The Real Deal

You know I just can’t resist listening in on conversations around me…so naturally while I was sitting in the salon the other night I was all ears. There were two women chatting right next to me, and I started hearing snippets like “tiered partnership” and “associate messaging.”  The two women were both equity partners in different law firms, and were discussing how an associate makes partner, and why the tiered system is a sham.

Despite the fact the partner track had worked for them, they were despairing of the system and the angst it incurred. I know this is very hard to believe, because usually everything’s so fair and all, but being a great lawyer/manager/mentor does not necessarily have anything to do with making partner.  Shhhh!  Don’t tell anyone who hasn’t caught on yet! Let’s protect the baby lawyers for as long as possible before the light bulb suddenly flashes over their heads.

For you civilians outside of legal, a tiered partnership is where any number of people have the partner title, but do not actually have an equity stake in the firm. They’re kind of fake partners, but most garden variety associates have no way of knowing whether someone is a Partner or just a partner. It’s confusing for the associates, because they frequently find themselves kissing the wrong butt. Politically, it’s a minefield. I’ve worked at firms that had tiered systems, and firms that didn’t, and the tiered firms tended to be a whole Charlie Foxtrot, if you know what I mean.

Here’s how it works-remember when we were in high school and everyone said that when we grew up it would be completely different? They either lied or were steeped in denial. Everything is pretty much the same.  For example, the kids who used to win over parents and teachers with just a smile and a sparkle in their eye?  We call them rainmakers now; their title is partner, but many of us know they are equity partners.

Rainmakers bring in the business, but then someone has to actually do the work.  Those are little worker bees, like the kids who used to work so hard on science fair projects.  They buzz around making honey for the rainmakers to sell in the village.  OK, so my metaphor went off kilter-what are you going to do, sue me?  I’m trying to make a point here.  Their title is partner, but many of us know they are mere income partners.

In analyzing the partnership system women tend to take a collaborative approach.  They’re not too worried about the size of their…umm, desk.  They see two sides of the same coin; without rainmakers there’s no one to sell the honey, and without worker bees, there’s no honey to sell.  These women were so brutally rational about how it could all work, and even suggested that (gasp!) the partner system should be more transparent to the associates.

You know I couldn’t help but to butt right into the conversation.  I told them I was a legal administrator, and they both gave me the kind of look that says hey, I bet your life sucks.  They treated me very delicately, like I could go postal at any moment, and suggested that my job seems to be very difficult.  Wow.  Someone noticed?

In the midst of a salon buzzing with activity, we bonded instantly.

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4 Responses to The Real Deal

  1. Glenda Raley says:

    Ha!!!! Especially loved this one Jill. : )

  2. mimijk says:

    I think discussions about the nuances of law firm structure should be forbidden when at the salon. I feel too vulnerable when looking my absolute worst with dripping hair and wrinkles in stark relief, to engage in conversations about systems that are designed to cut some people off at the knees. 😉

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