How to Deal with Not Making Partner: Reader Advice

how to deal with not making partnerReaders who have been there: What’s your advice to other attorneys on how to deal with not making partner? Reader E recently asked:

I was wondering if you could do a post on not making partner. I’m a sixth year at a large firm, and while I’m not being pushed out the door, my understanding is that partnership is not in the cards, either. On the one hand, this is okay. I never really wanted to make partner, and I can’t say I’m passionate about my job. On the other, ouch! I’ve seen posts about this in the comments, and I thought it might be nice to round them up in one place.

Great idea, Reader E. We haven’t devoted a post to the situation of not making partner, so let’s talk about it today. Here’s one way to look at a situation like this: When this happens to you, you may feel like you’re hanging by a thread — without anyone out there ready to catch you — but really, it can be the beginning of a great new adventure (and in fact it’s part of the adventure … just not the one you had anticipated or hoped for). As one Corporette reader once wrote in response to a young attorney who was worried about her low hours, “The firm that didn’t like me just wasn’t a good personality fit for me. At the time it was really demoralizing, but being pushed out of that firm was the best thing for my career because I found my wheelhouse at the next place.”

We’ve searched our comment threads and have found a good number of discussions about not making partner, deciding whether you even want to be partner, feeling like you’re getting pushed out at your firm, and regretting related career decisions you’ve made (or currently making decisions that may affect your chances to make partner). Do you remember, or have you bookmarked, other helpful comment threads along these lines? If this has happened to you, what advice did you receive from friends and colleagues on how to deal with not making partner? 

Here are some of the best reader discussions and advice:

  • I’ve just been told that I’m not making partner and that I need to find a new job by the middle of next year.” [threadjack] 
  • “It’s hard to see that peers made partner when I didn’t. They are getting to do the work I want and making millions and I’m … not. [threadjack]
  • “I did all the things I was supposed to do and didn’t make partner and couldn’t get in anywhere else. All I can think about my prior life is that it was a waste of time that got me a dead-end job.” [threadjack]
  • How do you know when it is time to leave your biglaw firm for another firm? Is it OK to lateral as a 5th or 6th year?” [threadjack]
  • “I didn’t make partner and got pushed out. Anyone know a recruiter that would work with me to find a smaller/boutique/growing firm?[threadjack] (Here’s an answer from another reader.)
  • I have a good shot at making partner. Would it ruin my chances if I have another kid in my 8th year?[threadjack]
  • “Experience-wise, I qualify as Counsel at my new potential firm. But my title at the current firm is Senior Associate. Any hope that I can negotiate to come in as Counsel instead of SA?[threadjack]
  • “I’m a fourth-year litigator and my firm wants me to do a secondment at a client that is located in the suburbs. My gut instinct was, they’re trying to push me out.” [threadjack]
  • “Can you think of any female lawyers at your firms who are grandmothers? Or who have kids in college? Or who have kids in high school?[threadjack]
  • “Seeing other people with dream homes upsets me and made me regret my decision to go in-house.” [threadjack]
  • “I am a very junior corporate biglaw associate. What’s the longest they’ll let me stay here if I keep doing good work but never make my hours, or even really come close? While I like the work, I’d like to have more children and would then probably stay at home.” [threadjack] 
  • “I’m having a really hard time envisioning a job post-biglaw, but I want to get out in the next year. I feel like I’m just treading water, waiting to be pushed out so that I’m forced to make a decision. I really want to leave before it gets to that point, and I’ve heard that once you’re a 6th year you become less marketable.[threadjack]
  • “I’ve been told I will make partner next year. I’m not sure it’s what I want, and I’m not sure what to say when colleagues ask me if I want to make partner. Should I just suck it up and lie until I am less conflicted about what I want to do with my career?” [threadjack]

If you were passed over for partnership (or pushed out at an earlier stage because it was clear you wouldn’t make partner), how did you feel about it THEN, and how do you feel about it now? If you could go back and do it all over, what would you do the same vs. differently? If you could go back in time, what would you tell yourself?

