Want to make partner? Don’t get stuck on Apple vs. Samsung


September 27, 2018
If top litigators today were in the shoes of their associates, how would they start from scratch?

In April, Legalist hosted our inaugural Rainmaker Academy, where over 30 BigLaw associates from Duane Morris, Quinn Emanuel, and other firms all over San Francisco came and learned about what it takes to build a book of business — and make partner at their firm. Dan Berkley from Fox Rothschild, John Pierce from Pierce Bainbridge, and Curtis Smolar, General Counsel at Legalist, presented on what they would do — if they had to do it over again.

Here were some of the biggest learnings from associates who were at the event:

  • Do not get stuck on Apple vs. Samsung: As an associate at an Am Law 200 firm, you have limited power over what case you work on. If you get stuck on a multi-year litigation between two major companies, you will be forever stuck doing the grunt work, researching legal minutiae, and filing meaningless briefs. You’ll never get the chance to go to court, try cases, or build your book of business. Do not get stuck on a case like that, whether it’s Mattel vs. MGA (the infamous Bratz case) or Apple vs. Samsung. You’re unlikely to come out partner.

(At the in-person event, when this tidbit was shared, one associate looked up from her notes in despair. “I’m staffed on Apple vs. Samsung right now.”)

  • Cross-sell your firm: The downside to being at a big firm is that it’s difficult to differentiate yourself and build your brand. The upside to being at a big firm is that you don’t have to be differentiated to bring in business. Instead of selling yourself as a litigator when you’ve only second-chaired one trial, bring in clients by touting the M&A and the tax planning divisions of your firm. All of that counts towards revenue that you brought in, even though you aren’t directly doing the work.
  • You first, firm second: At the end of the day, the best way to build your client base is to get out there to industry conferences, trade events, client meet-ups and talk to people. When you do, bring something that they’ll remember you by. Dan Berkley passed around a small notepad that he has been handing out as a freebie at conferences for years. “Notice how large the words Dan Berkley are,” he pointed out to the room, “And how small Fox Rothschild is. That’s intentional. That’s how it should be.”

But here at Legalist, we had a couple different learnings:

  • Associates all want to make partner. Nobody tells them how. Every single speaker at the event lamented that nobody spent time training associates how to bring in business. Law school, being an associate, and being a partner are like football, basketball, and soccer. The skills don’t translate over.
  • Partners have some craaazy biz dev stories, and some of them deserve to be shared with the world. Dan Berkley once spent two nights sleeping in a teepee with the General Counsel of an American Indian tribe. That’s commitment to business development. Unsurprisingly, he got a lifelong clientThat’s why we decided to launch Rainmaker Podcast, a podcast series where we interview top lawyers from around the country on how they made partner.

It’s free, it’s everywhere, and new episodes come out every week. We’ve got episodes lined up with partners at every single Am Law 200 firm. Did you hear that? Every single one.

If you want to make partner, you don’t want to miss this. You can now listen to the first three episodes of Rainmaker online. Look for Rainmaker on Itunes, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. Don’t forget to leave us a rating and a review if you find it useful.

Just a warning: it’s all tough love, especially if you’re staffed on Apple vs. Samsung.