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From Associate to Partner – Is there a magic formula?

From Associate to Partner – Is there a magic formula?

Posted on 4/05/2020 by Shulin Lee

Blog From Associate To Partner

Making Partner is a common goal shared by young lawyers practising in law firms. In fact, not too long ago, being admitted into the partnership of a law firm was seen as the ultimate achievement. 

However, fast forward to 2020, with many other options to define a lawyer’s success, the prestige and appeal of the “Partner” title may have slightly diminished in recent years – particularly for the younger generation.

In any event, there are still many young lawyers striving towards this prestigious milestone of making Partner. Yet the biggest obstacle most of them face is their common perception that a partnership is elusive, challenging and impossible to reach.

If you’re a Partner with an up-and-coming Associate, Senior Associate or Of Counsel with such aspirations, and you’d very much like to pay it forward and lend a helping hand (as well as retain your staff!), I have a few suggestions for you:

Assist junior lawyers in developing an entrepreneurial mindset

You may think that law school teaches everything, but unfortunately it does not. School does not teach students how to “hunt” for work, develop client relationships, or build a book of business. As such, young lawyers may have the legal know-how, but are rarely equipped with the critical soft skills needed to generate work for the firm. In fact, many lawyers who are on the cusp of making Partner, are surprisingly clueless when it comes to working out their business case.

There are aspects like work which is self-generated, work referred to other teams and the general profitability of your practice – things which an aspiring Partner needs to start thinking about.

In short, while there really is no magic to business development, it’s an ongoing process which requires deliberate effort on a consistent basis. Senior Partners cannot expect Associates to generate a book of business overnight. If you’re in a position of power, consider building a team culture where business development efforts are built into Associates’ daily routine. All these steps would greatly help in paving the path towards partnership.

Give honest feedback regularly

Talk to your team. Don’t be afraid to be transparent and candid with them. We’ve seen too many Associates come to us looking for a new job because they feel stagnant in their current firm and start making exit plans. They think there is no growth or progress in their current role but that is far from the truth.

If you want to retain them, speak to them. Consider making regular appraisals – not just during their annual performance review. Do it on a monthly or quarterly basis. Be specific – tell them the good and the bad. The crushing pressure of billable hours aside, your Associate would appreciate having a boss who takes the time to provide regular and constructive feedback.

Set realistic goals and expectations

There is nothing worse than that sinking feeling that you have disappointed your boss, mentor or someone you look up to. Many successful Partners tend to (sub-consciously) hire lawyers who remind them of a younger version of themselves. They go on to place unrealistic goals and expectations on them, thinking that these lawyers can deliver exactly as they did. 

What they often fail to realise is that while they may have attended the same schools, played the same sports, and shared the same passion for the law – they may not share the same goals in life. Everyone is different. Find out what your team wants, and find a way to align their goals and your expectations of them realistically.

Amidst all the uncertainty surrounding us, one thing is for certain – you’ve got to be ready to compete in this brave new world. The success of your practice and legacy depends on the retention of your bright, young lawyers. Don’t lose them. 

Simply dangling the elusive carrot of partnership won’t suffice. You must pave a way together with them towards this goal. Provide a road map, encourage them, and dig deep.


For more insights on legal talent in the Asian landscape, feel free to get in touch with me at