An eye on partnerships

We are devoting much of this week’s issue to career development and partnership prospects, because today The Lawyer publishes the second issue of its groundbreaking Career Report.

This is a detailed statistical analysis of partnership prospects at the UK’s 100 largest firms and the top 30 international firms in London, and its timing deliberately coincides with the onset of the promotion season. Keep it on your desk; you can use our research to illuminate the context behind the next couple of months’ partnership announcements.

The tension between internal promotions and lateral hiring continues to be a theme. It’s notable that the most aggressive lateral hirers, such as DLA Piper and Berwin Leighton Paisner, have developed sophisticated HR sensibilities and have become adept (on the whole) at reassuring their lawyers that having some laterals parachuted into their departments does not mean the end of their careers.

This year the focus has also been on retention, with particular reference to women. Many lawyers, especially women, now see their careers as modular; as our survey, conducted in conjunction with YouGov, earlier this year revealed, two-thirds of associates at the UK’s top 10 firms are not considering partnership.

We all know firms tend to take on more female trainees than male, but the rate at which women are making partner means that it will take at least another decade before they reach parity. But if firms are too gender-specific in addressing retention, it may backfire: women lawyers are among the most vociferous critics of tokenism. (For an analysis of female partnership prospects in the magic circle, see page 16.)

The biggest trend to emerge during the past year is the rise of associate power. Freshfields held its first associate conference last week at the Hurlingham Club, following the lead of Allen & Overy, which held its own conference in Brighton last year. An associate representative, Penny Caven, now even sits on A&O’s management committee. Meanwhile, Linklaters‘ female retention record – which, as we reveal on page 16, is one of the better of the big City firms, with most of its female partners homegrown – must have something to do with the fact that the firm’s management has long engaged its associates in discussion. Tony Angel has held ‘listening breakfasts’ with managing associates for more than four years.

If firms know what’s good for them, they’ll give worker bees a voice. Vocal associates usually care the most. And the ones who care the most will stay.