Your best friend and jogging buddy might make a terrible law partner, but a colleague with whom you share little in common could be a great fit.
And someone with a completely different skillset and approach to problem-solving might be the best of all.
Choosing a law partner is one of the most important decisions you’ll ever make – and the way you should go about doing it might surprise you.
“When you’re seeking to expand your law practice by forming a partnership, don’t confine yourself to a cookie-cutter replica of yourself,” advises this article in Special Counsel. “Sometimes, choosing the right law firm partner means selecting an unlikely candidate. You’ll want to certainly look for enough common ground to ensure compatibility—with a dash of difference to keep the relationship dynamic.”
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Up to 70 Percent of Partnerships Fail
The stakes are high. So is the risk. Statistics show that up to 70 percent of partnerships fail.
Not only that, but many law alliances eventually morph into partnerships in name only, where the lawyers practice in individual silos and have little to no interaction with each other, financially or otherwise. This is a risky way to run a business.
On the brighter side, practicing with a partner has lots of benefits. Expenses are shared and resources are pooled. Collaboration is encouraged, synergy occurs, and profits rise.
10 Pointers for Choosing the Right Partner
- Have a shared vision. What are your respective goals? Where do you see the practice in one year? Five years? Every lawyer has a different definition of success. The important thing is to find the common ground on which to begin building your dream.
- Be selective. Experts say choosing a business partner is like choosing a spouse. Don’t rush into it blindly. Ask tough questions. Take as much time as needed until everyone is comfortable. Be wary of lawyers who want to plunge into the marriage after the first date.
- Find a productive way to resolve conflicts. There will be times when you disagree. This is inevitable, and not necessarily a bad thing. The key is not taking things personally. Some lawyers set aside time – perhaps in off-site lunch sessions – to hash out differences.
- Look for a “third way.” Use your complementary skills, experiences and viewpoints to create a new entity that is greater than the sum of its parts, writes Tiffany Delmore for Entrepreneur.
- Seek varying levels of experience. “Veteran attorneys can offer guidance and mentoring to less experienced colleagues, while younger lawyers can help their older counterparts with Twitter, e-discovery or document-management software,” says Special Counsel.
- And varying areas of practice. “Competing for the same clients can put a strain on a business relationship, and a single specialty limits the firm’s appeal to prospective clients. Instead, consider broadening your firm’s range of specialties by partnering with an attorney in a different practice area or a group of lawyers with several distinct specialties.”
- Agree to make the same level of commitment. “In a partnership, you are dependent on the contributions of other partners,” writes Susan Ward for Small Business. “If they are unable or unwilling to make the same level of personal or financial sacrifices it will likely result in resentment and conflict.”
- Make sure at least one partner has business savvy. Many lawyers love practicing law but hate running a business. For a partnership to succeed, at least one member should have skills in accounting, HR, marketing and management. An alternative: bring in a non-lawyer who can handle this side of things.
- Have a mutual respect for ethics. Steer clear of prospective partners who take shortcuts or don’t place a premium on professional responsibility.
- Diversity is desirable. A law practice that reflects its community – in age, gender, race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status – will have a competitive advantage straight out of the blocks. “A diverse organization will out-think and out-perform a homogenous organization every single time,” says Proctor & Gamble CEO Arthur Lafley.
What criteria for choosing a partner would you add to this list?
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