusing on building experience and expertise during those junior years. However, all panelists agreed that when it comes to determining how to focus those external efforts, the best plan is to “focus on what you’re good at.” Do not try to do it all. Also, when it comes to selecting specific boards and/or committees, Jeffrey Dennis recommended seeking those small committees of only eight to ten individuals (as opposed to large organizations with hundreds of members) because you will have a better opportunity to develop meaningful connections.
The final phrase of the discussion focused on the third bucket, or internal efforts inside of a law firm. This bucket stemmed several pieces of critical advice from the speakers, ranging from the importance of attending firm events, to leveraging a firm’s formal mentorship program (in addition to building organic relationships). Whether your firm comprises of a single office or dozens of offices around the world, all speakers agreed that it is critical for an associate to work for as many partners as possible before becoming eligible for partnership. You need enough people to recognize your name and your quality of work for when the critical time comes to make partnership decisions. This was especially important for those working at larger law firms with multiple offices, in which associates should strive to work for partners at each of the firm’s offices. A final piece of advice for this bucket, though simple, was a great takeaway: You must make your desire to become partner known! Perlette Jura described that once you make this fact know, you will not only get the “really great advice,” but also get “people rooting for you” to succeed. Such support is invaluable.
At the end of the day, by breaking up the event into the three buckets – and by focusing on concrete, detailed advice from the speakers – attendees walked away feeling armed with a framework and general game plan for partnership. We all know each law firm is different, and that each path will vary from individual to individual. But this program provided those basic tools to help associates better equip themselves to succeed in those ever desirable partnership endeavors.
We would like to thank Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP again for hosting this event at their offices in downtown Los Angeles. We also would like to thank iDiscover, LLC – an e-discovery software innovator providing support to Am Law firms and Fortune 500 corporations on complex document collections and productions – for generously sponsoring of our event. We were excited to learn that Melissa C. McLaughlin of Venable LLP was the winner of the iDiscover drawing for a $200 Amazon gift card!
Thank you to our generous sponsors
Christina Lincoln is an attorney with Newmeyer & Dillion LLP and is co-chair of WLALA's Young Lawyers Section.