By Carmen Germaine

Law360, New York (November 4, 2015, 11:30 PM ET)

You slogged through years of school, put in your time as an underling associate and finally reached the top of the dog pile as a partner — but it turns out it’s not all milk and honey in the upper echelon.

Ready to finally turn their attention to winning cases and making big deals for clients, newly named partners quickly find there’s more to a partnership than being just a good lawyer. There’s more than a few things even experienced attorneys wish didn’t come with the corner office — not that they’re anxious to trade their spacious digs for another turn in the trenches.

Here, Law360 takes a look at the five things partners hate about their jobs:

Rainmaking

Back in the day, bringing in clients was the job of a select few partners, and once reeled in, those clients tended to stick around. But as firms grow and economic uncertainty seems to be a permanent fixture of the marketplace, more firms are requiring every partner to lend a hand collecting business.

This increased emphasis on originating clients is a major source of stress for many partners, who are often untrained in the art of rainmaking, according to Barbara Mayden of the legal search and consulting firm Young Mayden LLC.

That is a completely different skill set than many lawyers were drawing on when they decided to be lawyers in the first place,” Mayden said.

Dr. Larry Richard, founder of consulting firm LawyerBrain LLC, also said that bringing in clients is one task many partners would rather do without. He cited personality data from LawyerBrain’s psychological research showing that only about 20 percent of attorneys are suited to rainmaking.

That means eight out of 10 partners are in varying degrees in their discomfort zone,” Richard said. “Most partners are not delighted that they have to go out and bring in business.”

According to Mayden, part of the stress of attracting clients comes from how firms compensate partners for the work, which she said often leads to disputes over who should get the credit for a particular deal.

That struggle for credit, Mayden said, involves internal competition that can sour a firm’s atmosphere. She warned it can also end up penalizing female partners who may be less vocal about claiming credit for the rainmaking they’ve done.

It’s a fact of life, rainmaking,” Mayden said, “but the question is: How do you deal with that in terms of comp and in terms of making it a reward if it’s somebody’s strong suit, but not penalizing someone who’s quieter?”

Client Maintenance

The stress doesn’t stop once the client is in the door — as the market becomes increasingly competitive, partners now have to do more work to eke as much out of their client relationships for the firm as possible when they’d rather be focusing on the actual work they’re doing for the client.

Everybody’s realizing that if you’re not marketing to your client on a regular basis, somebody else is,” said Michael Rynowecer, president of The BTI Consulting Group Inc.

One way firms now expect partners to market to their clients is to cross-sell, convincing a client they represent in one area to consider using the firm for another service. As Rynowecer explained, cross-marketing the firm is similar to rainmaking in that many attorneys are often in unfamiliar and uncomfortable territory.

There are numerous people who are uncomfortable asking people for business or asking people for money,” Rynowecer said.

Adding pressure to the equation is that partners then have to rely on their colleagues to maintain the same standards of excellence with the client, lest they undermine existing relationships, Rynowecer said.

But even keeping clients on board is now a headache for many partners, experts said, as they are increasingly aggressive in negotiating rates — something many partners especially dislike.

Mayden attributed the new focus on rate negotiation to what she termed a “precipitous decline” in the so-called institutional clients that stick with a firm for decades, saying that many clients now shop around and vocally protest at what they view as unfair rate increases.

It’s a source of pressure and a source of unhappiness,” she said, adding it’s a particular issue at smaller or more focused firms that are rate-sensitive. In many cases, she said, partners must make a hard choice between pushing work to associates with lower billing rates or decamping to a firm that will charge clients less.

Mayden recounted moving from a New York firm to a practice in Nashville, Tennessee, and telling clients, “I’m going with a first-rate firm in Nashville and I’m going to be charging you half the rate I was charging you in New York, but they didn’t suck up half my brains.”

They said that sounds pretty good,” she recalled.

Rynowecer suggested that firms could train partners on how to negotiate in order to alleviate some of the unpleasantness.

It’s kind of ironic,” he said. “Partners are highly trained on how to negotiate on their client’s behalf, but the skills of how to negotiate on their own behalf are different.”

Big Firm, Byzantine Management

Attorneys who’ve been named partner and taken an ownership role in the firm expect to have a say in the management. But as firms swell their ranks, there can be too many cooks in the kitchen, preventing partners from taking an active role in managing the firm and increasing the time it takes to make important firm decisions.

