I Don’t Want to Make Partner


QI’m a third-year litigation associate who, for my first two years, did a lot of bankruptcy work. I’m not so sure I want to be a partner, but I also don’t want to have to leave the firm. I hear that Special Counsel is a decent gig, though for most associates gunning for partner, I understand it’s a pretty crappy consolation prize. For that reason, I’m a little loathe to ask current special counsel at my firm how they “got” their position.

AI’m a little confused. You’re not sure you want to gun for partner and you think being a Special Counsel is a crappy consolation prize . . . but you don’t want to leave the firm. Let me attempt to translate: you want to make partner, but you don’t think you will, and you’re not sure if being a special counsel is totally lame.

Assuming that’s your question, my answer is that it’s up to you. For some people, being a special counsel is the perfect job. You don’t have lots of client accountability and responsibility, yet you get to practice law at a fairly sophisticated level. You’re a valued, specialized “permanent associate.” If your ego can handle that (and you’re okay making 50% less than equity partners), it’s a great job. If you can’t, it’s the worst gig in the world.

PS: There’s really no need to ask your special counsel cronies how they “got” their position because the answer is always the same.  They got passed over for partner.

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Ex-Bitter is a former big firm lawyer who now doles out advice to anyone who asks. Got a question? Email it to advice@bitterlawyer.com. Or read more Advice from an Ex-Bitter.

11 Comments

  1. Al Dickman

    October 27, 2008 at 2:45 am

    Good advice!  For once, I don’t have a lot to add.  I would just tell this jerk that he should do his best to make partner, as long as he’s working his cohones off, because it’s only the partners who have respect, not the special counsels (or “permanent associates” as they’re known in my firm.  The special counsels don’t get alot of attention from the support staff, either.

  2. David

    October 27, 2008 at 7:31 am

    Also, the best way to ensure a special counsel position is to gun for partner and not make it.  As soon as you are publicly not gunning, you are viewed “differently”.

  3. Current BitterComment:

    October 28, 2008 at 6:22 am

    Ex Bitter didn’t read very carefully.  The poster didn’t say s/he thinks special counsel is a crappy consolation prize, s/he said it’s a crappy consolation prize FOR MOST ASSOCIATES GUNNING FOR PARTNER, which s/he specifically disclaimed.  If you’re going to give an unhelpful response, at least make it fit the facts.

  4. Peter Pekarino

    October 28, 2008 at 9:20 am

    These guys got their position by being good enough to be “kept”, but not as partners.  They get to work steady, at a great price (9th level associate + semi-regular hours).  They don’t get to claim they are partners, but they become “old school” over time, hob-knobbing with the partners more than with the ever younger associates.  It’s not a bad gig for $350K a year, particularly when you consider the alternative is to work in house for maybe $200K.

  5. Questioner

    October 28, 2008 at 12:11 pm

    Your translation is wrong (and a prior poster got it right). I’d rather NOT gun for partner. I understand, however, your advice that perhaps the best way to get what I want (i.e. special counsel) is to gun for partner but get passed over. Tough balancing act though …

  6. Questioner

    October 28, 2008 at 12:13 pm

    Oh, and Al Dickman, you’re the jerk. Believe it or not, not everyone wants to make partner. And believe it or not, even special counsel can get respect. D-bag.

  7. Al Dickman

    October 28, 2008 at 1:09 pm

    Yea, putz, I’m the guy that everyone loves to hate; makes partner, gets the hot test chick, homes in Bel Air and Palm Desert, –keep dreaming loser.. Envy will get you no where.

  8. Anonymous

    October 28, 2008 at 1:58 pm

    Hey Current Bitter Poster… I think Ex Bitter got it right—the person writing in never said he/she wanted to be a special counsel.  Is unclear in question what he/she really wants.  Think ExBitter addressed confusion in answer.  My two cents anyway….

  9. Questioner

    October 29, 2008 at 1:48 pm

    No – Current Bitter got it right. I *DO* want a special counsel position. How do position myself at the firm, so I can get it?

  10. David

    October 30, 2008 at 10:55 am

    Again, the best way to ensure a special counsel position is to gun for partner and not make it. As soon as you are publicly not gunning, you are viewed “differently”–as not having the drive, balls (eggs), whatever.  You want folks (partners) to think you have the legal chops and are a valuable asset, but that it just didn’t work out for you.

  11. Frank

    May 4, 2012 at 7:00 pm

    I agree with Dickman. It sounds like he is a success.

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