Service Partners: Avoid Becoming a “Sitting Duck”

“All that’s left is service partners,” was how the managing partner of a successful law firm described the continued demise of another brand name firm. This got me thinking…

Over the years, I’ve seen so many law firm business development professionals try to motivate lawyers to market. I’ve seen an equal number of law firms pressure their attorneys to segue from being a service partner to a rainmaker— even a mistmaker. However, I’d never heard a successful lawyer make such a strong case for wanting to get out of the service partner category.

In effect, he was saying that the attorneys who had built a book of business and could get out, had gotten out. Indeed, the rainmakers, able to control their own destiny, as opposed to having it controlled by others, had hightailed it out of the firm. Those remaining (AKA service providers), were basically just waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Unfortunate but true, service partners do not command the same respect as rainmakers. While firms need both to survive, when rainmakers leave a firm, service partners become sitting ducks. With no book of business and slim odds that service partners will magically transform into rainmakers overnight, the firm struggles to survive. Therein lies the danger for both the firm and those left to shut the lights out.

The managing partner’s comment about only service partners remaining in a dying firm certainly underscores just how necessary it is for attorneys to have some of their own clients. Sure, it requires some elbow grease, and it will require consistency and a time investment, but frankly, it’s not optional.

Take comfort though, as almost every lawyer can develop business, if they decide to do so; however, it will take time, and panicking over job insecurity won’t help. So, it’s crucial to start taking the steps now to safeguard your ability to control your future.

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