While economic and Brexit-related uncertainty has influenced many markets throughout the UK, the legal sector has responded fairly well. In fact, law firms in the country added 307 net new partners last year as the sector grew in the face of disruption. We also saw a 10% rise in revenue generated by the top 100 law firms, which is likely to have contributed to the sharp uptick in partner numbers. Revenue growth allows law firms to promote more associates to partner level, and without it there can be a reluctance to dilute partners’ own equity stake by adding to the ranks.
With more opportunity for partnership in an increasingly active legal market, there will be many legal associates considering if now is their time to make partner. Here’s how to build your case for partnership:
When are you ready to become partner?
Generally, legal professionals will need to have around six years PQE before becoming partner. At this stage, associates are often at a turning point in their career, having built up a reputation and ideally a strong client base at their current practice. For the big four magic circle firms, the level of experience is even higher, with the average PQE of every new partner sitting at 10+ years. Many firms offer a prescribed partnership track, where associates will be well aware of the requirements needed to reach the top of the pyramid during a set time period – often up to two years. If this track isn’t offered by their current employer – either because the firm doesn’t feel the associate is ready or there simply isn’t room at partnership level – senior associates will often look elsewhere for opportunities to progress their career.
What do you need to become partner?
Outside of the PQE expectations, lawyers are expected to have a strong following of clients already in place, along with a track record of bringing in a sufficient level of revenue. This is especially important for professionals looking to move firm in order to attain partner status. For large and magic circle firms with panels of clients that must remain within the firm, bringing business over can be difficult, so if you’re in this position it pays to plan your route to partnership.
In terms of revenue generated, figures can vary from £500k annually to £1million annually, depending on whether the move to partnership is an internal one within the current firm or a lateral one into a new organisation. Additionally, the ability to supervise a team is crucial. Some senior associates bring their existing team with them when they move to a partnership role, but if this isn’t the case for you, you’ll need to prove that your business area is worth making new hires for.
Putting your business case together If you’re a senior associate approaching six or seven years PQE, a good track record at your current firm and bring in a solid level of revenue, you should be able to build your business case to become partner. This must detail your input and output, including your contribution to the firm’s bottom line and the clients on your books. If you’re looking for partnership at a firm outside of your current practice, you’ll need to demonstrate how your client following will integrate into that firm, whether that’s by adding on to an existing business area or creating an entirely new sector. You also need to show how you will do this, backing that up with forecasts of your sector, analysis of what you expect to add to the business and how you will continue to network and develop new business. If you can prove you can grow a firm and continue developing your practice area while bringing new revenue in, you stand a better chance of being approved for partner.
Typically, you’ll present your case to a panel of managers who will determine if you qualify for partner. This can depend on a number of factors, including the area you work in, whether the firm has capacity to add another business area and whether there’s the right level of business growth. Becoming partner is rarely an assumed or automatic part of being a senior associate, so it’s crucial that you take the time to build up your expertise and then put your business case forward.
Progressing without partnership
Not all senior associates dream of making partner. The role can be pressurised and high-stress, and for many, staying as senior associate or moving intro a legal counsel role is a better option. Others may want to become partner but, due to the setup of their current firm, don’t have the following in place to make the next step. In this case, a move into Of Counsel can be a stepping stone to partnership further down the line. We advise those professionals who do want to make partner to plan their route in advance, so that they have plenty of time to build up a client base and prove they can generate revenue and new business. If you don’t have this at your current firm, it might be time to consider looking elsewhere.
How IDEX can help
At IDEX, it’s about more than simply finding your next legal job. We can provide advice on which firms will suit your level of expertise and business area, guiding you on steps you need to take to reach your career goal, whether that’s partner or something else. If you’re considering a new career move to start building your business case for partner, take a look at our current legal jobs in the UK. Alternatively, talk to us to see how we can help.