Pictured: Shutterstock / Photobac.We rounded up some of our best advice on how to deal with not making partner, including advice from people who were passed over, pushed out, and otherwise feeling regret and anger about not getting partnership at their law firm. LOTS of great advice from the Corporette readers for lawyers or others in "up or out" partnerships and workplaces.

Comments

  1. Anonymous :

    When I was a fourth year my mentor/sponsor partner/main source of work left the firm suddenly to become a judge. I was devastated and blindsided. I was also naïve, because I assumed I could find another sponsor and source of work and still make partner. I was wrong. By the time sixth year rolled around, the firm made it clear that I wasn’t going to be put up for partnership. “We just don’t see your business case.” I billed a lot of hours and had great reviews, but I didn’t have a source of work/sponsor that would justify promoting me to partner. Everyone else left in my class had really strong relationships with senior partners that had been blooming/growing since we were second years – I couldn’t catch up.

    I asked how long I had and the firm said as long as I kept my billables high I could stay “as long as you want.” But my pride was wounded and I didn’t want to stick around any longer than I had to. I started looking for other jobs to see what was out there and couldn’t get over the pay cut I would take. I did not want to lateral – I decided to take this as a sign from the universe that I should switch gears and go in house. After looking for about a year (and being a bit picky), I found an amazing in-house litigation job in the middle of my seventh year. While it stings to not get a bonus this year, and I know it will sting when other members of my class make partner next fall, I am SO MUCH HAPPIER. The paycut was hard for our family – start saving now! I wish I had lived on half of my biglaw salary and saved a lot more over the past year. But my quality of life is greatly improved and I’m so glad I made the switch. It turned out to be an incredible blessing in disguise. The pain is real though, I know. Hugs.

  2. Now I want to know where that climbing photo was taken. Looks fantastic.

  3. Not Sure About Partnership :

    I am a senior associate and will be up for partner sometime in the next few years. But it isn’t something I want. I am more interested in Counsel, or even just remaining an associate. I have communicated this to my mentor, and another partner I work with and trust, but they don’t really listen and just try to convince me I should want to be partner. There is a counsel track at my firm, and I feel frustrated that option doesn’t seem to be open to me or I am at least being discouraged from it. I am not sure what to do in the next few years-keep pushing for counsel, or just aim for partner even if I don’t want it?

  4. I moved out of biglaw this year, as a 6th year. I’m at a boutique now. Same quality of work, better hours, better opportunities, better mentoring, more transparent. It’s a small firm, so they’re all invested in seeing me succeed. The difference is incredible – I’m much happier here! Sometimes hard messages lead to new opportunities.

    Some thoughts based on my experience: It took a while for me to find a good recruiter (one who LISTENS to you, not one who just tries to match you with whatever jobs are on their desk). Also, I got a surprising amount of support from partners once I told them I was looking (usual caveats there – only folks you trust). So, I’d ask – What kinds of positions do they see you excelling in? Do they know of any openings in house at clients? (They should WANT to place you there because it’s good for the client relationship.) Partners will have a network too.

  5. I was pushed out from my BigLaw litigation group as a sixth year. I never wanted to make partner and hadn’t expected to stay at BigLaw that long, so it wasn’t a surprise. That being said, it stung and I was embarrassed and shaken because even if I didn’t want that job, I wanted the firm to think that I could/should do it.

    Three years later, I’m so much happier with my career and my hours, though my pay isn’t quite as good. And the more I speak with friends of mine who did stay and make partner, the more I’m glad that I didn’t try it because it wasn’t a good fit for me. My current job is a much better fit; I’m respected and well-liked and I’ve been promoted twice since coming here.

    • Do you mind saying where you ended up? Smaller firm, government, in-house?

      I sent in this question a few months ago when the news was still fairly fresh. I haven’t landed in my next job yet, but I am exploring many options and feel less shaken than I did a few months ago. Like you, I didn’t really want it, so coming to terms with that part of it has been easy – but I still wanted the firm to think I could do it.

      Thanks to Kat and Kate for publishing my question! The roundup of reader comments was really helpful.

      • Glad it was helpful to you! Best of luck — and thanks for reading!

