Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Myth of Partnership

I realize that most of my readers can only dream of working at a large firm--so what happens once you get there is probably beyond the scope of what you can think about today, when you're unemployed and living in your parent's basement.

However, it's something that should be discussed in light of the theme here: the law school scam.  When you sign up for law school, when you're a bright eyed and bushy tailed lemming, you think about the prospect of making partner.  That's the way that you decided you may make your millions.  You have a chance, right?  Wrong.

When I signed up for the dream, I was told that you could potentially make partner in five years. I understood the "over and out" Cravath System--probably not as well as I know it today.  But the chance, the glimmer of hope, was there.

Since then, the track for partnership has lengthened:
An associate may have to wait as long as 9 years before the decision is made as to whether the associate "makes partner." Many law firms have an "up or out policy" (pioneered around 1900 by partner Paul Cravath of Cravath, Swaine & Moore[2]): associates who do not make partner are required to resign, either to join another firm, go it alone as a solo practitioner, go to work in-house in a corporate legal department, or change professions (burnout rates are very high in law[3]). [as per Wiki]

Fast forward several years, to when I was working in Big Law. I noticed that the only people who seemed to become partners were outsiders.  The criteria for becoming a partner seemed to change from working hard and making your billable hour requirements, to your ability to bring in business.  I will be the first person to say that law firms are inept at business.  However, this trend makes sense.  It just sucks for those who devote 9 years of their life and their most productive years, only to be pushed out by a stranger to the firm. I guess it's the difference between those who appreciate Derek Jeter as a home grown Yankee to A-Rod, a great import.  Some people say that A-Rod will never be as loved as Jeter, because he's not really a Yankee in the way that Jeter is.

Then, in combing the news on google, I noticed the trend to take in high powered outsiders with influence and clients is the way to become partner at a large firm.

So, how does this tie into the scam?  If the partnership track has lengthened from five years, to nine and then perhaps not at all, why has the cost of a law school education quadrupled?  I'm not saying that everyone that goes to law school thinks they are going to become partner, or even wants to.  However, if it's not longer a part of the plethora of options as a J.D., why would you pay more for the J.D.?

Do you know anyone who has made partner at a top 200 law firm?

Food for thought.


  1. Yes, I know 2 people who made partner at big firms...

    1) First guy is the most charismatic person you will ever meet. Went to Tier 2 school, worked at big federal agency where he gained a ton of specialized knowledge, lateral hire as Big Law associate, worked his butt off and made partner. This guy really knows how to work a room. Every week he meets 5 new people and becomes friends with them-- Usually not people his age... People a few years older who can mentor him or give him business, or a few years younger so he can mentor them and build a life long connection to them.

    2)Second guy is tall and looks like a Ralph Lauren model. He married a gorgeous girl, was in the top 10% of his class, and just exudes "success". Was hired by Tier 2 Big Law firm in NY and just stuck it out. Again, this guy is very friendly and makes you feel good that he wants to be your friend.

    3) I also know a Third person who is a senior associate at a top 5 NY firm and I suspect he will become a tax partner. There's just no one left in his department in his associate class, and all the work flows to him. This guy is just even-keeled and a survivor. Similar to the partners I described above.

    One thing all these people have in common was they grew up and did undergrad outside of the East Coast. They went to top schools and performed well, but they didn't grow up in New York and seem to approach both law school and law practice with an old-fashioned work ethic. No shortcuts.

  2. You also have to be the right race and gender. Your chances of making partner as a minority or a woman are considerably lower. Height is also a definite factor, so don't be a short guy.

    If you are a short, minority female...well, that's 3 strikes and you're out.

    That's also the problem with the up or out system, it is supposed to be through merit but in actuality frequently it is political or due to those factors I listed.

    Law is not a career for most of the people in it. It's something you can do for a few years or survive in for longer than that and still get nowhere. But it's better to avoid it and best to get out while you can if you didn't manage to avoid it.

