Susan Smith Blakely

More on What Women Lawyers Should Expect from Partnership

In my last blog, I shared a Law360 article with you on what to expect from partnership.  The author detailed the following five important mistakes that associates make when entering the partnership:

Expecting Your Workload to Stay the Same;
Becoming Dispensable;
Neglecting Yourself;
Ignoring Your Finances; and
Failing to Act Like an Owner.

Here are my own thoughts on some of those subjects.

Expecting Your Workload to Stay the Same:  If the world of associates is all about burning the midnight oil on briefs and deposition preparation, the world of partners is all about some of that plus developing new clients and new work for the firm.  In my books, I explain it as the difference between the "minders" and the "finders."  The "minders" carry out the needs of the clients, and the "finders" get the clients and manage those who carry out the needs of the clients.  The "finders" also have management duties to add to their plates of daily responsibilities.  If this sounds like a lot of work, it is.  It is necessary to ensure a healthy future for the law firm and to protect your options if you decide to leave the firm.  There is nothing quite as important as "portable work."

Neglecting Yourself:  My book, Best Friends at the Bar:  The New Balance for Today's Woman Lawyer (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers 2012), has a lot of information for you on finding a balance that will not burn you out and will preserve your relationships and interests outside the office.  Just like the author of the Law360 article, I encourage you to have support systems and networks to help you when the going gets tough, as it surely will from time to time.  You cannot be good for others if you are not first good for yourself.  It is like the "airline oxygen mask rule":  Put your own mask on first and then help others with theirs.  That increases the chances that you all will survive.

Ignoring Your Finances:  Many lawyers found out in the recession that began in 2008 and still plagues us today that failing to save for the rainy day is a mistake.  It is so easy to get caught up in the "make and spend" scenario , and soon many young partners find themselves in the "Golden Handcuffs" that keep them in jobs they do not like so they can satisfy big mortgage payments and other debt obligations.  Pay attention to this.  Times change.  Preferences change.  You want to be able to make it through the rainy day and protect your options.  "Becoming a partner" is not the same as becoming a "make and spend" fool.

Failing to Act Like an Owner:  This is one that is often overlooked.  I talk about it in my books as an essential requirement of understanding the business of the law firm.  A law practice is a business, and it has certain requirements to meet expenses and turn a profit to expand the business as needed.  When you become an equity partner in a law firm, you will be expected to buy into the firm, and you will own a part of the business.  Business owners need to be savvy about the bottom line as well as every other line item in the budget.  It is no longer someone else's responsibility.   As a partner, there is more for you to do than bill hours and impress potential clients.  You also must understand a Profit & Loss statement and contribute sage advice to business operations.  That is what business owners do, and you have to prepare yourself to do it.

From minder to finder.  From spender to saver.  From employee to owner.  Be ready for the changes and make them work to your advantage.  Knowing what to expect of yourself is the key to success.

Susan Smith Blakely is the Founder of LegalPerspectives LLC and an award-winning, nationally-recognized author, speaker and consultant on issues related to young women lawyers, young women law students and young women interested in careers in the law.  She is author of Best Friends at the Bar:  What Women Need to Know about a Career in the Law (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers 2009), and Best Friends at the Bar:  The New Balance for Today's Woman Lawyer (Wolters Kluwer Law & Business 2012), which addresses the work-life struggle for women lawyers and includes twelve profiles of women who have successfully transitioned from one practice setting to another.  Her new book, Best Friends at the Bar:  Top-Down Leadership for Women Lawyers, will focus on the responsibilities of law firm leaders and will be released by Wolters Kluwer Law & Business in 2015.

 Ms. Blakely frequently speaks at colleges and universities, law schools, law firms and law organizations, and she has been featured in media including the LA Daily Journal, National Jurist, Washington Examiner Newspaper, Forbes Woman, DC Spotlight, Daily Muse and Huffington Post Business.  Ms. Blakely also is a frequent guest speaker and panelist at conferences on women's issues and the law profession, and she has been a featured speaker at the US Department of Justice, Civil Division.  She is the recipient of the Ms. JD 2015 "Sharing Her Passion Award" for her work on behalf of women in the law.

 Ms. Blakely graduated from the University of Wisconsin with distinction and from Georgetown University Law Center where she was a teaching fellow. She is a member of the CoachSource global network of leadership coaches and a career coach for the Indiana University Marshall Goldsmith Leadership Development and Executive Coaching Academy.   For more information, please visit www.bestfriendsatthebar.com. 

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