3 Leadership Skills for Starting Strong as a New Partner

In a law firm, shifting from associate or counsel to partner is a seminal shift in an attorney’s career. It requires more than a mindset shift — new partners must quickly build new management, client and business development and communication skills. By leveraging the competencies you developed as a senior associate or counsel, however, you can swiftly ascend the new-partner learning curve.

Skill 1. Set communication expectations

As you rose through the associate ranks, you no doubt learned the advantages of clear and proactive communication. As a partner, you can expect the time you spend on client management, business development and firm committees to expand, compressing your available time with junior attorneys. Setting expectations early about your typical response time and how others may proceed when you are unavailable demonstrates your commitment to responsiveness and promotes team members’ trust in you.

In addition, expressing your expectation that team members may wait until business hours to respond to after-hours messages from you, unless you state that an immediate response is needed, can be a simple yet valuable tool for showing support for others’ work-life balance.

Skill 2. Invite juniors into the big picture

Partnership comes with a new vantage point and greater insight into the clients, matters and inner workings of a firm. Discussing high-level strategy and context, when appropriate, aids associates and counsel in making better decisions in their existing assignments, preparing for more advanced work and becoming better firm citizens. It is possible to remain well within the bounds of your partnership agreement and fiduciary duties while also broadening junior attorneys’ perspectives, affording them a level of insight that can inform their work.

Skill 3. Speak up with your new partners

Many newly minted partners find it challenging to speak their mind with fellow partners — attorneys they may have found intimidating in the past or yearned to emulate. Some discomfort is normal, and it will fade as you find your voice. Challenge yourself to speak up and be heard. Early on, scheduling time to prepare for partnership meetings can boost your confidence. You may also find it helpful to prepare talking points about issues on which you wish or expect to speak.

Your ascension to partnership is evidence of your fellow partners’ confidence in your abilities. Your existing skills represent a strong foundation from which to grow; with diligent effort, you can expeditiously develop the habits and proficiencies you need to succeed at this new tier. Greater confidence, accomplishment and ease will come with time. You’ve come this far — and that means you have a strong foundation for success in this exciting next chapter!