Anastasia Klein is not your typical legal partner. She balances the day job, her partner responsibilities and looking after two young children. Here she shares what has worked for her in ensuring that things run smoothly in all directions. I found her experience and suggestions both refreshing and enlightening. I hope you will too.
When did you make the transition to partnership and what was your motivation?
I became a partner in April 2017, having joined Maples Teesdale as a trainee in 2003. I’d taken a couple of years out to have children prior to being made partner. I was motivated by seeing peers of mine, particularly male peers, going for partnership. Friends I had been at university with, friends I’d trained with who’d moved on, were becoming partners. I thought, ‘why do I think I can’t do it because I had kids and had a couple of years out?’ That was my incentive: I thought I was as good as them, so I was going to go for it too.
What worked well for you and what were the challenges?
My biggest challenge was that I felt as though I didn’t meet every criteria, this was partly because I didn’t select the right role models. I was looking at the most senior partners at my firm as my role models rather than the more junior ones, so I thought that I didn’t compare to these senior partners, and never would. They were so far removed from me, had so much more experience. It took a while for me to realise that I didn’t have to be the all-singing, all-doing perfect partner from day one. I could progress and grow into the role once I got there.
In addition to that, I wasn’t sure how I would balance my family life and responsibilities, and the impact partnership would have on that. Ultimately however, I recognised that I had a lot to offer to the firm and that I wanted to take on the challenge of a bigger role and more responsibility. The process here took 3 or 4 years from stating initially that I wanted to be a partner. It involved doing more difficult transactions, taking the lead in internal teams and raising my profile internally. It took a long time, and I had made so much progress over that time that I was almost unrecognisable from when I first started the process. I had a much better understanding of the role, I had more confidence in myself, and I felt that I had earned my place at the table. That was important to me, because at that first partners’ meeting, knowing that I had earned the right to be there made a big difference for me.
What have you had to learn to be effective as a partner?
Recognising and communicating when those around me have done well. One of the things I noticed was that sometimes leaders forget to congratulate people on a job well done. There is an assumption that team members know that they’re doing a good job. Recognising and acknowledging my colleagues’ contributions is very important to me.
Being decisive is also very important. People come to you for answers, and want guidance. As a partner you have to take responsibility, and you have to be comfortable with that element of the role.
Having the confidence to say what matters to you is critical. My perspective might not be what everyone else is thinking, but if it is something that I see as important to the wellbeing of the firm or our team, I have a duty to speak up. That honesty is essential. The burden and privilege of partnership is taking on board the well-being of the staff and their growth as well as that of the firm. Having that influence on the culture is huge, and being able to make a difference is one of my favourite parts of the job.
What advice would you give to someone who was considering partnership?
It is important to be open and express that you want it. Sometimes people can be reticent to say that they want to be a partner because they feel that they are holding themselves up for ridicule. I certainly felt that initially – I was embarrassed about what people might think. It is key to find your mentors and cheerleaders, people who will be honest with you and get their perspective. The next step is taking on board their view, listening to feedback that might not be easy to hear and react to that in the way that feels right to you.
Another suggestion is to to demystify what partnership is. It is different in different firms, so understanding what it means where you are is important.
Finally I would suggest you recognise what you are already doing. There can be a perception that partners do something very different to the rest of the firm, but in fact when you sit down and consider your role you might surprise yourself. For example, consider the relationships you have with clients, and the things you already do that impact positively on the firm. Think about what you do now, and where any gaps exist. For me the gaps were around my profile within the firm, so I spent time raising that, which made a huge impact both in letting people know what I was doing and increasing my own confidence.
Who are the people who have been influential to you as you have moved through your career?
The previous and current managing partners have both had a huge impact. I hugely respect them both as lawyers and as individuals. A number of other partners have been important in my development, people I have used as sounding boards for my ideas or role models. Equally senior associates in the firm influence my thinking. Having allies at all levels is important, having people you trust and whose opinion you value. Non-lawyer friends and my family (across all generations, from my parents, to my children) also help me to shape ideas, and often provide a refreshing perspective on some of the things that are going on.
One person it is key to mention is my husband. I couldn’t do what I do if I didn’t have my husband supporting and encouraging me, and taking on a share of the responsibilities at home, as well as having his own demanding career. That domestic support network is really important to ensure everything works together. Something that was important to me about becoming a partner was being in a position where I could show people that you can have the job alongside a young family. Getting the perspective of others who had already done it was important to allow me to see that it was possible.
Do you think that becoming a partner alongside a young family has impacted your career positively or negatively?
There are challenges, but overall I think the impact has been positive because once I had kids I became much more focused in the way I work and the way I manage my time. I want to inspire my children to see me as a working mum, succeeding in and enjoying my role. It is important to me that they see me working hard and achieving; particularly given I don’t come from a legal family background. For me to be a partner in a City law firm is a million miles away from where I started out and I like the fact my children will see that. That has pushed me to achieve.
There is obviously more pressure on my time with having a family. I work part time, four days a week, and try to make sure I leave on time most days to spend time with my children and to take on my share of after school chauffeuring duties! That time pressure is a good pressure though, it focuses me and has forced me to be more organised. One of the reasons that I choose to be at Maples Teesdale is because the firm is supportive of my flexible working practices. I am increasingly trying to be transparent about my working patterns, to serve as an example to colleagues who also want to work flexibility.
Also, having kids means you can’t stress about small things, because you haven’t got time.
What do you think makes a great partner?
Someone who is consistent, who you can respect and who is approachable. They must have integrity on a personal and a professional level, and have the best interests of the firm and the team at heart.
Author Anna Wesson is an executive coach, specialising in the transition to partnership in professional service firms.