Baker & McKenzie makes up a huge number of partners around the world: 65 last year and a total of 282 between 2012 and 2015.
That does not quite match the 337 made up at the famously generous Kirkland & Ellis in the same period but it dwarfs most other global firms. For example, Reed Smith made up 94 partners between 2012 and 2015, while the most prolific of the magic circle, Linklaters, made up 92.
Does this mean that associates at Bakers’ London office have a better chance of making partner than elsewhere? Not necessarily.
Bakers’ promotions in the City have not been particularly prolific in recent years. Of those 282 promotions since 2012 just 11 (4 per cent) have come in London, and two of those were accountants rather than lawyers. In both 2009 and 2013, only one associate in the City made the cut.
By contrast, 19 per cent of Reed Smith’s 94 promotions since 2012 have been in London.
Who gets made up?
The broad spread of practices in Bakers’ London office is reflected in its promotions. Since 2007 corporate is the department that has seen most associates made up – eight in total. However, all those eight were made up in either 2007, 2008 or 2012: in six of the past nine years there have been no promotions in corporate at all.
Likewise, the dispute resolution practice has made up four partners in London since 2007, but only one of those came in the past five years.
Tax has been the big story of late. The London office did not promote anyone from this team between 2007 and 2010, but since then it has promoted four lawyers, plus two accountants into partner-equivalent director roles.
Bakers’ pipeline is, generally speaking, a healthy one. More than half its newly promoted partners trained with the firm. The rest have come from a smattering of mainly top-tier firms: 2014 promotion Salpy Kouyoumijian trained at Clifford Chance, for example, while Nick O’Donnell, made up in 2012, started out with Allen & Overy.
Legacy Bond Pearce, Denton Wilde Sapte, Lovells and Wragge & Co plus Macfarlanes are among other firms that have provided Bakers with associates who have gone on to become partners.
The firm scores reasonably well on the gender diversity front. One-third (10 of 30) of the lawyers made up in London in the past nine years are female. When it comes to university background, of those 30 five were undergraduates at Oxford and four at Cambridge while three apiece studied at King’s College London and Bristol. A further 13 universities, including three overseas institutions, were represented among the other new partners.
The majority of associates made up at Bakers in the past nine years read law as undergraduates. A total of 18 out of 30 completed a straight law degree, with five more combining law with another subject, or the law of another jurisdiction.
What’s the process?
There is no prescribed number of years before associates are put forward for the partnership process, but the average over the past nine years has been 9PQE.
The timescale has lengthened of late. In 2010, three lawyers of 7PQE and three of 8PQE were made up. Since then, the earliest anyone at Bakers’ London office has made partner is 9PQE – they were both tax partners, James Wilson and Patrick O’Gara in 2013 and 2015 respectively.
“You get to a point in your career where in essence you’re already doing the job of a junior partner,” a source says. “At that point you will have been earmarked by the partners in your team as somebody who could be put into the partnership process.
“They’ll sit you down and have a very honest conversation around what skills you have, what skills you still need to develop and what things are going to form the fundamental elements of your business plan.”
“It’s about whether your team supports you and your financials stack up – it’s clear”
Among the personal qualities the candidate needs to possess are intellect, ambition and a genuine emotional engagement with the firm, but ‘humanity’ is also a factor, with ‘being nice’ understood to be one of the requirements for being made up.
As far as the business plan goes, among the things Bakers looks at are the candidate’s clients, specialist skills and billable hours, and it asks itself whether the firm would hire the associate as a lateral junior partner.
The official process is a long one, usually starting in December or January and concluding in May, with new partners officially taking up their role on 1 July.
The partners the associate works most closely with decide among themselves whether it is the right time – not only for the lawyer in question but also for the department and the wider London office – for them to be put up for partnership.
If the answer is yes, the departmental manager will put forward a paper providing details of the candidate and their attributes, and why the team can support another partner. From there, the candidate will have to put together their own partnership application form covering self-evaluation and a business case.
An interview with the Partnership Review Committee (PRC) follows. The PRC is made up of four partners from across the firm and the interview typically is about an hour in length, covering the candidate, their business plan, their thoughts on the firm and what they would bring to the partnership.
After that the application goes through an internal due diligence process, with partners from outside the department asked for feedback too, and eventually there is a vote of the partners in London. Following that, the candidate goes though one final interview with the global executive committee.
“We’re not a firm where you have to go round canvassing individual partners,” says Jannan Crozier, made up in 2015. “It’s about whether your team supports you, and whether your financials stack up. It’s clear.”
If candidates are not deemed advanced enough to be put forward for the partnership process but show potential the firm can give them support to provide opportunities to develop where it feels they need it.
“For example,” says Crozier, “before I got put in the partnership process I had a coach because that was one of my areas for development. I have an extrovert personality, while most lawyers are introverted. I found that some clients I got on famously with, while with others I found it much more difficult.
“I wanted to master this skill so I went to our learning and development people and got coaching around how to flex my personality style.”