Success in Law—Sometimes It Means Making Partner, Sometimes It Doesn’t

When a young lawyer joins a large law firm fresh out of law school, that’s when they find out if there’s a “fit”. He or she may have heard anecdotes of what Big Law is like but, until they partake of the day-in and day-out activities, they will have no idea if it’s for them. 

Once the young attorney rolls up his or her shirtsleeves and gets busy, that lawyer does stand a chance of being one of the relatively few associates that find ultimate success in law…becoming a partner.    

It’s a success metric that everyone seems to agree on, says a Law Pundit blog of a few months ago (December 08, 2010).  In Big Law, becoming a partner is the zenith.  Although some elements of such a success may be chance-related, there are elements that are predictable.   

“Anyone who becomes competent in a given field of law, who interacts successfully in the human world of law around him, and whose personal life is a source of stability is going to be pretty successful anywhere. And if one can bring in clients (be a rainmaker), the path to glory is a straight one.”  

However, not everyone will aim for that high point. “Many young lawyers work as associates…and then leave those law firms—before “making” or “not making” partner,” says Andis Kaulins, the author of the blog.  

Of course, there are other paths that lead to law success. One such path is in the world of academia, which is as different from Big Law as night is from day.  

Big Law is “nuts and bolts”…they don’t have the time to do as academic law does: discuss problems and issues–often quite apart from any “workable solutions”.  “In Big Law, the solutions MUST work and the realities of the economic and legal world set demanding timelines.” 

A senior partner once asked the author to turn a “brilliant” (but “useless”) 25-page memo into a concise two-pager that, point-blank, told the partner what the law said he could do, as he “HAD to do something.”  That, says the author, is Big Law. 


Of course, associates can also spin off into their own firm, or enter other legally-related branches. Some take positions in government, join social causes…or become part of a family business, and leave law altogether.  Then there are those who travel abroad, or join a law school faculty—both of which Kaulins eventually did. 

Although the author was, in his skills-set and temperament, well suited to Big Law, he focused not on making partner, but on deciding what he wanted to do with his life.  Along the way, he detoured into an academic post in Kiel, Germany. “Professors have time; lawyers seldom do.”

Back in the realm of law firms, the author mentions one outstanding characteristic of law partners that struck him during his stint with Big Law: they have “equanimity”, what he calls “a special type of coolness approaching delight under pressure…[c]ompetent people visibly enjoy what they do.”    

And yes, we are all, basically, affiliated with some sort of winning strategy, no matter where we end up.

“We are all ultimately partners in the human endeavor,” says Kaulins. 

To read more, go here:




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