Partners hate the time it takes to make some decisions,” Rynowecer said.

He added that partners are frequently frustrated when other partners are not as responsive as they are to firm questions or requirements, slowing the process down.

It’s a double-edged sword,” he said. “Everybody wants to be involved; very few people want to wait around.”

As more attorneys want to be involved, it also becomes more difficult for partners to have a voice on important decisions. Richard said that many partners, especially at larger firms, feel they’re less involved in big decisions than their position entitles them to be.

I think lawyers want to have a say in things. They want to weigh in,” Richard said. “I’ve seen firms where the partners feel entitled to insert themselves on decisions like what color should we paint the lounge, should we get Tylenol or Advil in the kitchen.”

Partners who want to be involved in the firm’s management often feel out of the loop on how those decisions are made, especially at larger firms where much of the day-to-day details are left to administrators, Mayden said.

There are some people who feel that it’s a bureaucracy, and they really have a hard time with the decision-making process,” she said.

But she he also noted that she’s seen many partners moving to large firms who are glad to no longer have to deal with every little administrative detail.

You can call it bureaucracy; you can also call it having help,” Mayden said.

Nonbillables

Really, what partners hate most is anything that takes them away from practicing law, experts said. In today’s law firm, partners are often required to mentor young associates, contribute to committees and help build the firm’s brand, all nonbillable work that distracts them from focusing on winning cases and helping clients.

According to Richard, many partners particularly dislike having to take on leadership or management roles that require strong relationship skills and play outside of their strengths.

Lawyers are very low on a trait called sociability,” Richard said. “They don’t like anything that they declare to be touchy-feely. They’d rather deal with their intellect than their emotions.”

He said that partners are typically used to a sense of mastery in their chosen field of law and can be thrown off by other responsibilities such as participating in hiring decisions or giving feedback to colleagues. Lawyers, naturally skeptical, are quick to question the value of any request that takes them away from their work, Richard added.

Mayden said that at some firms, the nonbillable work, such as mentoring or sitting on firm committees, can also be unfairly balanced among partners as some focus on rainmaking and are compensated accordingly while others spend their time on committees.

She warned in particular that a disproportionate number of female partners find themselves stuck on committees, limiting the time they can spend attracting clients and perhaps affecting their pay as a result.

I believe that the best system is where you get comp credit for mentoring and being on the associate comp committee, et cetera,” Mayden said.

Rynowecer also said that partners in particular hate not being busy with work for clients.

If they’re not billing their hours, they just hate that,” he said. “It makes them uncomfortable in so many dimensions.”

Ch-Ch-Changes

As the economy continues to churn forward after the recession, partners increasingly face a stressful amount of uncertainty — not knowing whether their industry will change, whether their firm will merge and whether their clients will still be there the next day.

That uncertainty is often especially difficult for lawyers, Richard said, explaining that attorneys are “basically change-averse people.”

They like to know what side their bread is buttered on,” he said. “They’re paid to eliminate ambiguity.”

If partners are more involved in the operation of the firm, that makes them more exposed to the shifting sands of the legal profession as they become more accountable for keeping clients on board or finding new talent.

Richard posited that partners in large firms are especially vulnerable to change and uncertainty, saying bigger firms are inherently uncertain because of the difficulty partners face in forging relationships across the firm.

It’s group dynamics 101,” Richard said. “The fewer connections I have, the more stress there is.”

Mayden recalled one partner who moved to a firm with less emphasis on bringing in clients, even though he was a skilled rainmaker, because he said attorneys at the new firm had better relationships with their colleagues.

Sure enough, if you walk down the hall, people are really happy at that firm,” she said.

At the same time, she said, many partners want to know that they’ll be rewarded for bringing in work and dislike the uncertainty of firms that downplay rainmaking when compensating their partners.

In the end, Mayden emphasized, what’s good for one attorney might be loathed by another. Each firm is unique, and the responsibilities they give to partners differ accordingly, she explained.

Firms are very different, so it takes a lot of thought and a lot of time to figure out what’s the best match,” she said. 

Mayden said ultimately, despite the general unhappiness with rainmaking, the partners she’s seen to be most content with their jobs are the ones who have the most control over their clients and don’t have to deal with other lawyers in the firm to get business.

Partners who are the happiest are partners who control their own lives,” Mayden said. “The real key to the kingdom is having your own clients and running those cases.”

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Originally posted here