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Enjoy the passenger seat for now

The goal of most associates who work in law firms is to eventually become considered so essential to their organization that members of the firm extend the great privilege of becoming a partner in the firm. Associates work diligently towards this objective and, more often than not, romanticize the prestige, failing to realize the benefits of just being an associate.

While the offer of partnership is a major honor in the legal profession, significant responsibility accompanies the title. It’s probably like when we were young and couldn’t wait to grow up, reasoning that life as an adult means you can do whatever you want without your parents’ approval.  Sure, while being an adult generally removes most parental control, adulthood also brings forth much more responsibility like getting a job, and having to pay bills and rent. In such situations, I think it is at times preferable not to know the entire reality and indulge in the adage that ignorance can be bliss.

CockpitChildhood is littered with examples of a certain naiveté, where experiences and impressions are untarnished by life experience and knowledge. One example from my own childhood was on one of my regular adventures to New York City.  My family has a commercial mushroom farm in upstate New York and we would sell our products at the retail farmers’ market at Union Square in Manhattan. We would often load up the truck and leave Catskill, NY around 3 a.m. in order to get to the market just before 6 a.m.

On one trip with my dad, when I was around eight or so, we were just getting into the city via the Lincoln Tunnel and were stopped at a series of red lights. This was in the mid-1990s when New York City was still “up and coming” in a lot of areas. Because it was so early in the morning, there were usually several scantily clad women walking around the stopped vehicles, trying to find one more customer to wrap up their “night shift.” Through my young eyes, I couldn’t understand why the women were wearing these kinds of clothes in the morning and in the middle of the city. So, as any eight-year-old would do, I asked my dad what was up. He just simply explained that these women are wearing their bathing suits and looking for a ride to the beach. Now, I understand that his explanation wasn’t the whole truth, but I prefer his explanation to what I now understand the situation to be.

The end of the year is usually stressful for attorneys of all levels, where both personal and professional calendars quickly fill with holiday events and deadlines alike.  The general responsibilities of an associate are to complete your designated tasks, translate those tasks into itemized hours and submit your timesheet in on time. Partners, on the other hand, saturate their calendars with management meetings to wrap up the preceding year, predict and authorize the budget for the upcoming year, decide bonuses, strategize as to how to collect outstanding account receiveables from clients, among many other housekeeping tasks in addition to their day-to-day responsibilities.

It is natural to look ahead and plan the future.  This is especially true for most attorneys who tend to be generally goal-oriented individuals.  Of course it would be a tremendous success to become partner at a firm down the road, but until then, just enjoy your time riding in the passenger’s seat.


  1. You have a very smart Dad! Many partners of law firms today were law students and/or associates together. Their memories of the earlier days, both good and bad, serve as the foundation for the lawyers they are today. You are right. It’s good to enjoy the ride as you plan for the future — and take it from someone who has traveled your path, your future is closer than you think.

  2. My advice? Don’t make partner. Use your years as an associate at a firm to develop contacts and a base of business, leave, either set up your own shop or negotiate a favorable arrangement with a competing firm. Law firms have been screwing associates, non-equity partners and counsel over for years to maximize PPP without investing in legitimate (non-lateral) growth. Fifty percent of the firms in existence right now won’t be in five or ten years, and it’s the young partners who’ll be on the hook for the worst of it when they collapse under their own weight. Just don’t do it.