Partnership: are you up to it?

If you are a successful senior associate, you may well be working more than 2,000 hours a year, have been with your firm from the beginning and honed your black letter law skills to perfection. Partners talk earnestly to you about billing hours and the firm’s need for growth.

The next step is to become a partner and you hope you are on track. But how do you know what your chances are, especially when you have probably witnessed people you rated highly being passed over for partnership? Maybe you are wondering why you are still with your firm, having seen a volume of associates leaving for greener pastures – do they know something that you don’t?
The road to partnership does not have a map and the journey is not eased by reports that firms expect to make up fewer partners than ever before. Stagnant revenues have forced firms to protect their profit per equity partner numbers and, with an increasing number of lawyers competing for spaces at your level, even the very best might get passed over.

For the vast majority of excellent lawyers, the next rung of the ladder will never appear, and the reason is cloaked in mystery and intrigue. However, it does not need to be, and the first step in the track towards partnership is… you.

You ultimately have the power and opportunity to maximise your chances. The first step is an honest assessment of your future prospects, and for many the most critical question is whether you actually want to make partner. As bizarre as it might seem, you have to ask yourself: do you truly want it?; do you know what it entails?; and who are you competing against?
For those that are confident that partnership is what they want, what next? How do you stack up against the necessary attributes needed to progress to the next level? Do you know how the skills of a partner differ from your current role, and are you being trained in them?
What if you have the skills? Does that mean you will make it? Do you understand the partner-making process? Who has to be influenced and who will make the final decision? Or have you considered doing an audit of previous years, establishing how many made partner versus those who were expected to? Do you know how many places are up for grabs and who your key competitors are?
You may find it difficult to conduct an honest assessment of your own skills – acknowledging weaknesses is a bitter pill to swallow. Alternatively, you may know your limitations, but find it difficult to ask for help. This is where an independent adviser can help, someone who can provide impartial recommendations about the improvements you need to make.

They may know the answers to those often unasked and unanswered questions that you have been reluctant to raise with a partner.

Law firms judge your partnership prospects on commercial nous, which is your ability to manage and lead a team, run a business, prospect for new clients and present confidently to colleagues and clients alike. You may have spent years perfecting your legal expertise, but it will be your business skills and power to communicate and influence that will bolster your chances of making partner.

Having invested years in your career, you ultimately have the decision to make. The law has taught you all about risk – this process is about learning how to seize opportunity.

Ivan Jackson is a director at consultancy Law Professionals