Finding the right business partner for your new law firm

by Marketing May 27, 2021

A good partner is hard to find, but invaluable

Finding an ideal business partner is not like finding a friend or a spouse. Some of the qualities in a business partnership are like a friendship but they're translated into a business framework.

They aren't always close personal bonds, but they require a strong ability to work together and a fundamental understanding of goals and vision. If you're looking to start a practice with a fellow lawyer, here are some qualities worth looking for. 

You should already have an established working relationship 

The best business partners have a long history of working together, so they have common understandings and each recognise how the other works. The closer they've worked together, the better. If you get too excited about a business idea and form a legal partnership too quickly you'll likely find unexpected and fatal disagreements that you haven't considered which you won't have a tried and true means of resolving.

Have a shared understanding of corporate climate and vision

Things like business plans and corporate climate challenges have to be resolved between partners so they share a common vision. Often people in business pay little heed to the intangibles of business, thinking they aren't important and that they can be worked out as they pop up.

However, many business partnerships become inoperable because partners start working at cross-purposes. If you have different view points on business culture or values then disagreements can cause inconsistencies, small conspiracies and destructive groupings in the team. You may disagree about how the business fits into the legal community and into your client or customer population which then creates inconsistencies in the way the company operates.

Ensure that you have a common understanding of where the practice is going and how it will be run before you start out to avoid arguments down the road and improve your chances of running a profitable firm. 

Must be able to discuss the hard matters

You cannot be reluctant to have tough conversations with your partner. You must be able to discuss money, equity issues, the structure of profits, the division of responsibility, and investment. Many partnerships skip over uncomfortable topics until they become crucial and create maximum stress and division. You or your partner may begin pushing for an unfair division of assets, which will diminish the participation of the other over time. 

Accept and embrace the natural role differences

Partners must recognise the business personalities they represent and make appropriate adjustments in the roles they play. You'll never play the exact same role as your partner, nor should you. Almost all partnerships devolve into a division of labour. For example, your partner becomes the visionary leader and you may be the one who gets things done on a daily basis.

From this recognition, a certain tacit idea should arise about which partner will have the final say to resolve disputes, who will be a kind of first among equals. In some partnerships departmentalism eventually evolves, so that in one kind of decision, one partner prevails, in another kind of decision, the other partner prevails. Understand these roles early on and your chances of success will greatly increase. 

Partners must be able to adjust to differences in lifestyle and obligation

Partners have to be able to recognise and make allowances for the real circumstances each lives in. You may have to devote more time to family than them. One partner may be more financially flexible than the other. Unless these inequities are recognised and appropriate adjustments are made in advance, they may create tension that can cause issues in the partnership. 

Look for someone who has compatible additive skills

Choosing partners often means looking for people whose training and skills complement one another. Often when people have the same skills and education they find they need to reach outside the partnership to fill important skill gaps. That can be costly and inefficient.

Synergy is important in a partnership. Synergy is generated when there is a spread of skills so that more fields are covered and people learn from one another. In addition, different training and orientation from different schools often bring different working styles. Partners are best when they have different but compatible working styles and are open to voicing their own and listening to others opinions. Similar to accepting natural role differences you have to analyse each others skills early on so you can make the most of what you're best at. 

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