Ed. note: This post is by Will Meyerhofer, a former Sullivan & Cromwell attorney turned psychotherapist. He holds degrees from Harvard, NYU Law, and The Hunter College School of Social Work, and he blogs at The People’s Therapist. His books — Still Way Worse Than Being A Dentist, Bad Therapist: A Romance, Way Worse Than Being A Dentist, and Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy (affiliate links) — are available on Amazon.
My client said her firm had, more or less, a checklist of what they wanted in a lawyer they made partner. And she had knocked herself out checking off every last damn item.
- Helped with firm marketing efforts (including hundreds of non-billable hours)?
- Worked with a variety of partners in various areas, including powerful group leaders and major rainmakers?
- Logged long hours — and billed those hours — including nights and weekends, producing top-quality written work that was universally praised?
- Cultivated positive relationships with existing clients, who produced enthusiastic feedback about her work?
- Worked on important matters in a variety of roles, including stuff like taking part in trials and depositions and handling matters relating to complicated, highly regulated industries?
- Brought in her own clients and began developing a meaningful book of business?
- Tackled meaningful pro bono work?
- Participated in events with summer associates and recruitment efforts?
- Supervised and mentored juniors and ran large teams on big cases?
- Anything else you can think of?
Other folks in her class, even junior partners at her firm, considered her promotion, at least to of counsel, to be a given. As one put it, “If not you, then who? You’re the dream associate, a superstar.”
The logic was simple: They have to promote someone, and if it’s anything even vaguely resembling the meritocracy they claim it is, she had to be that someone.
But no, as you might be guessing, that’s not how things worked out. They promoted no one.
After a year, or two, or (really) many years of “making the partnership sprint,” the firm told her she wasn’t up for anything — not partner, not of counsel, not senior attorney, nothing. At her review, she was informed she could remain at the firm, as an associate, for as long as she wanted. That’s what they were offering, in gratitude for years of devoted labor — more of the same.
Oh, and there was one more thing: They needed her to work late that night on an important, complicated filing due the next morning. (No, I’m not making that up.)