By Steve Fretzin
For many attorneys the concept of making equity partner at their firm is quite appealing. It’s what you may have been working for all along. Gaining ownership, inclusion and a seat at the table can feel special and provide more security than what you might feel as an associate or income partner. The road to get there, however, isn’t always easy. There are dozens of milestones that must be crossed to get to this promised land. Here are three key elements that I know will help you along in your journey.
Equity Tip #1. Know the barriers to entry.
One of the greatest mistakes lawyers make when trying to advance at their firm is not knowing what they really need to accomplish to be considered. Some law firms thrive on their attorneys not knowing, which gives the firm more control and flexibility to make the decision on their terms. My hope is that your firm is highly transparent, so you know exactly how many hours to bill or originations to have to move up the ladder. If not, my suggestion is to either ask management what the requirements are or speak with a few of your equity partner friends to get a better idea of how it went for them. If two or three say the same things, you may have your answer. Regardless, knowing where you are today and where you need to be in the future is step number one.
Equity Tip #2. Build advocacy and relationships early.
There’s nothing more powerful when trying to gain access to equity partnership than building strong relationships with your partners. Being liked and trusted dramatically increases the likelihood that you will get offered a leg up — and with enthusiasm. An easy way to begin doing this, if you haven’t already begun doing so, is to invite select partners to lunches, drinks or golf or charity events to spend quality time together. They can get to know you, the person beyond the lawyer. They will become invested in your life if you show, too, that you care about their wants and needs. Try to remember the little things, like their kids’ names or their favorite sport. Mentioning their recent trip to Paris, for example, is a great way to lead into a new visit. You may want to privately keep notes on your partners to ensure you refresh your memory before each meeting. Lastly, whenever possible, help them with legal work or bringing in business for them. This way you’re demonstrating how you can collaborate and contribute to the team.
Equity Tip #3. Make it rain!
What, you didn’t think I was actually going to leave this one out, did you? Of course, most firms now require a solid book of business before allowing entry into an equity role. Be sure to find out what the originations threshold is to make equity and then achieve it as fast as you can. My advice here is to become a student of the “business development for lawyers” game. Read, watch, and listen to any and all content on this subject. There are literally hundreds of podcasts, books, and videos on growing your law practice. Take it all in. You must not only learn processes and language around biz-dev to do it efficiently, but you must also have a consistent level of activity. Make business development and marketing a regular part of your day or week. No matter how busy you get, the wheel must never stop turning. Set and achieve goals and build strong habits. Finally, many lawyers also invest in a biz-dev coach to potentially shave years off their equity partner timeline.
If the equity partnership track is your dream, I hope my tips will help you get there with less aggravation and disappointment. If you’d like direct help to achieve equity, please don’t hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for a complimentary consultation.