  3. You're kidding, right? Minorities have a disadvantage?

    I'd challenge you to examine the numbers...

    in 2010, whether it be getting into law school, getting a job as an attorney, getting the TOP attorney jobs, or getting a judgeship, the further you are from a white male, the better your odds are.

    Your perspective is about 30 years out of date.

  4. I have to agree with 11:36... minorities and females are used for appearances... and to add some color to the old boy's network--but they aren't welcome into the club. Not really.

  5. I always hear racists claim how easy it is for minorities, but they can't explain why minority employment lags so far behind white employment and the degrees don't close the gap (in fact, unemployment goes higher for more education, it is funny).

    And I hear the same thing from sexists, but they just ignore the partner numbers and Board of Director representation of women completely.

    From every objective measure minorities and women are fucked over in the law and in the corporate world. And this attitude continues because idiots like 11:54 want to spread their misinformation and figure if they post it enough times people will just accept it as fact without looking at numbers.

    It's especially stupid when the argument is made for minority men in government positions, because, especially for the fed, these men have higher degrees plus veteran status. A racist wants you to believe they got their job just because they are minorities, because apparently minorities are too stupid to deserve an actual decent job.

    Why don't YOU look at the numbers 11:54? There is a blog roll right on the right over there, there is one I remember that had the numbers. But I don't need numbers to have common sense and know the reality myself. The hiring partners are white males in both the government and the private sector. The vast majority of workers are also white, and those in the "good" positions are mostly white males as well.

    The minorities and women that do make it generally have far better credentials so much so that it is impossible to ignore them, including for federal jobs veteran status as well as years of experience and advanced degrees. But people want to minimize that and out of jealousy and prejudice just automatically believe they are better and they were cheated out of something because a woman or a colored person beat them out for something. They are not used to that happening so it pisses them off, so they have to invent this nonsense and minimize the struggles and instead paint THEMSELVES as a victim.

    Give me a break, white males don't have a disadvantage. Hell look at this whole Ground Zero mosque controversy, it's just a swell of white hate towards somebody else.

  6. I used to work at a large firm that rhymes with "Madden," and do know a few people who made partner:

    1. A not-so-bright "golden boy" who, like the guy referenced above, looked like a model. Pretty much everybody knew from Day 1 that either he or a very bright woman in the same associate class would be "the one." Then she had a baby, and she has been mommy-tracked ever since.

    2. A (short!) woman who gave up everything in her life, and I mean EVERYTHING, to get over the hump. And then they offered her partnership only if she moved to a distant city. Which she and her husband then did.

    3. A guy who actually did retain some shred of his humanity, a litigator who billed something like 3000 hours in Year 9 and was then passed over. He's the only person I know of whose threat to quit actually worked, and he made partner the following year.

    My next firm (MediumLaw, I guess) followed the odious practice, referenced above, of fucking the people who had shown the firm loyalty in favor of outsiders. I was one of them, and the excuse they were stupid enough to give me was "well, the firm has good reasons for not promoting mothers." This was after several years of, naturally, giving up pretty much my whole life (including friends and somebody I really, really loved), frankly neglecting my child (years that we will never get back, and I am really ashamed of this), the whole 9 yards. I had been the highest biller in the lit department, glowing reviews, etc., etc., up until right before the very end.

    So yeah, I think the "partnership" thing is, as they say in contracts class, an illusory promise. AKA a scam. Angel and I must have been at the bigger firms around the same time, because I remember vividly how fucked I realized I was when it became clear that the deal when I got there was to work really hard, win cases for clients, and bill a lot of hours -- and after doing that for several years, they, uh, "altered the deal." And then the ONLY thing that mattered was new clients, and the firm seemed not so interested in whether there were any competent lawyers there actually to do the work for those clients.

    Interestingly, this strategy at my second firm of bringing in the outsiders never seemed to work out. The mercenaries tended not to last very long, and would leave as soon as they got a better deal somewhere else. Which was totally their right to do, but the revolving door in the partnership was one of the things that made the firm a really terrible place to work.

