Partnership Potential: Top Must-Have Characteristics for Associates

Navigating the road to partnership can be difficult, especially for junior law firm associates who are just learning the ropes fresh out of law school. True, there are a select number of attorneys who are primed for partnership the moment they land their first jobs, but they are the chosen few. Like most other associates out there, you will have to work hard (for many years) for a partner role.

Identifying a Potential Partner

Law firms always have their eye on associates who have partner potential. These are people who have the most future value to the firm – fee earners, leaders, and prospective mentors. Firms want to have associates who are committed to advancing the firm long term, and who have the capability to help do it.

But herein lies the rub: There is no exact science for identifying future partners who are early in their careers. A new associate who after one year looks like a potential partner may be overtaken by a ‘late developer.” One critical indicator used by many firms is an associate’s internal and external market value.

Your internal market value is driven by the firm’s need to decide who to allocate matters and assignments to. Your external market value is decided by clients and colleagues outside the firm.

“Partnership” Characteristics ALL Firms Look for in Associates

Unfortunately, it’s common for new law associates to rely on word-of-mouth for receiving information regarding what their firms are looking for in partners. This leads to trouble, as most of the second-hand information is misleading and sometimes totally wrong.

Thankfully, lawyer coaches and law firm recruiters have conducted extensive research which yields valuable intelligence on this very topic. This research identifies five characteristics which enable firms to identify associates with future partnership potential. They are:

  • Commitment to the firm, its vision and its clients
  • Commerciality (example: ability to spot and exploit marketing/commercial opportunities.)
  • Leadership and management
  • Emotional intelligence (i.e. self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills.)
  • Thinking skills

It’s typical of most firms to expect potential partners to acquire and demonstrate all of these characteristics early in their careers. As a law firm associate, how do you view yourself as future partnership talent?

Jacqueline Hill, Esq.

This post was written by .

Jacqueline Hill is a partner at Lexacount Search, where she places top senior-level and other legal talent with law firms and corporate legal departments across the United States. She has been writing about careers, lawyers, attorney professional development, and the legal industry for more than a decade. She can be reached at or 215-740-0104, extension 101.

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