I want to be a Partner because I want to earn more money
I met with a Senior Associate from a big firm yesterday who told me he wanted to move to another firm where he could become a Partner. He had neither a portable client following, any plan as to how he would build a practice, nor any real desire to do so for that matter. He said he just wanted to be a Partner for the income earning potential, that the title didn't matter to him. So I asked him what he ideally wanted to be earning in say, 5 years time. He said $200 - $220K was his goal, as he was earning $170K now.
As for the money, we discussed how individual expectations are all relative and that the Partner title itself doesn't guarantee any particular income, quite the opposite in many cases. I told him that in this current market I knew of full equity Partners earning $190K and others $1.5m+, 50 point equity Partners of large national firms earning $250K and others $400K+, Special Counsel earning $300K+, some salaried Partners earning $90K, others $400K, while some SA's are earning $250K. I also explained that I know of equity Partners who were earning $800K+ a few years ago now earning $350K tops because of dwindling practices and market forces.
After a frank, in depth discussion this candidate realised that Partners and Partnerships are not all alike and that blindly aspiring to be a "Partner" at any firm was not, for him, the be all and end all of a successful legal career or a guarantee of financial security that you could mortgage yourself to.
And most importantly for this candidate there was an awakening that given his particular personality strengths and weaknesses, where and how he enjoyed focusing his time and energy whilst at work, his particular stage of married life, his wife's career and his very realistic income earning expectations that there were a number of different avenues via which he could achieve his personal, family and career goals that didn't involve Partnership.
It takes a certain type of person with a certain attitude and skill set to be a long term, successful business owner in any well run firm. Choosing to pursue that Partnership path requires a clear understanding of exactly what is required, including an acceptance of the constant, extraordinary pressure to perform as well as the significant personal financial risk every business owner manages every single day - something often and easily overlooked by ambitious, aspiring Partners. However, if this is you, then great, go for it. But if it's not, so what? Understanding exactly what you are looking for and why, as well as knowing how different firms value what you bring to the table are the critical factors when making informed, sensible career choices.