For those associates in Asia who strive to make partner at a US or UK law firm, the most powerful draw is where to make partner the soonest – as if whoever makes partner first finishes irrespective of the firm. Most of us know a number of associates who left their firms and chose the quickest path to partnership – in particular an immediate partnership position – over his or her other options that offered a lengthier track. The soonest wins the day.
In truth, titles do matter and there is value to making partner, though in almost every way that value is limited. What actually generates value is credibility, and as a partner at a major law firm that means having two things: (i) a very unique and very relevant skill set, and (ii) the ability to generate a well-priced, quality, and relevant deal flow.
As a midlevel or senior associate, aiming to maximize credibility rather than getting to partner quickest is the best rubric for deciding whether to stay at the current firm or choose an available alternative.
The corresponding questions are (i) which firm will best enable the associate to continue developing a unique and relevant skill set? And (ii), which firm is best positioned to develop a practice? Factors relevant here include the firm’s reputation in the marketplace, whether office management is on board to expand deal flow, the fit between the associate’s focus and the firm’s practice areas, and the presence of junior associates with the skills to support more senior associates.
These two sets of considerations should trump the issue of how quickly an associate makes partner. In and of itself, speed isn’t bad (though in some instances, making partner too early in one’s career could be costly and have an adverse effect). But of greater value is being a credible partner within one’s firm and externally in the marketplace. Credibility is the most important contributing factor to a successful career. The speed of track has limited bearing.