    I would think that the partnership of a successful firm ideally would be a mixture of rainmakers and case-runners. But what do I know.

  7. I know a few people who made partner and I would say there is a lot of randomness to it. Even if you are an excellent attorney, the problem is that there are more excellent attorneys than their are partnership slots.

    It seems a lot of it has to do with knowing the right person or being lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.

    The bigger problem, in my opinion, is that junior partners get kicked and around and abused just like associates by the senior partners who have the clients.

    It seems to me that there are really only 2 ways to get a reasonable level of autonomy, job security, and general quality of life as an attorney in private practice: First, to have your own book of business. Second, to have some critical specialty which is very much in demand.

    As far as getting clients goes, the problem I see is that it's extremely difficult for a BIGLAW attorney to get the kind of clients BIGLAW wants if you are not a well connected upper class type. You can't just schmooze these folks at a cocktail party and you probably won't be invited to the right cocktail party anyway. Moreover, if you pay attention while at BIGLAW, you will see that the senior partners carefully sets up barriers making it near impossible for you to have direct private contact with the key people.

    When you think about it, there are only a few thousand people in America who are capable of being the kind of client necessary for a BIGLAW attorney to enjoy some autonomy and job security. All of these potential clients have friends, law school buddies, family members, etc. who are trying to sell them. If you are a BIGLAW associate or junior partner without these kinds of connections, you are at a massive disadvantage.

  8. I guess I was one of the only students in my law school class who did not care to make partner at Biglaw. It is a crappy existence. The only looks good when placed next to the crappy existence known as a Biglaw associate. This lack of "sophistication" may be due to the fact that I did not grow up in the NYC area.

    In any sales industry you need to close deals and generate new clients. Make no mistake - law is sales.

    To make matters worse at the top 100, law firm productivity has fallen over the last 10 years as expenses have risen. Realization rates have also fallen off a cliff. Over the last 10 years it would be stupid to add partners who did not generate a healthy amount of paying clients. Law is a business, not a lock-step club.

    I value time. I can always make money, but I cannot make time.

    And to answer your question, yes, I know several top 100 firm partners.

  9. If (big) law firms are so inept at business, why do they make so much money? Isn't that what businesses exist to do?

  10. "In any sales industry you need to close deals and generate new clients. Make no mistake - law is sales. "

    That's correct, but I think you need to keep in mind that in BIGLAW, traditional sales techniques are forbidden to you. Not only that, but there are only a few thousand potential customers in the entire country.

    Even if you are a skilled salesman, this is a big disadvantage if you are not from an upper class background.

  11. White males from the Elite class make partner. White males from the Common class get pushed out of the way at the lower associate levels to make room for blacks, Hispanics, and other "minorities" (soon to be MAJORITIES), especially if those "minorities" are females.

    Yes, these are "token" positions to color up the situation. But at least it's employment. It's better than being a non-Elite white male, sitting home unemployed because the Elites need to prove they're not racists.

    PC Affirmative Action diversity quotas and "remedial measures" don't affect the Elite white males - they don't have to take a hit or suffer in any way. It's the common white male who's made to bear the burden of "DIVERSITY."

    So let's not lump all white males together. This is a class issue.

  12. I talked with a friend of a friend who was laid of from an associate position at a major Chicago-based firm. He claims to have seen a memo instructing not to lay off any minority associates. He also pointed out that not one of the associates laid off was a minority. He said many of the firm's clients didn't like to see "four white guys" walking into a meeting, so the firm like to make sure there was a diverse mix of people working on matters.

  13. It seems to me this is the way to find work these days! You must be creative at creating money- not just value. IN other words, can you bring in what it costs to pay you!?

    This puts young ppl and those who are not connected at a SERIOUS disadvantage.

