How to ace your partner interview

Partner recruiting in general is a complex and lengthy process. It can take anywhere from a couple of months to over a year. At the core of the process are the interviews with prospective colleagues and leaders at other firms. In preparing a partner-level interview, you have to be able to present a compelling appraisal of yourself and your practice. To help partner-level candidates prepare, here are some key pointers.

Leadership and management style

Law firms are comprised of talented legal professionals, but only a few are chosen to ascend to partnership. Capable partners with distinct leadership and management styles can heavily impact a law firms’ business. Hence, you need to show any prospective new firm that your leadership experience/skills and management style are the right fit for them. Explain how you have taken a leadership role in your current firm or practice, where you might have demonstrated leadership, including in recruitment, associate development, firm administration, syndicating best practices for business development, etc. Also, don’t forget to highlight any specific accomplishments as leaders.

Partners’ management styles can impact the performance and productivity of associates or business teams by empowering their colleagues. You need to demonstrate how your management style can motivate and encourage associates to perform tasks eagerly, effectively, and efficiently. Your style may be collaborative, visionary, commanding, or mentor-mentee coaching; you need to be flexible and adapt your management style to suit the prospective firms and situations you are dealing with.

Character traits matter

Prospective law firms will look at more than just a book of business. Character traits matter when hiring a partner. Law firm recruiters assume all partner-level candidates are intelligent and capable. Hence, their goal is to assess your personality, find out what you are like as a person, and determine whether you have the right mix of personality traits to fit their prospective firm’s particular culture. So, do not leave your personality at the door during a partner interview. Let the interviewers see the real you.

Among other things, critical candidate qualities that law firms always look for are team spirit, ambition, good communication skills, self-motivation, and strong leadership.

Portable business delivery

If the size of your portable book of business is impressive, it will likely be broken down in detail during the interview. Although you will address it in your business plan, it will still be a major discussion point. When you address this topic, numbers should be presented with clarity and firmly backed up. Any uncertainty in this area will lead the interviewers to question your ability to bring in business.

It is easy to exaggerate portable business levels. Please note that firms will want to confirm as far as possible that yours are real and will expect targets to be hit accordingly. If you do not have a sizeable book of business, instead of artificially inflating the number perhaps you can discuss your major clients, how you have been able to build those relationships, and how confident you are that you will be able to extend those relationships to more lucrative effect from a new platform. 

Compensation expectations

Compensation expectations should be assessed fairly. Therefore, whenever you are asked about your compensation expectation, your answer should be fair and realistic. Ratios tend to hover around the 3:1 mark (projected billings: compensation).  Performance-related incentives are increasingly prevalent in compensation packages, especially in times of turbulent markets, so be honest with yourself about what you can achieve before committing to such an arrangement. Regardless of how impressive your traits, technical skills, or experience may be, billings are key. Firms will also put a lot of stock in what your current package is so being open and up-front early is on is worthwhile. Going through several rounds of interview only to discover that expectations on both sides are too far to bridge is a frustrating experience for all concerned.

Cultural fit

Think about how what you like and dislike about your current and previous firms’ cultures and assess what your priorities are for your next home, and what would terminate your interest. It’s sometimes difficult to bring up a firm’s working culture at interview as incumbent partners will want to sell the firm as well as they can whatever the reality, so it’s a good idea to do some due diligence on the culture of the firm. Talk to people who work there, consult the recruiter involved, or contact fellow law school alums for insight and information.

Have a firm grasp on any recent developments in your area

Partner candidates are bound to be tested in some way about their commercial awareness, both in an interview with partners and in how they present their business case. Therefore, make sure you have a good grasp of latest developments in legislation, changes in procedure, and market developments that could affect how you go about building business.

Firms will also see value in partner candidates for their personal brand, professional networking, articles they’ve written, panel talks, presentations, etc. Partners should show they are a strong collaborative and team-oriented subject matter expert with a solid understanding of their clients’ businesses and views about their sector’s future, such as any ‘hot’ or growth areas.

Anticipating the length of the interview process

A partner interview in general can last anything from 40 minutes to a couple of hours. An engaging discussion may well be extended by more representatives of the firm joining the interview, time and availability permitting. An organically developing conversation is often more productive and efficient than a series of shorter interviews where a lot of similar ground will be covered multiple times. Make sure you are well-rested and have plenty of energy (and ideally some flexibility for extending the interview) to take advantage of such an eventuality.

A successful partner-level interview relies on insightful responses, thoughtful and relevant questions, and thorough preparation and presentation of your capabilities, experience and personality. If you need any insider-guidance or advice on CV and business plan drafting, interview preparation, contract negotiation or market insight, we are delighted to offer our unrivalled expertise. Hughes-Castell has been a premier legal executive search firm since 1986 with a notable track record of partner placements in Asia.

Published by Hughes Castell

Asia's Premier Firm for Global Legal, Compliance, Risk and Regulatory Executive Search

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