A partner and an associate are two key professionals in the law industry. While partners and associates are both lawyers, the two positions can differ in a few ways. If you’re interested in pursuing a law career, it can be beneficial to know about the differences between these roles if you want to follow either career path. In this article, we consider what a partner is and what an associate is and explore some key differences between the two positions.
What is a law firm partner?
A law firm partner is a lawyer who maintains partial ownership of the firm where they work. Partners in a law firm can have the same duties as many other types of lawyers, such as meeting with clients and arguing cases in court. However, they also usually have additional responsibilities, such as hiring new associates and overseeing associates while they work on cases. Most law firms have a group of partners that can grow as more lawyers at the firm gain experience and receive promotions.
There are also sometimes different levels of partnership. For example, a managing partner is an exceptionally qualified attorney who holds the highest level of authority in a firm, often adding their name to the firm’s name.
What is a law firm associate?
An associate at a law firm is a lawyer who’s new to the industry. This can mean that associates often have fewer years of experience than other lawyers. However, associates are essential to a law firm’s function, as they usually take on a high number of cases and have many responsibilities. For example, an associate can collaborate with paralegals to organize evidence to use in arguments and host depositions to interview clients and witnesses. Associates typically report directly to a partner or a managing partner at a firm who can provide them with case assignments and feedback on their performance.
Here are a few differences between a law firm partner and an associate:
Perhaps the clearest difference between a law firm partner and an associate is the level of seniority each position typically holds. This is because a law firm partner has some degree of ownership of the firm where they work, which places them in a high position in the company’s hierarchy. A partner can use their seniority to offer advice to lower-level associates, engage in problem-solving and decision-making for the firm, and supervise associates while they prepare and argue cases.
In contrast, an associate usually has a lower-level position in a law firm. While they can still hold more authority than some administrative positions, such as receptionists or paralegals, associates are often low in a firm’s hierarchy because of their minimal levels of expertise. Associates typically report to superiors throughout the workday and often have to refer to their supervisors for new assignments and performance evaluations.
In a similar way to how associates and partners can differ in seniority, they can also differ in experience level. This refers to the number of years each type of professional usually spend in the industry before securing their job title. For example, a partner at a law firm often has extensive experience with many years of working in the industry before they reach the position of partner. Partners also can have specialized knowledge in different areas of the law that comes from trying different types of cases, such as particular expertise in custody law or criminal defense.
For an associate, employers typically expect them to have minimal or no experience in the law when they apply for a position. This is because an associate lawyer is an entry-level job where candidates can develop their law skills and expertise through practical experience. Due to their lower experience level, associates can sometimes spend long hours preparing cases and learning how to argue different legal issues.
Common skills for law firm partners and associates
Here are some of the most essential skills for law firm partners and associates:
Skills for law firm partners
Here are a few key skills for law firm partners:
- Leadership: Law firm partners typically need excellent leadership skills so they can oversee the associates in a firm.
- Decision-making: This can also be a key skill for partners, as they often have to make important decisions about a firm’s operations and standards.
- Technical knowledge of the law: Most law firm partners have extensive knowledge of the law and the different types of cases that they might encounter so they can argue cases and guide associates.
Skills for law firm associates
Here are some important skills for law firm associates:
- Collaboration: Law firm associates often work together with other associates and paralegals, so having strong teamwork skills can be beneficial.
- Adaptability: Most associates enter the field with little or no experience, so being adaptable can benefit them while learning the standards and techniques they need to succeed.
- Attention to detail: Associates typically argue their own cases, which can be much easier when they have strong attention to detail, which can help them while reviewing evidence and learning new methods.