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The perils of partnership (and how to navigate them)

Since January 1, I have been a partner at Bowie & Jensen LLC. As I previously posted, this is the promotion that I have worked for since starting at the firm in 2004. When asked to join the partnership, there was no doubt in my mind that I would accept. I realized that there would be some additional work, but knew that the benefits would outweigh the costs.

Fast forward four months. Partnership is not simply a couple of additional meetings a month or a new title. Partnership is ownership.

In addition to handling all the duties of a full-time litigation attorney, I am now dealing with managing others and managing the firm. Part of my job is to make sure that the firm is running efficiently and effectively. I spend more time thinking about the future of the firm, looking to increase our client base and making sure the lights stay on. The difficulty that I have faced is the balance between real legal work (i.e. billable time) and firm management. In an attempt to resolve the balance, I have been simply working longer hours. This, however, takes away from hours with family or friends or much needed personal time.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy being a partner and part of the decision making process. I have a larger role in choosing the direction of the firm. I enjoy being a part of management.

But for those that are up for partnership this year, here are a couple of things that I believe will help the transition:

1. As soon as you have an opportunity to review the financial books and records, find a current partner to help you sift through all of the information. Some of us don’t have accounting degrees (that’s why I am a lawyer), but it helps to understand how the finances of the firm works. The best person to help you with this is someone that already understands.

2. Take ownership now. Being a partner is not simply billing a lot of hours. You will have take ownership in cases, firm management and business development. If you are up for partner, you are probably already there; however, once elevated, the pressure is on.

3. Find a network of other new partners outside of your firm. It helps to have a couple of people to talk to who are in the same situation. Usually someone will have a solution to a problem that you did not think about.

4. Prepare for changes in some work relationships and prepare for no changes in some work relationships. I did not envision a ticker-tape parade on my first day at work as a partner, but I thought there was going to be some difference.  On my first day as partner, my office was the same, I still had to get my own coffee, I still had work to do and no one brought me any presents.

Additionally, when you have to work with other associates as a partner they will still look at you in many ways as an associate. On the other hand, there will be times when the relationship changes and you have to play the heavy and make sure that work is getting done and hours are in. This is now part of the job.

There are perils of partnership, but the benefits outweigh these perils.  As with any change, there is always a transition period.  For those new partners out there, do you have any advice for the soon the be newest members of the club?