How to get the most out of new partners

The partnership promotions season is upon us again and there is no doubt that winning a seat around the partnership table remains the Holy Grail for many lawyers.

Even for the most talented individuals, making the transition from associate to partner is a huge, and often traumatic, leap into the unknown. Yes, the financial rewards are great, but new people and financial management responsibilities, as well as a more front-line client-facing role, can be daunting.

Achieving the change in behaviour and skills set requires careful thought and planning on behalf of both the promoted individuals and the firm. This was the driving principle for developing Addleshaw Goddard‘s new partner programme.

We considered the support that newly promoted partners needed in view of the expectations placed on them by clients, the firm’s business and people. We then identified the need for a programme tailored to provide new partners with the coaching they require over the early years of their promotion.

The firm’s objective was to design a programme that gave new partners the opportunity to learn more from peers and established partners about the challenges they would face, as well as tips on how to deal with them in an unthreatening and supportive environment.

Specific challenges faced by new partners include:
•increasing demands on time;
•getting to grips with the volume and meaning of management information;
•changed perceptions of associates, from colleague to ‘boss’;
•the growing importance of business development and client relationships;
•contributing more in areas outside client activity, in particular on the people agenda;
•drawing on other support mechanisms; and
•building a personal brand, both internally and externally.

We consulted a number of partners about their experiences and worked with consulting firm Aretai to design a multifaceted approach to support the firm’s new partners through the common challenges identified.

A workshop soon after admission to partnership gets the programme underway. The purpose is to allow the group of new partners to get to know one another and share any early experiences or flag up any concerns.

The importance of creating a strong peer group cannot be underestimated. Much of the learning and support comes from within the new partner group, sometimes even more so than from outside.

The group is joined by a couple of more experienced partners. At least one of these will have recently made the transition to partner, perhaps within the last one or two years, and can speak first hand about their own experience and how they adapted. Other sessions for the group include discussing the firm’s culture and values programme and what it means to each of them individually. Sessions also analyse some of the more tangible aspects of becoming a partner.

Individual coaching is an integral element of such programmes. At Addleshaws this is not intended as a long-term measure. Instead it provides an opportunity for the individual to look back over the initial transition, reflect on where progress has been made and where more is needed.

It also helps set the agenda for a further group workshop, timed to coincide with a first-year anniversary. For most the second workshop is a great opportunity to see for themselves how far they have come and how they have settled into the new role.

In this period all the new partners are given the opportunity of identifying and working with a mentor from outside their own business unit. These are all more experienced partners, often from another office. Their input provides new partners with a different perspective and supports their integration by giving them exposure outside their normal environment.