      • I ended up at a self-regulatory organization. And until I got into this world, I wasn’t really aware of how many SROs there are and how robust some of their legal departments are.

        I thought I wanted to be in house, and tried for some of those jobs, but didn’t make it past the interview stage. I took my current job thinking that I would do it for a few years and then go in-house. I may still do that eventually, but for the moment I’m staying where I am.

        • Also, I want to concur with some of the other responses: use every resource your firm will give you and ask for more things if you want them. My firm gave me a few sessions with a legal placement counselor, who helped me re-vamp my resume and cover letter. Since the partners in my group knew of my situation, I could be open about trolling their LinkedIn or other contacts for help with job leads and also had a frank discussion about which partners gave the best references. Anything else that the firm has or can get you should ask for.

          • Thank you. My mentor has had similar conversations with me about asking for resources and helped me get some sessions with an outplacement counselor, which has been helpful. I may start pushing on partners besides my mentor for networking assistance.

  6. anon for this :

    Year 7 I was told I wasn’t going to make partner at BigLaw firm I was with. Lots of reasons, including my #metoo groper of several years before (and I’d complained) becoming a member of the firm’s executive board. (No, no one said this, but let’s be real.) They weren’t going to show me the door, but they weren’t going to make me partner. I’d already begun to put feelers out when my groper joined the executive board.

    I stayed for another year while I looked for work and finally found a position that fits me perfectly. It was very stressful and scary, but worked out. I’m much happier. Good luck! You will find a position where you are valued. Great thing? You can be less secretive about your job hunt. I told 4 trusted partners I was working with that I wanted to leave and they tried to make my landing out of the nest as soft as possible. Recommendations, friendly phone calls on my behalf, etc.

  7. Anonymous :

    When this happened to me, I worked with a coach. She helped me work on evaluating my values, thinking about what I really wanted (which was obviously not to be partner, but it was only obvious once I worked with her and worked through the exercises she gave me), and ultimately helped me figure out what I really wanted. She also helped me prepare for interviews for those. I ended up in a job she helped me land, and I am much, much happier. (And since she wasn’t a recruiter, I was cheaper for my new employer to hire.)

    If you are floundering and not sure what to do next, I would recommend considering a coach who knows the legal landscape. It was expensive, but cost much less when I think about how much happier I am so far in my new job and it was really only a week(ish) of my old salary.

  8. Alanna of Trebond :

    Can we also talk about the opposite question — i.e., what to do if you want to make partner?

    • This is a great question. You must work your tuchus off and not be afraid to keep your thought’s to yourself, even when you know better. I had NO chance to get a job in BIGLAW, b/c I was not in the top 1/2 of my class, and then b/c I was cute, most firms just thought I wanted to work there long enough to find a rich guy to marry me. As a result, I only got a job serveing subpeenies at a dumpy firm in NYC. But then, fate hit and I stumbeled into the manageing partner at the firm I would eventueally get a job at. I learned NOT to be to assertive, and listened and followed the advise of the manageing partner, who took me under his wing, like I was his OWN daughter. So if you are lucky enough to get a brake like I did, you should NOT forsake it and you should grab and hold on for dear life. It is now 9 years since I became a legal council, and even though I am billing SOOOOO many hours, I am saveing for the future, living in a nice apartement, and still hopeing that I can find a guy who can give me a child. This is what I recomend. It may not be for all, but it worked for me (other then the man thing, who has yet to materialize. If there were ONLEY a guy who wants to do more then mereley have me take my panties off for him, I would literally have everything I want. Best of luck to you! YAY!!!!

    • If you are interested in making partner, you should find out whether there is a buy-in and approximately what it is. Some firms might make a partner pay ~$50k to join the partnership, but sometimes the buy-in at a firm can be outrageous. At the patent prosecution firm where I worked, the buy-in one year was $750k. The firm would loan you the money upfront, and you’d pay it back over 10 years. The money was supposed to incentivize the partners to bring on some one new that did not yet have a book of business. I thought that was CRAZY. Who would take on that kind of risk just to make partner?? What a bizarre pyramid scheme. Imagine finding that out after 6-7 years at a firm. I’m so glad I left.

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