Lots of senior associates are going through a stressful time at the moment – putting together material to support the business case for their appointment as partners and preparing for interviews with partner selection panels.
I’ve coached several associates in the process to enhance their chances of success. Here are some tips.
1. Find out what the selection process is in your firm.
Typically firms go through a selection process involving:
- Nominations from department heads, with the business case – usually requiring input from the candidate
- Evaluations of these nominations, involving a due diligence process, consultations with other partners and interviews of the candidates (see tips on this below)
- Decision-making by equity partners based on summary reports (not much you can do at this stage)
2. Read the partner selection criteria carefully.
In particular you need to clear what qualities and skills your firm is looking for. Some firms are better at communicating these criteria clearly. If you’re not clear, ask. Here’s a typical list of headings and criteria:
- Technical legal expertise
- Client relationships
- Business development contribution
- Matter management
- Developing others
- Personal qualities (such as integrity and decisiveness)
I also suggest you talk to recently-appointed partners – their personal experiences of the process can be helpful.
3. Get yourself known.
Many associates, particularly those working in specialist areas, are not well-enough known in their firms. This can work against them when the selection panel takes soundings amongst the partners. So I recommend finding ways of meeting important partners outside your area, perhaps on cross firm internal projects.
4. Find out what your perceived weaknesses might be.
The selection panel will find these out from talking to partners. So you’re bound to be asked about them and what you’re doing to address these weaknesses. You won’t have to be perfect as a partner, but they will want you to show that you’re self-aware and be working on coping mechanisms. Being honest will be important as well.
5. Provide evidence you have the qualities and skills.
This evidence is most easily provided from giving examples (ie telling stories). But try to avoid long and rambling ones. A good structure for your stories is:
Situation – describe the challenge you faced
Action – tell your audience what you did (and it helps if you can use the word ‘I’ rather than ‘we’)
Result – describe briefly what the outcome was as a result of your action.
6. Prepare your answers for the interview.
Most candidates will not have had much recent interview experience so you might be a bit rusty. Some questions worth preparing for are:
- Why do you want to be a partner?
- Can you describe your practice area for us?
- What are your thoughts about how the firm is managed?
- What do you see as the firms key strengths and weaknesses?
- How do you think we can improve recruitment/attrition rates/diversity etc?
My main tip here is to think before you speak – in particular, to think of a structure for your answer. Structures that tend to work well are:
- Pros and cons
- Three key areas
- Before, now and after (ie chronology)
Good luck to all of you currently involved in this process and I hope you find these tips useful. Oh, and another thing, rehearse!
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