Jenner & Block’s Jacobs-Perry Shares Her Journey to Equity Partner

Nov. 3, 2021, 8:00 AM

I joined Jenner & Block LLP in 2009 from law school, and I was promoted to partner in the litigation department in 2017. I was elevated to equity partner in early 2021. I primarily represent clients in class action, complex commercial, and bankruptcy litigation matters.

In this article, I want to share the top lessons I have learned on my path to equity partnership.

Client Service is Critical

I cannot emphasize enough how critical client service was on my path to equity partner, and still is.

Excellence is always the expectation when it comes to the work we perform for our clients, but there is also a human element to our client relationships. The relationships with our clients are not just companies to law firms—they also consist of personal relationships between the individuals, so it is critical to keep that in mind at all times.

I always want to make sure that the individuals who hire us appreciate how important they are to us, and how much we want them to succeed as well. And, this can mean so many things during the course of a client relationship—from prioritizing a profound understanding of the client’s business and any issues coming down the pipeline so that we can help our clients proactively strategize, to having a meal or just checking in on the individual and their families; it is all critical to providing the best service to our clients.

Your Partners Are as Important as Your Client

There is rightly a huge emphasis on building your own book of business for equity partners, but I learned that my partners are as important as my clients.

When I was an associate, partners would always say, “remember that your first client is the partner you are working for,” and that is exactly right. My partners were the first gatekeepers on the path to equity partner. I had to demonstrate to them that I had the ability to effectively and efficiently handle high-stake litigation matters.

Once I had their confidence and they were continuing to staff me on some of their most complex matters, I was then able to use this proven track record to demonstrate to clients that I can handle their most complex and high-stakes matters, and as the lead and relationship partner.

Additionally, as I grow my book of business, I rely heavily on my partners and their experiences and expertise to grow a book of business beyond just my practice area. And, this is also true for me, my experience and expertise is important for my partners to offer to their clients as well.

Sponsorship and Mentorship Are Key

On my path to equity partnership, I had so many people invest their time, energy, and political capital in me. It takes a lot of hard work to get here and there is so much that needs to be learned along the way, so it takes more experienced lawyers and other equity partners investing in you during your journey to and beyond equity partnership.

Over the years, there were many obstacles and challenges, but I had amazing sponsors and mentors who helped me navigate the path, gave me invaluable advice, and vouched for me when necessary. Without them, I would not be where I am today. I am forever grateful to all of them because I know I stand on the shoulders of giants, and I strive to make them proud.

I believe the kind of strong mentorship—and even more so, sponsorship—they gave me over the years is especially important for people of color in the legal industry. It really can be a game changer for diverse lawyers.

When I talk to some of my friends who have left large law firms about our journeys and paths, one of the key things we always come back to is the list of people I could turn to and rely on along the way. My sponsors and mentors are really why I stayed, they made me see there was a path for me and it was a path I would not travel alone.

And, now, I make a concerted effort to pay it forward and offer mentorship and support to younger lawyers, especially women and people of color, who unfortunately are still so underrepresented in our industry overall.

The Grind Never Stops

As an associate, I always viewed equity partnership as a destination. My view was that once I made it to equity, I had arrived, and I could sit back and enjoy the benefits of my years of hard work. I was so naïve.

Over the years, I have learned that the grind never stops. When you are elevated to an equity partner, in a lot of ways, your career is just beginning. I have so much of my career still ahead of me and so many more things to accomplish.

Indeed, I still have to successfully lead my matters, continue to develop my litigation skills, help the firm grow, develop my book of business, participate in firm activities, mentor and sponsor other lawyers, and the list goes on. I am really just on a different part of my journey as a lawyer; and I did not fully appreciate that until I was a stipend partner working diligently to be elevated to equity partner.

Prepare for the Financial Changes Early

Equity partners have a buy-in requirement in addition to a significant adjustment in the way they are compensated and the amount of quarterly tax payments for which they are responsible. I generally knew these three facts because my mentors and sponsors told me there would be a change, but I learned that it is important to prepare for the change, and how these three things all intertwine the first year you are elevated.

It is a significant financial adjustment, so it is important to talk to recently elevated equity partners about the transition and have a great financial adviser/accountant ready to help guide you through the transition. It is a key lesson for stipend or income partners to learn on their path.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. or its owners.

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Author Information

Precious Jacobs-Perry is a partner in the Litigation Department of Jenner & Block LLP in Chicago. She was elevated to equity partner in early 2021 and primarily represents clients in class action, complex commercial and bankruptcy litigation matters. She has an active pro bono practice, and has been a leader of the firm’s diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, serving as a member of the firm’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee and as a co-chair of the firm’s African American Affinity Group and Mother’s Circle.

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