Byte of Prevention Blog

by Jay Reeves |

Integrity is Top Trait for Law Partner

It’s all well and good that the person you’re considering as a law partner is smart as a whip and comes with a lucrative book of business.

But if you want to forge a healthy relationship that will stand the test of time, look for someone who is a team player and works well with others. Strong listening skills are a nice touch as well.

Those attributes topped the list of a recent Law360 poll that asked law firm leaders: What one trait is most important for a firm partner?

The number one answer: a collaborative spirit.

“Separate from substantive expertise, I think ambition for the law firm is an essential trait for a law firm partner,” said Reed Smith managing partner Alexander Thomas. “We want them to be ambitious for the teams they lead, for themselves, but for the firm first.”

Rounding out the top four traits: integrity, good communication skills and sound judgment.

“The ‘perfect partner’ keeps valuable clients happy and returning to the firm with new and profitable assignments; creates no internal issues with other partners, associates or staff; offers constructive solutions to firm problems; and interacts professionally and respectfully with lawyers at other law firms, judges and the community at large,” said one survey respondent.

Building the Perfect Law Partner

The makeup of a stellar law partner is more art than science. What works for one practice might not work for another. Still, as the Law360 poll shows, there are some qualities that are generally recognized as essential.

Here are seven other desirable attributes, courtesy of Eric Seeger and Altman Weil:

  1. Pay for yourself. “Every partner should generate working attorney fee receipts that cover his or her compensation (salary and benefits) plus share of overhead on an annual basis. There are exceptions, such as the aging founding partner whose name is synonymous with the firm and who still brings in business despite fewer billable hours, or a lawyer who clearly adds substantial value to the firm in other ways. The general rule, however, is that paying for oneself in terms of working attorney fee receipts is the bare minimum. In most cases there is no excuse for an equity partner not covering his or her own costs.”
  2. Pay for someone else. “Partners must add value to the firm in addition to their own working attorney receipts. A partner who merely covers his own cost has not contributed lasting value to the firm and has not increased his partners’ economic return.”
  3. Cross-sell. “A partner should proactively look for opportunities to refer business to other partners and should assist others when asked to help develop client relationships. The focus must be on developing business for the firm in addition to one’s personal practice.”
  4. Develop associates and staff. “Partners should actively teach and train their less experienced colleagues as an investment in the professional capability and longevity of the firm. This can be achieved by means of formal or informal mentoring, internal seminars, training programs, taking associates along to client meetings and sales calls, and so forth.”
  5. Play nice. “Some firms have committed their core values to paper, others have not, but most firms have a well-understood code of conduct or set of values that governs behavior in the firm. For example, people are expected to work hard, be honest and treat each other with respect. They should behave in a collaborative, cooperative, team-oriented manner. They should comply with firm policies and procedures.”
  6. Help manage the firm. “Not all partners will serve in official (titled) leadership or management capacities like Managing Partner, Executive Committee, Compensation Committee, Practice Group Leader, Administrative Partner or Marketing Partner. They may serve on other committees, or on ad hoc task groups, or as mentors to associates, or by dealing with insurance or leases, or in no formal capacity at all.”
  7. Represent the firm in the community. “If a partner is successfully bringing in business for himself and others, he is probably already representing the firm in the community — by serving on boards and in associations, for example. Other activities may include speaking, writing, teaching and being quoted in the press. These activities promote awareness of the firm and its capabilities in a positive way.”

What traits would you add to the list?

About the Author

Jay Reeves

Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. He was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He is the author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World, a collection of short stories from a law life well-lived, which as the seasons pass becomes less about law and liability and more about loss, love, longing, laughter and life's lasting luminescence.

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