Many immigration lawyers cherish the ability to practice independently and maintain a law practice closely aligned with their values, motivations, and goals. But over time, your firm may grow to the point where bringing on a partner is necessary to sustain that growth or, perhaps, to allow you to step away from the day-to-day development of the firm while still keeping it afloat.
In prior articles we’ve shared insights on hiring support staff in different areas, from virtual receptionists and paralegals to contract attorneys. This article, however, will focus on a more consequential staffing decision: taking an immigration law firm partner.
Here are some considerations you might take into account as you work through the process of searching for and choosing a law firm partner for your immigration law firm.
If you’ve decided to take a partner to broaden your immigration law firm’s offerings, one way to approach the partnership is by bringing on an expert in a different field of law from what you know and practice. For example, if you currently specialize in marriage-based adjustment of status applications and you want to expand the breadth of your firm’s practice, look for a partner that has experience working with employment-based visas to supplement your expertise.
If, instead, you would like a partner to support the same specialty that your firm already focuses on to grow even more, you will likely want someone with a similar set of skills and track record. In this case you may want to look at how a prospective partner organizes their cases, approaches client onboarding, maintains client relationships and more to see whether your values and goals align. Alignment is crucial in a partnership focused on expanding an existing client base.
Most law firms follow single-tier or two-tier partnerships. A single-tier partnership is an equal partnership where partners share equity, and their compensation is directly connected to the revenue they bring to the firm. Often, equity partners don’t take a salary, so if this is the model you decide to go with, make sure this is something your new partner can handle financially.
In a two-tier partnership, most partners are “non-equity” partners in that they may have a say in the critical decision-making process, help bring in business, and carry the “partner” name but are not “owners” of the law firm. Non-equity partners, thus, don’t get a set share of law firm profits but rather receive a salary.
Any conversations about a partnership must include a discussion about compensation structure. You can follow different models and even design a unique salary/equity split that is attractive to a new prospective partner and compensates their value to the firm. It is essential while remaining fair to you and your business.
There are two possibilities for a new partner and the clients they may bring to your firm: they may not have many at first but work to bring on new clients, or they may already have a client base that will follow them and thus become your firm’s clients. If your new partner is not bringing in new clients, it may be wise to account for that in the partnership agreement by, e.g., setting a lower salary or equity in the initial phases of the partnership with an agreement to increase it as the new partner starts to bring in more new business.
If your new partner is bringing their clients with them, your partnership agreement should also cover whether they will make all or part of the revenue generated from those cases once they become your partner.
Law firms with more than one name seem to carry with them, for better or worse, a perception of size and thus prestige, experience, and success. Reflecting on your firm's growth by adding a new partner’s name to the official firm's name may be a clever branding tactic to continue positioning your firm as a leader in your field of immigration law. However, it’s also possible that changing your firm's name and bringing in a new partner may cause confusion among existing clients, make them feel like the firm is changing, or otherwise disrupt your existing branding and marketing efforts.
If you do decide to change your firm's name to include a new partner, one consideration is to allow your clients to get to know the new partner first. Some ideas on how to do this may include:
Change can be scary, but growth often requires change. And if you’ve decided to bring on a partner for the first time as an immigration lawyer, there are major decisions to make along the way, as noted above. Ultimately, however, remember that the goal of any business is to support its clients. So however you decide to pursue your new partners, and whether you change your firm name or not, etc., as long as you continue to provide a great service to your clients, you’re moving in the right direction.
Designed by immigration lawyers for immigration lawyers, Docketwise is the #1 immigration case management platform on the market. With our entire library of immigration forms, easy-to-use client questionnaires, and industry-leading API integrations, Docketwise helps you stay current on immigration cases, communicate easily with your clients, and build and manage your immigration law firm.
Indeed, our platform allows you to track your cases and make data-driven decisions, which can be especially important during the early days of a new partnership, and thus keep you focused on achieving your law firm growth goals.