    After watching this on PBS:
    One step forward: A jobs program provides hope for the unemployed

    I realized the only reason Roger Thomas was hired was because he was a car salesman with TONS of connections. This seems to be the case with many ppl who do find jobs, what they have to contribute more than pays for what they are worth. Mr.Lee Bush hired Mr.Thomas because his company needed the business badly and government was willing to foot part of the bill- you think this job could have gone to a recent college graduate!?

  14. To September 7, 2010 11:54 PM.

    Dude, what the hell are you talking/writing about?? It wasn't until 2010 that a woman (Kathleen Sullivan) was made a Name Partner of an AMLAW 100 Firm, and that was only after she was rumored to be on Obama's short list of SCOTUS nominees. "Let's make her a name partner, Then if she becomes a Supreme Court Justice, we can use her as a marketing tool, WITHOUT having to pay her for it...Oh, Wentworth, you're a genius!!"

    And have you seen the minority partnership percentages for AMLAW 100 Firms?? They're pathetic.

    So, sure, it's "easier" for a black woman to get into a top law school, but it's still next-to-impossible for her to make partner.

  15. I never wanted to be partner, I just wanted 8 years of big salary and bonii. Now I work in house, for half the money and literally work 10% of the hours (cumulatively) and have a pile of cash from which to work.

    Would I have been more "comfortable" staying at Biglaw and grinding it out? No, because although I'd have more liquidity going forward, I'd end up with a heart attack by 45, without doubt. Now I think I can make it to at least 60 or so.

  16. Why is there no outcry at the percentages of whites in the NBA, a much more lucrative position than BIGLAW partner?

    When they institute an AA program in the NBA, I'll support an AA program at BIGLAW.

  17. @3:10: There is no rule against white NBA players. It would appear blacks are more athletically gifted in general, possibly because they were bred that way by white slave masters.

    But what is the excuse to purposely exclude minorities from law firms, and partner track? There are no women in the NBA either, because physically there are differences in gender and race.

    I had thought we as a society had moved to the point that we didn't believe intelligence and ability differences existed. However here you are complaining that since the NBA doesn't have more whites, it must mean that it is discrimination, but it's okay for minorities and women to be underrepresented in law. The only way this comparison works is if you have a sincere belief that minorities and women are intellectually inferior and thusly do not deserve spots.

    And that is where I should probably stop, as someone like you is not worth actually addressing. You are also an example of WHY minorities and women are so disadvantaged, because so many idiots like you will make it into a hiring position and then pass over minorities and women, lowering their chances by shrinking the pool of where they can work.

    I am neither a minority or a woman. I'm just a realist. Every application I've ever filled out that might have affirmative action only had these two options: "Hispanic/Latino and Not Hispanic/Latino." So if there is any preference, it appears you have to be from that race. I suppose you fill out gender too, gender helps women get Secretary jobs and HR jobs, and probably Nursing jobs in relation to men. But the discrimination starts working when you get higher, or in a field like law.

    Angel can give you examples of shady law firms she's worked at where attorneys hire women just to harass them sexually, or pass over women for promotions because they're women. That's when they can get hired to begin with.

    It's nice to live in a bubble world where you blame everyone else for everything and paint yourself as a victim. But the reality is life is not fair, and being a white male in the US is one of the better positions to be in, in life.

  18. I'm happy that we can have a discussion about race on this Blog. I'm all for the free flow of ideas, even if they contradict my own. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. I'm a minority and a woman. So, if what y'all are saying is true--I'm the biggest loser around.

  19. I have plenty of stories.. here's one re: racism.
    Boss to me: See this resume? What kind of name does that sound like? Is it Eastern European?
    Me to Boss: Appears to be African.
    Boss to me: Trash that resume.

    Always name your children race neutral names.

  20. 3:55, your conclusion was correct in years' past, but not now. It's no longer better to be a common-class white male in 2010 in the USA, and it's getting even worse.

    (Note: Common-class white male doesn't include Elite-class white male.)

  21. @ 3:55

    "I had thought we as a society had moved to the point that we didn't believe intelligence and ability differences existed. However here you are complaining that since the NBA doesn't have more whites, it must mean that it is discrimination, but it's okay for minorities and women to be underrepresented in law. The only way this comparison works is if you have a sincere belief that minorities and women are intellectually inferior and thusly do not deserve spots."


