By Alexandra Duran
New York Law Journal
February 7, 2005

Congratulations on making partner. You have achieved a long-term goal, one that is a milestone in your career and in your life. Choose to be thrilled, and celebrate your success.

While you are celebrating, however, don't forget your support staff members. Celebrate with them. Noting the hard work, determination and savvy of everyone who has contributed will rebound to your ongoing success as a new partner. Missing the opportunity to include, appreciate and acknowledge their contributions to your accomplishment can have a long-lasting detrimental effect. Whatever you do to celebrate success — flowers, a champagne toast, small gifts, or a dinner out — do it now! A tangible remembrance that can be kept conspicuously and can therefore be appreciated by others in the office is a smart idea.

What's Next After Celebrating?

Even as you celebrate, you may be feeling nervous about the future. Or perhaps you are feeling a bit of a let-down as you go from "striving mode" to "what's next?"

At this time your emotions may be running the gamut. During the better part of the last decade, you've been an associate. Now, you have left one group and have joined another. Until you acclimate to your new role, you may feel adrift. Now is the time to make a conscious transition to your new role as partner.

Resist defaulting into past patterns that are more comfortable just because you know them best. They will not serve you well in the long run.

Many of the skill sets, attitudes and behaviors that helped you succeed as an associate will continue to drive your success; however, you will need to develop new skill sets, attitudes and behaviors to succeed as partner. I know firsthand. In my practice, I've met many new partners who had difficulty making this transition. Understanding the speed bumps, negotiating the hairpin turns, and setting a course for your continuing growth is part of the challenge.

They See You in a Different Light

You have worked right alongside of associates who now see you in a different light. For some, you are a positive role model for succeeding in grasping the gold ring. For others, you have gone over to the dark side. Whether the karma is good or bad, from your perspective, there can be no more grousing about assignments or workload, and certainly no gossiping with these same associates.

During this transition, avoid making regrettable remarks that are not generous or positive. These "sound bites," often made in passing to alleviate anxiety, become indelible statements of the "truth" for everyone else.

Associates will try to read your every move, perhaps even assuming that you are privy to all the details of the management of your firm. Your comments going forward — even if they have only a momentary consequence for you — will have impact on how associates perceive you, the firm, and their own standing, so be judicious in what you say. You now represent the partnership and the firm in everything you do, inside as well as outside of the firm. (In reality, this has always been true, but now, everyone is acutely aware of it.)

You Need to Set New Goals

Now that you've accomplished the goal of becoming a partner, it's time to set new goals. Your long-term goals should be based on an objective evaluation of your specific interests and talents.

Determine what your long-term goals are for yourself within the partnership. Do you aspire to become a member of the firm's management committee or leadership team? Do you want to take a leadership role in another area of the firm — for instance, expanding the use of technology, growing a practice area, or expanding the firm globally?

Develop your interests, research the opportunities, and start to make a plan that you can ultimately present to a senior partner or firm committee.

Let It Rain

Don't fall into the trap of labeling yourself a "service partner" as opposed to a rainmaker. In addition to providing the very best in client service, all partners should set their sights on developing new client relationships and bringing in new business. In a competitive environment, developing business for your firm is important to your long-term success. If you haven't a clue on how to make rain, then learn.

If the prospect of putting yourself out there in this way is terrifying, relax — you need not be gregarious but can do it in your own style. Take the time to engage in activities that will expand your network, such as joining an outside committee, becoming active in a professional association, or taking a leadership role in a nonprofit. Commit to authoring an article for a professional publication or speaking at a professional conference. And don't underestimate the importance of widening your social network, whether on the golf course or dinner circuit.

Management Skills Are Now Key

As you rose through the ranks from associate to senior associate, you've most likely taken on more management responsibility. Now, as partner, you will have even more. Become aware of your present management style. Is it effective? Is it consistent with the culture of your firm? Do others clamor to work with you, or does it seem that you are always trying to pull together a team?

No matter what your management skill level, improving your ability to manage others and the work of the firm must remain a prime focus of your practice. You have an obligation to the associates you manage to help them develop their own abilities, and you have an obligation to your firm to attract and retain the very best people.

Although management skill levels vary, no one is born a perfect manager. Management and leadership skills can be learned through mentoring, coaching, education and practice. Ultimately, your responsibility as a partner is to get the professional development you need so that you are an effective manager.

So Are Working Relationships

One of the keys to a successful transition is to maintain excellent working relationships with associate colleagues. The associates with whom you work today may be your partners or clients in the future. An associate could even become a judge before whom you must argue a case.

Sure, associates have a responsibility to you, and you have a responsibility to them as well. Protect your reputation as a partner who is a good listener and mentor. In an age when a vivid description of bad conduct can lead to a blistering attack against you on the Web, make sure that you act respectful in everything you do.

To develop your footing in the partnership, try to work as much as possible with associates with whom you have not shared confidences or close friendships. Each new associate with whom you work presents an opportunity to develop your reputation as a fair and effective manager.

Your new partners are also looking for certain behaviors in you: good listening skills; an inquiring mind; a desire to advance the wellbeing of the firm; a passion for learning; modesty; unselfish behavior. But these behaviors, while essential, are not enough.

You must also gain an understanding of your firm's culture and its power structure. The subtleties matter. Become a student of your firm. Understand the partnership's needs. Internally, study the politics rather than recklessly throwing yourself into the fray. Externally, investigate trends that may affect the firm and its client base. Remember, while it is always important to work hard, it's even more important to work smart.

Never Stop Learning

Remember that the world around you is changing. To keep up, you must make a commitment to continuous learning.

As an associate, becoming an expert in a discrete area of the law may have been a ticket to success. As a partner, remaining an expert in just a single discrete area of the law may lead to a dead end.

Become a voracious reader and develop new areas of expertise in subjects where there are growth opportunities. The object is not merely to stay at the top of your game. The object is to understand how the rules of the game are changing, and how you need to position yourself to be a leader in the games to come.

And Remember To Have Fun

As always, your new partnership — and your career — will be what you make of it. I hope it fulfills your dreams. Have fun!

Alexandra Duran, an attorney, human resources professional and a licensed master of social work, is the founder of Career Transitioning, a consultancy dedicated to assisting organizations and individuals with workplace issues, helping them overcome obstacles to success so that they can achieve their goals.

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