Does Your Partner Mentor Have Enough Juice to Promote You?
Thinking about partnership? Clearly, you need to be smart, hard-working and socially savvy. But, the story doesn’t end there. If you really want to maximize your chances of achieving your goal, you also need to be strategic about who you hitch your star to. A critical part of what you should be thinking about is whether your partner mentor has both the ability to get you promoted, as well as theinclination. Without both, you’re taking a big gamble on what is already unpredictable terrain.
First, let’s address the “ability” piece. This part of the equation encompasses a number of factors:
Book of Business: Your partner mentor (together with the other members of her team) should have a sufficiently large practice to demonstrate a business case for making another partner in the group. She should be able to establish that your group will be more profitable with you as a partner, and that the continued growth of your group is not only sustainable, but necessary to advance the firm’s bottom line.
Seniority: Your partner mentor should be senior enough to have amassed the necessary reputation and political clout to advocate on your behalf, but not so senior (or close to retirement) that her political capital is on the decline.
Management Role: Ideally, you want your partner mentor to have some involvement with management, either within the firm or your group, be it officially or behind the scenes.
Personality: Your partner mentor should be well-liked, politically savvy and respected by her colleagues. She should have well-developed relationships throughout the entire firm, not just within her specific practice area or your office, and she should be someone who is sought out regularly as a resource on client issues and firm matters.
Relevance: To truly be an effective advocate, your partner mentor’s practice should be in an area that the firm considers significant and part of their core growth strategy going forward. This will affect her standing within the firm and ultimately her ability to expand her team at the senior level.
The second and equally important piece of the equation, “inclination”, has to do with evaluating your partner mentor’s motivation and ensuring that she is personally invested in seeing you elevated. Things you should be reflecting on include:
History: Carefully consider the past (as it tends to repeat itself) and whether your partner mentor has shown a willingness and ability to guide others to partnership. If you find examples of senior lawyers who were well-regarded, but not elevated, try to glean the reasons for that outcome. If it was on account of a lack of “business case”, critically evaluate whether circumstances are sufficiently different now to justify a different result.
Commitment: Just because someone enjoys working with you does not necessarily translate into her willingness to take the steps necessary to advance your career. Do your diligence – have discreet conversations with both your partner mentor and others about the perceived willingness of your partner mentor to lay down on the train tracks and say “this is my guy – you need to make him/her a partner.” The reality is some partners have a hard time making that commitment on behalf of someone other than themselves; make sure that’s not your case.
Expansion of Client Relationships: It isn’t enough that your partner mentor has a significant client following; you also want to ensure that she is motivated to bring you into the fold with her clients and have you become a key person for her client relationships. Many partners see the value to passing the baton and expanding the points of contact with any particular client. You may, however, occasionally encounter someone who is territorial about their relationships. Be clear that’s not an issue here.
Benefit to Partner Mentor:Finally, you should try to understand whether your partner mentor will be personally advantaged by your promotion. Is she the type who will allow you to take work off her plate so she can spend time developing new relationships or, frankly, less time in the office? Will she enjoy having a larger team to bounce ideas off of? At the end of the day, you want to make sure her position will be enhanced along with yours, as that is a critical factor to success.