Opinion: New Year career resolutions

Is it time to assess all your post-partner Christmas futures?

Tim Cole, partner, QV Career Counsel
Tim Cole, partner, QV Career Counsel

And so 2012 is here, and across the market partners are asking themselves: how long should I stay at this firm? Is there another role for me here? Will my clients keep me busy? And can I still win new work? Other festive thoughts may include: are my key performance indicators up to snuff? Is mine the next shoulder to be tapped? How long do I need to be doing this? And what are the alternatives? In a nutshell, partners are ­asking: is my career safe?

Well, the answer is no, unless you look after it yourself.

Many firms have invested in career development and engagement ­initiatives for their staff, while most ­partners are still left to fend for ­themselves and make their own ­career ­decisions at short notice.

Partner development courses or interesting weeks at business school are focused on making better partners who are aligned to firms’ values and behaviours. This is tricky when the next restructuring could be just around the corner, or when someone is tugging at the corner of the rug you are standing on.

It is human nature to put off ­difficult conversations and it is true that in partnerships tough business decisions feel intensely personal,

The nature of partnership has changed inexorably, so perhaps 2012 is the year to change firms’ mindsets to allow them to help partners move forward in a positive frame of mind. This could be the year in which more partners have constructive conversations about their longer-term career plans, rather than just looking after their short-term contributions. It could even be the year when more firms support partners in deciding what they might want to do next, giving them adequate time to prepare, plan and implement their moves.

We may see more active planning when it comes to succession and client relationships, as well as handing over management roles to create fresh thinking. This could be the year when more partners leave their firms at the top of their games and without being stamped with sell-by dates, to take directions that are so enjoyable that it does not feel like work at all.

The later-career market is highly competitive. Non-executive roles do not just come along easily, involving a bit of voluntary work on the side and ’an extra day for the family’.

Those who want a second career need to prepare and market themselves. A successful transition takes hard work. Headhunters will not do it for you and networking alone will not get you where you want to be. The analogy with the wider employment prospects for graduates is striking. Just as undergraduates need to make themselves employable while they are at university, so senior lawyers need to work out how they can be ­attractive in a competitive market in their later careers. There is no quick fix; it can take a couple of years.

So the message is, do not leave all this too late. The process of planning for a life after partnership can be ­rejuvenating. Develop your plan and decide how much of it to share with your partners; stay in control of it; and finally, consider carefully who you talk to and ensure you take ­advice from the right people.

Remember, a resolution shared is a resolution kept.