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Smaller and Mid-Size Law Firms Need
Clearly Defined Criteria for Partnership  

John Remsen, Jr.


On May 9th, we presented  The MPF 2013 Leadership Conference in Atlanta. During the Conference’s opening session, we deployed audience polling technology to survey more than 75 managing partners – mostly from mid-size law firms – on a series of questions important to leading a successful law firm.

Among the questions we asked was:

“Has your firm clearly defined the criteria to become an equity (and/or non-equity) partner of the firm?”

And the response was surprising, as fully 43% of respondents said that they have no written standards for achieving and maintaining partnership at their firms. On the other hand, 17% said they had the criteria clearly spelled out in writing, and that they follow them religiously.

Here’s the complete breakdown of resonses to the question: 


The MPF Perspective  

A lack of written criteria can (and often does) create serious problems among firm members. Associates become frustrated when they don’t understand why they are not offered partnership. Conflict can break out among partners who might believe that another partner is not pulling his or her weight. That partner, meanwhile, may have a completely different idea of what “pulling his weight” means – because there are no clearly defined standards.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, nearly 1 in 5 managing partners said their firms have written criteria and that they follow them religiously. This strict adherence can also create issues when dealing with lawyers who contribute to the firm in many meaningful and important ways, but fall short in one or two areas.

Perhaps the best approach is exercised by those firms that have written criteria serving as important guidelines, but that retain flexibility to bend the rules, on a case-by-case basis, for those lawyers who bring many contributions to the table but might not meet every single criterion to the letter. Importantly, we believe that exceptions should be rare and not the norm.

Putting your firm’s criteria for partnership in writing helps eliminate ambiguity, uncertainty, and the resentment that is caused by perceived injustice. Click here to see a sample set of guidelines developed by TheRemsenGroup that can be used as a model for your firm.

Achieving partnership is a significant career milestone, and failing to provide clear standards is asking for trouble. If your firm doesn’t yet have written, clearly defined standards for achieving partnership, we highly recommend that you address this issue immediately. It will likely save you and your partners numerous headaches down the road.

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About the Author  

John Remsen, Jr. is President and CEO of The Managing Partner Forum, the country’s premiere resource for managing partners and law firm leaders. He is also President of TheRemsenGroup, one of the country’s leading consulting firms for mid-size law firms. John was recently admitted as a fellow in the College of Law Practice Management and can be reached at 404.885.9100 or

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