Improving can mean moving

It may be time to take a realistic appraisal of your push for partnership, argues William Cook

As a lawyer with in excess of five years’ experience, you are, if kept busy, literally printing money for your firm. Partnership is what you are after and you have got the leverage. But have you really stopped to think about how realistic your aspirations are and whether you might be better off elsewhere? By the time it dawns on many lawyers that it is time to move on, it is often too late.

Let us estimate you are recovering 1,500 hours at £350 per hour. That is in excess of £500,000 on the firm’s top line. You are probably costing around a quarter of that (if you factor in the cost of your desk, national insurance, pension and so on), so it is easy to see why your firm would not want to lose you. You are being well paid, but you have adjusted your lifestyle so you do not feel rich. What really concerns you, and what many firms cannot deliver on, is the certainty that you are going to make partner. Consequently it is fast dawning on you that you may have to move. The difficulty is that, at five years-qualified, you are, at least in recruitment terms, at your most marketable; each year that goes by, however, makes you a little less desirable.

It is time to look around and ask yourself some searching questions. How many partners has the firm made up in the past three years (a) in total, (b) in your practice area, and (c) in your office? Allowing for a bit of natural wastage, and assuming you are up for partnership in two years, how many people are you competing with? What kinds of noises have been made to you on the record (in your appraisals) and off it (in the wine bar)? How much of the ‘loving’ that you have received from your bosses has been due to the fact that you are a valuable (money-making) resource, as against an indispensable part of the future of the firm?

Calculate the odds: say the firm makes up a maximum of one partner in your group, there are five people in your intake, two in the year above and two in the year below. As an outside observer, would you back yourself?

If the answer is yes, then great, but if there is even the slightest doubt, you owe it to yourself to explore the situation in more detail. There are, across all practice areas, firms that can provide a clearer path to partnership. If the odds are not in your favour, you have to be brave enough to decide as early as you can whether to stay, in the unlikely hope of partnership, or move and go for partnership at better odds.

So what is it all going to mean to you financially? The answer, of course, is ‘it depends’. If you move now you might have to take a pay cut. But if you are made a partner in two years, you will have years of enhanced earning potential. Admittedly, it may be less than you would have received had you stayed put and got partnership, but the sooner you come to terms with that dynamic the better.

Remember, the landscape has changed. To get partnership now, it is no longer enough just to be a good lawyer. There are forces beyond your control. It is startlingly simple: if there is no business case you will not be made up. So look out for yourself. Arm yourself with all the information you need and take positive responsibility for your career. No one else is going to.

William Cock is a director of recruitment consultancy First Counsel