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This article is written by Ramanuj Mukherjee, CEO, LawSikho.

Stick around in the same law firm long enough, and you are likely to be made partner. As simple as that.

The harder way is to walk into a firm with a bunch of clients. However, if you already have clients of your own, the question may arise as to why not start your own firm anyway.

Lawyers often believe that the smartest or most knowledgable lawyers would be made partners faster. This is absolutely not true. This may be true in the short run when it comes to lower-level promotions and bonus allocations. However, as you grow more senior in the profession, your perceived loyalty begins to matter more than your performance. 

There are two main factors as to why a senior lawyer in a firm may or may not be made a partner. One is about how profitable you are for the firm as a business owner. The other is your perceived loyalty to the firm. 

Are you someone who is capable of running a vertical? That is, are you capable of recruiting lawyers, training them, getting work done through them, manage their productivity and performance, manage and retain clients, and get more work for the firm?

As you can see, apart from your legal skills, which are presumed to be good enough if you survived long enough in a big law firm, there is a whole other set of skills that is super important. Most of these are critical business skills.

As a partner, you are valuable to a law firm if you either bring work to the firm or if you can get the work done. Even if you do not bring in work, when you can own the matter and hold together a team that gets work done consistently at a high level of quality, any given law firm management would consider making you a partner, even if you do not have your own clients. 

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Most law firm managing partners or owners find it easier to bring in work than to get work done at a quality that they can be proud of, despite scaling up their team.

And that is where the value of partners who can run their own units and ensure delivery of high quality of work comes from. There is no way a law firm can hope to grow without adding more and more such self-sufficient units under the command of capable partners.

Such partners who are good at executing are highly appreciated in law firms, sometimes even more than rainmaker partners who are able to bring in their own business, because those who can bring their own business may not stay back at the firm, and are highly likely to leave with some of the firms clients when they leave. And that is something that law firms hate and are very wary of!

There are big law firms that have a policy of not hiring lateral partners if those partners have their own books, due to this exact same fear.

All law firms, on the other hand, try to promote and retain homegrown partners. For stability and growth of the firm, law firms need long term players who will stick around. They need to incentivize those who stay in one place and do not jump ship for small advantages or small salary hikes very strongly, by making such loyal lawyers partners faster.

There was a time when lawyers moved around a lot, and it was expected that changing jobs will lead to promotions and salary hikes. It is quite not so these days. 

Law firm owners delay the partnership of all those lawyers who move around, no matter how good they are at their work because they cannot fully trust those lawyers to stay with them long term, and also because loyalty is in any case more valuable to the firm. 

The only reason to shift from one law firm job to another, therefore, is if you do not like the work you are doing, or if you do not gel with the team or a certain boss. However, there is a cost to moving around, and you need to keep that in mind.

On the other hand, in in-house counsel jobs, it is advisable that you work for different companies in different industries over the years, because that increases your exposure to different kinds of matters and increases your value as a future General Counsel.

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