Ask the Coach – December 2020

Q. I have just been nominated for partnership at my firm. Although I consider this an honor after many years of hard work – I must admit feeling very trepidatious about accepting …. I feel I am “going in blind” as they say – I have no details of this arrangement and there has been very little information given – one other partner used the term “leap of faith”.  The culture here prevents me from asking too many questions … what should I do?

A. Tis the season! Along with the holidays there is often end-of-year nominations / elections of new partners at many CPA and law firms. That’s the good news – you made partner! The bad news is that you are nervous now … and I know that does not feel so good – let’s fix that, shall we?

I hear myself say “You can’t value what you don’t understand” many times each week. Your situation is a perfect example of that. You would be surprised at how many times I have heard of this same predicament you find yourself in. And the horror stories – being given a document to sign in a room full of staring (glaring) senior partners around you …. “Just sign. It’s a leap of faith – we all took it – welcome aboard!” …  PLEASE REMEMBER that you are the “new blood” that they need to keep the firm going. It is no secret that many firms operate on a similar model to that of a Ponzi Scheme” and so the soon to be retiring partners are depending upon you to come in, pick up the slack, and pay for their buyouts when they retire – usually these arrangements last years after they leave the firm. They need to cultivate new and younger partners to take over and they are smart enough to recognize that the world and their profession have been radically changing – and they need you to lead the way – your way!

It is true that your senior partners made the same choice that you are considering but this does not mean you to have to follow their footsteps exactly. Here are the tips I give to my up and coming CPAs and attorneys who are facing this same tough decision:

  1. It’s Time to Put on Your Big Boy / Big Girl pants On

I say this with love and respect for all you have achieved thus far – and to encourage you that this is what is needed and expected of you at this time! You will have to start wearing a different hat soon when you become a partner – it’s no longer about you and your team – or your department – or the office – it’s about ALL the other staff in all the other offices in ALL of the departments. It will be about realization and productivity – streamlining efforts, understanding and utilizing technology, having a clear vision for the future – where is the firm now and where does it want to go and how exactly will it get there? When the firm hits its goals how will everyone benefit – Shareholders, Employees and Clients?

2. If You Do Not Fully Comprehend the Economics of Your Firm – NOW is the Time You Do

Another shocking fact is how clueless many non-equity partners – many who have worked at their firms for years – know about the nuance of shareholders’ agreements, compensation structure, the existing by-laws, and not-so-obvious costs associated with running a professional services firm. Many professionals have been conditioned to believe that once you get “partner”, your office will be moved to “easy street”. The truth is a whole new job awaits… and you should be well-prepared for it!

3. Cleary-defined, Mutually Agreed Upon Expectations that Define Success in Your New Role

How many soon the be partners have I asked, “Well, what does the job description say for Partner?” only to be told “What job description?!” I am shaking my head as I write this … Consider this a very important first lesson of many for you in your career: Start making notes of all that you do not know – find out who does (this is a big can of worms as I have found it’s rather subjective, depending on who you talk to) and then make a note for those who will come after you. Being in the dark serves no one and so you will ….

4. Start Asking Questions that will influence what YOU will deem acceptable, satisfactory and dare I say fulfilling as you step into the shoes of shareholder at your firm – you will be here for the long haul and, as such, you should be ready, willing and able to strongly influence the success and/or growth of the firm for many years to come. You will be responsible for empowering others who will come after you to support you  in your retirement someday as well and so you – and hopefully, other new partners in the firm – can start working together to create the firm that you all would like to be part of in 5, 10, 20 years…. Don’t be shy – asking questions is not offensive or crass – “…I’m sure you want me to fully understand XXX so I can better contribute to the success of the firm. I am here to support the firm as best I can and help the shareholders – including you – preserve the great legacy you have built.”…

You got this! (and, if not, call me … I can help!)


If you have any questions about this content or would like to schedule a complimentary coaching session, please e-mail

Lisa Tierney, CLSC is a certified life strategies coach and a marketing strategist who has empowered professional service providers in the accounting and law professions for over twenty years. She is founder & President of TIERNEY Coaching & Consulting, Inc. which offers a unique and highly effective blend of traditional consulting in tandem with professional coaching to address all the nuances of success – including mind, body & spirit. The professionals who work with TIERNEY coaches enjoy increased self-confidence and higher self-esteem, adopt a more relaxed, yet authoritative demeanor, start asking power questions, treat their clients with a more consultative approach – and benefit from a natural growth in their practice or service area. They usually report a significant increase in their overall satisfaction of their professional experience.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.