    What if there are differences in intelligence among the races? Read "The Bell Curve" for arguments against yours.


    "It would appear blacks are more athletically gifted in general, possibly because they were bred that way by white slave masters."


    Is it possible that intelligence differences between the races might be similar to athletic differences? Or is it only OK to generalize by race in regards to athletic prowess, then go into a moralistic screed that anyone who generalizes by race when it pertains to minorities is "an idiot" "not worth addressing"?

    I don't understand how you could try to make your argument against racism by using racism, but I'm sure you'll be able to justify it somehow.

  22. If there are differences in athletic prowess between the races, with blacks being on average more athletic than whites, then there's only one morally acceptable solution:

    Federally-funded physical education programs aimed at whites, with the stated goal of reducing, and eventually eliminating, this flagrant and odious disparity in athletic prowess.

    It is the only fair and morally acceptable thing to do. There should be no disparities or inequalities between the races in any area.

  23. Looks like we have that "hunger strike" scam blogger in our midst. Nice to know you think blacks are athletically superior to whites. Kindly espouse some of your other riveting views.

  24. btw, last post was pure speculation, as it relates to the "hunger strike" scam blogger. However, whomever holds the view that blacks are "generally" more "athletic" than whites, is a racist. That is fact. Just ask Jimmy the Greek.

  25. @3:55. If those are the only AA forms you've ever filled out, I'm speculating you are not in very high demand, employment-wise.

    I love how you think being a "white male" is such a vaunted position. That speaks to either your innate racism or defeatism. Either way, it's a piss poor attitude. good luck,

  26. I could write a novel on this - but I wont. My DH and I (met at T14). He's at a big firm (and it was hell getting the job even after a Fed App clerkship) and is an equity partner. It took 3 years (5 from graduation). He's a superstar worker and made the right connections with the right partners. I never got a real job in law (temping, solo, crap non-profit) before quitting. Anyway, it's nearly impossible to make partner. Primarily (from inside) it's white guys from t25 schools. There are partner meetings/memos about making women (any race) and minorities partners for looks (unless they have big book of business, then they're in) - and generally it doesn't happen. I do think the path now is about 9 or 10 years - and the criteria is an ever moving target.

    And let me tell you the hours are crappy, the work is still shit, but the money is better.

  27. Wow the bigots are really coming out of the wood work aren't they?

  28. Big Law might suck, but the alternatives are even worse. If you luck out you can get a fed job, but that seems tough to get.

    The best decision is to skip law school entirely. Going and knowing you don't want to do big law is not much of a decision.

  29. Anon 355:

    You don't have to believe minorities are actually intellectually inferior. You just have to believe they are less likely to bring more business to the firm and make the firm money. Whoever the firm's clients prefer to see wins out, then.

    You don't have to believe anything about "intelligence" whatever that is.

  30. Higher education and the professions are discriminatory by nature. There is no need to bring race into it to figure that one out.

    Yale or fail sums it up nicely.

  31. Yes. I know someone that made partner: me. I was 8 months pregnant at the time. I thought it was the best thing that ever happened to me. Then I had a child and "woke up." I quit soon after and have never looked back. Sure its good money. But being a partner and a mom is an absolutely terrible horrible no good very bad life. Good riddance!

  32. I worked at a Am Law 100 firm and was a non-equity partner. The dirty secret is that many non-equity partners earn less than sixth year associates at their own firm, and some earn less than first-year associates at other firms. So don't be fixated on the title. It is very, very easy to make non-equity partner at many law firms outside of Am Law 25, if you are willing to take a barely six figure salary. Find the right firm, and you can have a 40-hour week with no weekend or evening work, plus a $125,000 salary, and the bogus title of "partner." Some of you may laugh at that, but it is a better life than document review, ambulance chasing, and many government jobs.



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