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  • Writer's pictureHeidi Bayer

Is Partnership the Pinnacle it Once Was?

For many young attorneys, becoming a law firm partner remains their long-term goal; however, perceptions have shifted in recent years, and for myriad reasons it has become less desirable than it once was.

Long-Term Commitment: Becoming a partner most often requires a long-term commitment, but many associates are electing to leave law firms before they can even be considered for partnership – either they move in-house or leave the profession entirely. Also, to become a partner, a greater investment is made into the firm, which reinforces the longevity of the commitment and makes the prospect of leaving more daunting. For some associates, this acts as a deterrent.

Type of Work: Historically, developing one’s practice meant becoming a partner, but firms are finding new ways to provide attorneys opportunities to work on more sophisticated, meaningful, and challenging work without the pressures (real or perceived) of becoming a partner.

Financial Implications: Partnership most often offers increased earning potential, but depending on the level of partnership, it also involves financial risks. For example, profit-sharing means that in lean times, partner incomes may suffer. Partners financially contribute to the partnership and in some instances, have additional expenses – such as marketing costs, health benefits, etc. – factors which may result in bringing home less than when they were in more junior positions.

Work-Life Balance: Becoming a partner can change responsibilities significantly, and many associates are disillusioned by the hours required to be on the partnership track. They also have concerns regarding business development – either not feeling confident in their ability to build a book of business or simply not wanting the pressures related to developing business. Hence, some attorneys prefer to focus on the legal work, limit their billable hour requirements, and minimize the demands of client development.


Law firm partnerships present a mix of opportunities and challenges, but these positives and negatives vary significantly, based on a firm's culture, size, and partnership structure. For many, the rewards of partnership outweigh the potential pitfalls, leading to fulfilling and prosperous careers. However, for those who do not wish to become partners, firms will need to respond by adapting their policies to accommodate the changing landscape, thereby retaining talented attorneys who may otherwise be lost.

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