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The partner track process will assess both your personal case and business case for partnership. The Big 4 and large law firms will typically assessed formally both your personal and business case. However, the smaller or mid-tier firms may only formally assess your business case. The personal case will be assessed informally. 

The thing is that it tends to be the business case for partnership which you hear people talking about. It’s the bit which gets the most focus. Actually in reality, you need both a strong business case and personal case for partnership, regardless of the mechanism involved for assessing your personal case.  What is the difference between your personal case and business case for partnership? Some firms, normally the Big 4 and large law firms, will split the two of these up within the partnership admissions process. However, if you feel to realise that your personal case is as important as your business case when pitching your business case to your partnership panel you will put yourself at a disadvantage to your peers also aiming to get to partner this time around. 

In this blog post we will firstly look at the difference between your personal case and your business case. Then we will explore the reasons why you neglect your personal case at your peril.

What is the difference between your personal case and business case for partnership?

Personal case:

Your personal case may be assessed formally. Typically this is done by you demonstrating how you meet the criteria for being a partner in your firm. This can be done on paper or during a partner assessment centre. It involves logically showing how you meet the defined competencies and performance standards for partnership in your firm.

But your personal case is so much wider than just a formal application to demonstrate that you are acting at the level of a partner. It is also about your partners wanting you as a member of their exclusive club. As one EY partner put it, it’s about your partners trusting and believing that you will be the sort of business partner who will be standing side-by-side with them in the trenches when the going gets tough. Remember you are applying to be their business partner, making partner is not just another promotion. This means that your personal case is about getting your partners to both emotionally and rationally want you join the ranks of the partnership. You need to demonstrate that you will fit in well, complement the existing partners and be around for the long haul.

Regardless of the size of your firm your personal case will be continually assessed informally. Your partners will, at a subconscious level, be assessing whether you act, think and feel like a partner in a firm. Have you made the mindset shift from being a senior fee earner to an owner of the firm? It is very common for the large firms, e.g. the Big 4, to get someone from the partnership – often a forensic or due diligence specialist – to investigate both your business and personal case. This means conducting research on your with your key stakeholders and the people you work with.

Business case:

Most clued up firms will be identifying a business case for a new partner often years before they are needed. The business case for a partner is the commercial reasoning why a new partner is needed in a part of the firm. This could be that a partner is retiring or part of the firm is growing rapidly that it now needs another partner to handle all the growth in clients. If no known business case exists then you may need to put together a compelling commercial proposition which shows that if you are promoted to partner you will grow part of the business to a sufficient size to warrant partnership.

In chapter 20 of How to make partner and still have a life, we look in detail at the partnership admissions process.

Why you neglect your personal case at your peril

Given that all the assessments, interviews and pitches that you will do for partnership are all designed to help your partners decide whether you are the sort of person they want to share ownership of the firm with, it is foolhardy to neglect your personal case within your preparation for the admission process. Yes, you are probably unlikely to get directly asked about how you will fit in well around the partnership table. However, you need to factor into your thinking how you present yourself during the process. All too often potential partners only spend time thinking about their business case, i.e. how they will bring in the fees. Neglect to do this thinking about your personal case for partnership and you will probably fail to get through the partnership admissions process, because it isn’t all about the fees you will bring in with partner on your business card.

In summary

You need both a strong business case for partnership and personal case if you are to make it to partner. This means your partners need to believe that you will help increase the profits of the partnership AND want you as their business partner.