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Six key skills you need to become a successful partner

by Jenny Jones FCA
29 January 2020
Jenny Jones

When embarking on the Partner track, you are being asked to do something that is not clearly defined and is highly competitive. Finding time over and above your demanding day job to prepare for this opportunity of a lifetime is a challenge. Your success in doing so will depend on your resilience, saying no to obligation overload and being more productive.

“Some people dream of success, while other people get up every morning and make it happen.” — Wayne Huizenga

It is a big step to go from the inward focus of delivering the law, to the outward focusing commercial entrepreneur. Yes, you interact with clients and run the teams when you are a senior associate or director, but you need to take your role to a whole new level of leadership. And how much guidance do you receive to make the leap? In many cases, none at all. So, what are the key factors that can take you to your dreams of becoming a successful partner in your firm?

1. You as a Person - What sort of a partner will you be?

You need to create a strong personal brand and build trust by behaving, thinking and feeling like a partner before the start. Entrepreneurship is about constantly learning, own your goals and cultivate relationships, seek advice and focus on growing leadership skills. Be clear on your own values and ensure those fit into the collective values of the firm, and that you have a shared vision.

Be prepared to experiment, you will have set backs and you can learn from them. See how other partners deal with different situations and what does and does not work for you.

If you do not already know how you come across, venture out, and ask your colleagues to describe you and get client feedback. Then ask your friends how they would describe you and see if you are bringing your authentic self to work.

2. Your Contribution - What will be your contribution to your practice area, sector, office and firm?

Understand how you contribute to the firm’s financial results and what you can do to improve your results. You are going to cost a lot more as a partner, so you need to show how you are going to ensure the profit margin is not affected.

Look to see where you can contribute to the operational development of the firm. You may have a particular interest in AI or want to champion collaborations or women’s issues across the firm. Junior Partners are a huge asset as champions of internal projects. They are close enough to knowing what is happening on the ground, yet in a position of responsibility and have the ear of the more senior partners to get their buy-in.

3. Professional Skills - How good are your technical skills, sharpness and judgement?

The technical assessment is where you will be tested on your application of the law, and the diversity of your knowledge. It will include your drafting, writing, communication, negotiation skills, and knowledge of the market, so make sure you have done your research.

Think of stories to illustrate your professional skills, you should have many of them. You could tell a story about your most challenging client and why that was. What skills you needed to deal with them and whether you would have done anything differently.

Be clear about the differences between the competencies of a senior associate and a partner, and the transition from serving the business to becoming a part owner. You will be an ambassador in the marketplace as well as a role model within the partnership.

4. Commercial skills - What commercial skills are clients looking for?

This is likely to focus a lot on your business plan. Your plan will include your: own practice, fee generating capacity, track record, acquisition skills and client care.

Know your own figures and refresh your knowledge on the financials and pricing. Do not make the mistake many of them do on Dragon’s Den, where they look like rabbits in headlights when asked about how much revenue and profit, they will make.

Understand how your firm can best take advantage of the opportunities and equally, manage the challenges that are presented with all the competitive forces at play in the marketplace. Ensure your plan fits with the firm’s strategy. It should show that you are thinking about the bigger picture and the part you play in it.

5. Organisational skills - How much do you understand about the management of your practice performance?

Get to know the governance and management structure in your firm. Show you have an understanding of what it takes to manage a practice and what improvements can be made to optimise its profile.

Matter management is a significant part of the business and you should make sure you know what is happening in the market place and your firm’s position on: the developments in service delivery, AI and knowledge management. You are selling your time to deliver a service. The issue is how effectively you can do this.

For effective teamwork you need to appreciate the other members of the team for the skills they have, delegate and ensure the end goal is clear to all and seen in the same way, with a plan that everyone is committed to.

6. Authority - How have you demonstrated your leadership skills in your firm since you have been there?

Be clear on your strengths. Learning is one, demonstrate you have done a lot of that throughout the partner track process. Write down your weaknesses. It may be that you are impatient. Turn it around and tell a story to make it mean you are driven, acknowledge the need to keep a balance and show self-awareness.

Meet everyone in the office, understand what they do. They will be your employees once you make partner. A good leader will inspire others and have self-awareness and humility. As someone recently said to me, it is not the number of feathers you acquire, it is the number that you give away that puts you above the rest as a leader.

Conclusion

Remember this is your future, be proactive and have your questions to ask. Think of stories around the issues and consider the leadership qualities you have shown in your own professional and personal life to date. Above all, get as much help as you can. Be prepared and make sure you really know what it takes to be a successful partner.

Jenny Jones FCA

Leading Professional Service Business Consultant, Jenny, runs successful international Partner and Partner Candidate mentoring and coaching programmes for law firms.

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