Partners in Law: How to Pick a Law Firm Partner

You went to a top tier law school, passed the bar, and paid your dues as an associate at a major law firm. 

Now, it’s your time to shine with your own practice

Only problem? You don’t have a law firm partner who can help take your practice to new heights. 

Savvy and ambitious lawyers understand the power of the right partnership. Let’s delve further into why partnerships are so important and how to form one of your own.

Why Have a Law Firm Partner?

Every top law firm in the US, and worldwide, started with a successful partnership.

Here are the five most respected law firms in the country, reported by Forbes:

1. Davis Polk & Wardwell

2. Sullivan & Cromwell

3. Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom

4. Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz

5. Cravath, Swaine & Moore

These firms rank in anywhere from three to five billion in profits per year!

But strong partnerships don’t just form spontaneously. Lawyers carefully consider several factors before moving forward. 

Here are the most important factors to look for in a good partnership:

What’s Their Background?

Not just any lawyer out of the phone book will do. 

Just like you would research a new service before using it, you should also research your potential law firm partner. 

Here are a few core questions to consider:

  • Where did they attend law school?
  • Did they pass the bar?
  • Do they belong to the American Bar Association?
  • Are they actively licensed to practice law in their state?
  • Have they ever been disbarred or suspended?

Consider this phase one of your screening process. 

Your candidate isn’t cleared for take off just yet. Your next step is to see whether or not your goals are aligned.

Do You Share the Same Goals?

Shared goals are a cornerstone of every successful law partnership. Here are a few ways to find out if you’re on the same page. 

For starters, what drove them toward law?

Shared motivations are good early signs to look for in a partnership. Take a look at this website to visualize what this look like. 

Next, assess your potential partner’s chosen practice areas. If they don’t share the same area of practice, their expertise may still complement your own. For example, family law and estate law both complement each other and attract similar clients. 

You can learn most of this information by simply interviewing potential candidates.

However, don’t forget to look at social media, publications, and any other content your potential law firm partner has produced in their space.

This will also help you gain a better understanding of who the person is and what they hope to achieve in law. 

Is Their Personality the Right Fit?

This is a simple clue, but one that is surprisingly overlooked. 

A personality clash is a recipe for a bad partnership. Even the most qualified lawyers can be a poor fit for your practice. 

Not only are shared goals critical, but communication as well. A partnership is only as strong as its members. If a candidate is unable to effectively communicate and lacks professionalism, that’s a sign of trouble. 

Study how your potential partner responds to stress, clients, and conflicts. These are all important things to assess before moving forward with a partnership.

As a law firm, you can’t afford to damage your public image either. Think twice about partnering with someone prone to social media feuds, outrageous comments, and other controversial behavior. 

Is Their Experience Up to Par?

Shared goals are fantastic. Personality is a crucial factor for strong partnerships. However, don’t let an instant connection and a sense of humor distract from the nitty-gritty.

This means making sure your potential candidate has experience and the referrals to prove it. The last thing you want is a law firm partner that isn’t ready for primetime. 

If your potential candidate has a LinkedIn profile, you can check for testimonials (or endorsements) there. If they’re active on Avvo, you can also find reviews from past clients.

This is a good time to assess your potential partner’s strengths and weaknesses. Some lawyers buckle under the pressure at trial but thrive with research. Some lawyers are much more comfortable with the press while other are more ‘behind-the-scenes.’

These are important factors to consider as you build your law practice and its brand.

How to Form a Partnership

Once the stars have aligned, you and your new law firm partner can start the process of forming a partnership. 

The first thing you must do is get everything in writing. It’s critical to draft a legal partnership contract before launching your firm.

This should come as no surprise. You’re both lawyers, after all!

Writing your own contract is not recommended. Rather, you should hire a fellow attorney who specializes in business law. However, The American Bar Association does provides guidance and templates for drafting law firm partnership contracts.

A legal partnership agreement should clearly explain the duties and responsibilities of each partner. You will also need to designate a managing partner to oversee committees, develop strategies, manage associates, and more.

This is also about protecting your business and finances. All agreements should lay out a clear process for leaving and dissolving the partnership.

Forbes offers the following advice as well:

  • Draft out a decision-making plan
  • Include a salary and distribution plan for each partner
  • Outline protocol for catastrophic illness, disability, and death

It’s vitally important to address capital contribution in your agreement too. This addresses how much each partner invested in the firm. 

Final Thoughts

Justice may be blind. But that doesn’t mean you should enter into a partnership blindfolded. 

Avoid partnership pitfalls by putting these tips to good use. And don’t forget to check back often for more tips and tricks for business-savvy lawyers!    

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