I confess. In my time, I have been a ‘problem partner’, as described by the contributors to Jonathan Rayner’s article (‘How to deal with problem partners’). I am proud of it.
What the article fails to recognise is that the traditional collegiate partnership model is deeply flawed. If you are not careful, it is no more than a vanity trap destined to suck you in, chew you up and spit you out.
You make partner in your early 30s. Overnight, you move from being spoon-fed clients and minded by your senior partner mentor, to being expected to build your own practice and to eat what you kill.
From 35 to 45, you play the game by converting friends and contacts into profitable clients. These are your golden years, in which your contemporaries in the outside world are climbing their own career ladders and taking you with them.
You acquire new business and build a team of talented younger lawyers around you. As the work rolls in, you refer more to others in the firm whom you train and encourage to get close to your clients.
Around the age of 40, you are approached and praised for doing such a good job that you should share your expertise in business development and invest some of your time managing your department or practice area for the greater good of the firm.
You are flattered. Your firm’s remuneration policy may never have paid you enough, but to be rewarded and judged a success by your peer group – what could be better than that? So, your vanity and arrogance get the better of you and you succumb to the flattery. Now you are spending a third of your time away from your clients.
If you are successful at department level, you may be offered a bigger role at firm level. While basking in the glory of these internal promotions, your hard-won clients are seeing less of you and becoming closer to the people you referred them to.
So, you wake up aged 45 and realise that your clients don’t rely on you like they used to. You have a stark choice. Are you going to take the 100-1 chance of making it to managing partner by 50, or are you going to struggle on and hope that you are not going to land up on Ronnie Fox’s psychotherapist’s couch?
So, many of the things that mark you out as a ‘problem partner’ are actually the things that are most likely to help you survive. It is a tough world and billing is still power in today’s law firms. Few (if any) managing partners are going to risk sacking their best rainmakers, despite what the article suggests.
Am I right? How many fully active partners over 50 do you know in big firms today?
And me? Well, I was managing partner of two City firms and then left at 50 to set up my own real estate business. I should have done it years ago. Oh, and no, I never sacked a rainmaker.
Christopher Digby-Bell, London W1