Practice lawyers – how to position yourself for the long-term

At Michael Page Legal, we often get approached by senior associates who’ve realised that they won't make it to partner at their current firms and, unless they can bring a demonstrable and considerable following with them, it is very difficult for us to help them.
Associates should start to think about what they want from their career in the long-term as early as two years pqe. It is understandable that many don't take stock at this stage - working considerable hours being the main reason. Most who make a move to another firm at this level do so for short-term reasons like working hours and remuneration instead of thinking long-term.

Advice for lawyers

Do you think you want to be a partner?
Do you see yourself as entrepreneurial? Does the thought of business development excite you or terrify you? Are you excited by the prospect of building up a practice and generating clients? If so you should be aiming for partnership.
Often junior lawyers ask themselves whether they want to be a partner or not with reference to their current firm. One of our candidates, a magic circle corporate lawyer, felt that although building his own business excited him, he couldn't see the hours he was doing as sustainable and didn't see many senior associates making it to partner. He decided to forego his desire for partnership and make a move in-house.
However, there are many law firms out there where partnership is more attainable and you don't have to work round the clock to achieve it. If you want to be a partner and have the requisite skill set, don't make the move out of private practice as a knee jerk reaction to your current situation. The key is to position yourself early enough to achieve it elsewhere.
It is difficult for anyone at two years pqe to know whether or not they will in fact make it to partner in their current firm. Most firms now have a partnership development programme for associates and many junior lawyers feel this gives them a sense that if they put in the hard work, they’re likely to make partner. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. It’s important to consider the following:
  • How many senior associates are there in the firm and in your department?
  • What levels are they?
  • How many are being made partner each year?
  • Has the firm parachuted lateral partners in above them?
These questions should help your assessment of the firm and, if it comes up short, you should start to think about a move to position yourself for partnership elsewhere.
Get advice on your career options
Speak to a good recruiter with knowledge of the broader private practice market and explain what you want to achieve and where you want to be in the long-term so they can give you insight into other firms as well as advice on timing your move. Typically, the optimum time is between two and five years pqe; this is the level at which most firms look to hire. Leaving it any longer tends to be too late.
A good recruiter should also offer you advice on how you might want to manage your career in your current firm, if that is a viable option. At Michael Page Legal, we have advised many lawyers on how to position themselves internally when we felt they were in a good firm from a career development perspective.
If you are a natural partner you will see the importance of client relationships and networking from very early on in your career. Make sure you act on this early. Don't leave it to the partners to tell you that you can now get more involved in business development. Start networking from the outset and you will be in a good position further down the line.
For more advice or if you’re looking to make a move, contact Li Ann Grainge, business director at Michael Page Legal.
T: 020 7269 2409