Book Extract: How to make partner and still have a life

AN EXTRACT from ‘How to make partner and still have a life’, by Jo Larbie and Heather Townsend. In this extract, Heather and Jo consider what you need to do to establish yourself when you achieve the holy grail of partnership, making partner.

“Become a partner in effect is resetting the clock to zero and starting again. You’ve got to make the transition to thinking and behaving like a partner.”

Making partner is not a destination, but the first step in a far more rewarding role. The number of equity partners in professional service firms is decreasing. Remaining a partner has become tougher as firms of all sizes in every type of practice, have de-equitised partners and lengthened partnership progression structures to defend profitability and maintain the size of the profit pie.

“Being in the club is a wonderful feeling, however there is always a constant pressure to deliver more and more. I have known about partners who have been asked to leave the partnership, so I know that being a partner does not necessarily mean a job for life”
Muna, Partner

The one thing that you cannot afford to do on making partner is to continue working and behaving as though nothing has changed. You must stop acting and behaving as a senior associate or a director from the outset! What very few partners will tell you is that over the next six to twelve months, the work that you were given by partners as a director or senior associate will dry up – the tap will be turned-off, as you are now expected to be able to feed yourself and your team. Remember all the things that you promised the partnership that you would do in your Personal Business Development Plan? Well, you will be expected to deliver these things starting from day one. But, remember, you wouldn’t have been asked to join the partnership if the partners didn’t believe in your ability to implement it successfully.

‘Inheriting’ a partner’s portfolio can be both a blessing and a curse: it initially saves you time to grow your own business. However, you shouldn’t rely on it, assume it will be profitable and in good health, or expect it to sustain you for the rest of your partner career. You must build on what you have been given and prove that you can get your own clients.

As a new partner it’s highly likely that you will be given management responsibility either in your department or firm wide. In fact your Personal Business Development Plan probably stated where your management and leadership skills would be best applied in the firm! Even though your new management responsibilities will limit the amount of time you have for developing your people and practice, do accept your new responsibility. Your new responsibilities will help to increase your profile in the partnership generally, and almost definitely help you acquire new skills.

What has changed now you are a partner

Your immediate goal is now to demonstrate and reassure your partners, who are now your peers, that they made the right decision in making you a partner. This means it’s your job to grow a sustainable business, which increases the size of the profit pie for the benefit of all your partners. In today’s world of increasingly competitive and performance-driven firms, partners who fail to increase the partnership’s profits year on year, are unlikely to survive for long.

“People that would have talked to you in one way will not talk to you the same way now because you’re a partner.”
Darryn Hedges, Global Finance Director Marks & Clerk

Expect your relationships with colleagues and staff to change. Some people will make it clear that you have “changed sides” and view you differently from now on. You should maintain close links with them while you adjust to being a partner.

As a new partner, it will take time before you become comfortable with your partner colleagues and them with you. It may help to remember, that you are the new member of their club. Don’t rush the relationship – making the wrong first impression may set you back. Make time to listen and learn from more experienced and successful partners – ask questions, listen and think carefully before you proceed to tell them your views on what is wrong with the partnership and how you would change things around here!

You are now self-employed and that will change how you are paid and how you will need to report your financial affairs to the taxman. For example, will you receive a monthly payment (drawings) from which taxes and cost of any benefits have been deducted on your behalf by your firm? Or will you be responsible for paying for these things? If you are responsible, then you must be disciplined and set aside money for making these payments. Your finance team should know what you need to do and may help you to set-up an account for this purpose.

Your time will be typically spent finding and minding, which means that you will spend most of your time getting close to your clients and potential clients, while supervising your team who deliver these services to your clients.

You are now an owner and a shareholder of the business and will have invested a sizeable amount of capital in your firm. Therefore, ask questions and read partnership papers and information packs when they are sent to you. It’s provided to help you to improve your knowledge and understanding of your business.

‘How to make partner and still have a life’ is written by Heather Townsend and Jo Larbie, and published by Kogan Page.


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