In last week’s post I introduced the concept of ‘Partnership Potential’. In today’s post, I am going to explore more the concept of partnership potential, by looking at how the reputation you develop for yourself drives the likelihood of you becoming seen as partnership potential. The advice in this blog post will help progress your career at not only the Magic Circle firms (A&O, Freshfields, Linklaters, Clifford Chance, Slaughter and May), but also the Big 4 and mid-tier firms.

Is your career progression in the Magic Circle firms really fixed at the point you enter the firm?

Can firms identify future partners early in their careers? Whether or not they can do reliably, they definitely do. It’s not just the Big4 and the Magic Circle firms (i.e.A&O, Freshfields, Linklaters, Clifford Chance, Slaughter and May) The new lawyer, accountant or consultant who after one year with the firm looks like a potential partner may be overtaken by a “late developer” or, they may decide to move out of practice into industry. Probably the biggest indicator used by firms in identifying those with partnership potential is their internal and external market value. Every professional, whether or not you are in a Magic Circle, Big 4, Mid-tier, or small firm, has a perceived market value from their first day with a firm. Your internal market value is driven by the firm’s ongoing need to decide to whom to allocate to assignments. Whereas your external market value is decided by clients and others outside of the firm. Internal market value In the Magic Circle, Big4 firms and larger law and accountancy firms, professionals begin to compete with each other from day one in their career. Whilst this may sound harsh, this competition is driven by the firm needing to sell as much of its professionals’ time (utilisation), and at as high a price as possible every year. The easier it is to sell a fee earner’s time, the more in demand they are going to be. Hence, their internal market value is high. You may be familiar with following scenario – partners are insisting that only a particular consultant or manager can do the work, while another consultant is left sitting around with little or no work to do. This is an example of the internal market demonstrating the two consultants’ perceived relative market value. Most professionals, particularly those in the Big 4, Magic Circle and ‘bigger firms’, understand the internal marketplace intuitively. After all, they are just one fish in a well-stocked pond of highly qualified and able people. In fact, in many firms, partners can tell within a year of new fee earners joining the firm, who among them is in the top quartile and who is in the bottom.

External market value

Your external market value is driven by how much you are in demand from your clients. Very often your market value can significantly increase by, usually unprompted, favourable client feedback; which then leads to you undertaking more assignments for that client. As well as demand from your clients, your market value is also increased by other advisors working for your client asking to work with you on a job.

What can you do to influence your market value?

Early in your career it is all about the reputation you cultivate about yourself. Get a reputation as

  • a liability on a job,
  • difficult to work with or
  • bad with clients

… and you will find that your internal market value will take a nose dive. This then results in you becoming the equivalent of the ‘runt of the litter’, which gets ignored by its mother. You then stop getting booked out on jobs… It is only then a matter of time before you will be called in and asked to leave the firm. The whole process is pretty ruthless and happens fairly regularly without many people in the firm realising it is happening. Therefore if you are new into a firm think about the reputation you want to build for yourself. Being seen as

  • ‘easy to work with’,
  • ‘a safe and reliable pair of hands who always delivers’,
  • ‘great with clients’

… are three reputational attributes which will significantly increase your internal market value. As your career progresses and you get to manager or associate level, you need to think more about your external market value. I.e. the value that clients and external advisors place on you. This then becomes all about what you choose to specialise in.

In summary:

Your market value is the biggest predictor of your partnership potential and your likely career success in a firm – particularly if you are from a larger firm such as a Big4 firm, Magic Circle or Mid-tier firm. If you haven’t already take soundings from people you trust in your firm and find out what reputation you are building.  

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