Things to Consider in Becoming Partner
Q: I am on the verge of being offered partnership at my firm. While I'm very happy that the firm has recognized my hard work over the years, I'm not so sure I want to be a partner. Between the buy-in, the fact that I have to pay for my own benefits, increased work hours, increased client contact (which I don't particularly want), rainmaking responsibilities, and management responsibilities, all on top of my normal practice, I don't see how partnership can enhance my life. Partners make somewhat more money, I understand, but I can't even find out how much more and whether it's worth it after the buy-in, benefit payments, and increased hours are all taken into account. I enjoy what I do right now, and I can already tell as I am being groomed for partnership that making partner would likely mean doing less of what I like and more of what I don't (especially working more hours overall). But if I turn down partnership, it might harm my career for good. What are some other things I should consider in my decision? Thank you.
A: Congratulations on your success in positioning yourself for partnership in your firm, and for your integrity in questioning whether this is the course you wish to take. You seem to have identified most of the relevant factors, though I am surprised that you have been unable to gain an informal estimate of the income differential. I'm sure you have considered the option of a long-term contractual or "of counsel" position in the firm; many large firms are developing a range of options for senior lawyers, though many of these arrangements are
provided for lawyers who are not considered candidates for partnership. You would likely have less job security in one of these positions than as a partner, and the "status" differential over time is likely to be great, if this matters to you. But I commend you for examining the
"quality of life and work" issues at stake in this decision. I work with many law firm partners who are highly remunerated but miserable, for exactly the reasons you identify. You will need to overcome considerable social pressure and even disbelief from certain partners if
you decline an offer to become one of them, but others may confide in you that they admire or even envy your decision. It is an intensely personal decision to make. Take counsel with yourself (and your family) on this question, and choose the path that seems most likely to increase your level of satisfaction over time.
Edward Honnold graduated in 1978 from Yale Law School, where he served as Editor of the Yale Law Journal and Articles Editor of the Yale Journal of World Public Order. After law school, Ed Honnold moved to Washington D.C. to practice law in a private firm and eventually to serve in the judicial, legislative and executive branches of Government.
While serving at U.S. Agency for International Development, Mr. Honnold began laying the foundation for a mid-life career change by earning a Masters in Social Work (M.S.W.) degree from Virginia Commonwealth University. Mr. Honnold is currently in full-time private practice in Washington, D.C., counseling individuals and business groups on personal and professional transition issues. He specializes in counseling discontented lawyers who are interested in undertaking either a lateral move within the field or using their law degree as a stepping stone to a different line of work. Mr. Honnold can be reached at (202) 726-4169.
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