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Becoming indispensable

career ladderWhen I first started my career as a young associate, the managing member of the firm told me that if I wanted to become partner, I would have to become indispensable.

At the time, it sounded pretty reasonable. If the firm could not live without me, then they would have to make me a partner (similar to Beyonce proclaiming an engagement ring solidifies one’s commitment to their future spouse i.e. “‘Cause if you like it, then you should put a ring on it“).

In yesteryear, the path seemed straighter and more clear cut: associates would become partners in seven-to-eight years in large law firms and nine-to-10 years in smaller firms. In the past few years, however, the path towards partnership has become a rocky road with additional turns and detours.

For young attorneys, partnership seems a long way off and something to think about after years of practice. I disagree. Partnership at any law firm, big or small, begins on Day One. New lawyers must learn the practice of law, the business of law and the actual law to become successful. And while it would be unfair to expect a new attorney to immediately bring in clients or to fully appreciate a law firm’s finances, the higher ups want them to have an appreciation for both.

Obviously, the criteria for partnership varies from one law firm to another; however, if an associate truly becomes indispensable, partnership will be enviable. So what constitutes indispensable? Again, it varies from firm to firm, so there is no simple answer. On the flip side, however, indispensability is not simply the ability to bill a lot of hours.

Indispensability may be knowledge of a specific type of law, a large book of business or the ability to handle specific types of cases that no one else can handle. Its separating oneself from the other lawyers at the firm. It is finding a need and filling that need.

What do you think makes an associate ready for partnership?