We are going to explore how your role will change as you move upwards through the career stages within your firm.In this blog post we will start with one of the hardest transitions, going from manager to director ( in a Big 4 firm, mid-tier or small firm). Or for the lawyers, whether BigLaw, Magic Circle or mid-tier, associate to senior associate.

The five stages in your career

Before we dig into the detail, it is worth putting some context in for your career as a whole. There are typically five key stages of your career:

  • Prequalification
  • Qualified
  • Manager or associate
  • Director or senior associate
  • Partner.

Dependent on the size of your firm you may have more career transition stages than this, or even less. Within a large or Big4 firm you may find there are more career stages. Within a BigLaw or Magic Circle firm, there can often be (surprisingly) fewer stages than this. While you may not have a title reflecting this structure, you will complete each of these stages to go from trainee through to partner. Typically, in a small practice, your formal transition from one career stage to another is not always clearly delineated.

What are the sorts of things a fee earner will do in a practice?

Although this may feel like I am teaching you to suck eggs, for the avoidance of doubt, most fee earners are doing one of three things. Grinding: completing work on behalf of a client, while normally being supervised by others Minding: maintaining the client relationships, while supervising and managing others doing the client work Finding: finding and winning new business for the firm

What is the key focus of a manager or associate?

As a manager or associate your key focus is running and managing client assignments for your partner. This means that a large proportion of your work will be ‘minding’. If you are in a smaller firm and don’t have anyone more junior to delegate work, you will find that you will still be doing a large amount of grinding as well as ‘minding’ at this stage in your career.

How does your focus change as you become a director or senior associate? (i.e what is the difference between an associate vs senior associate)

As you move up the career ladder, you will be expected to start to win your own work and almost definitely take on day-to-day management responsibilities for your part of the practice.

Unfortunately, whilst you may be expected to contribute to business development and management responsibilities, you may not see your billable targets reduce.

As a Director or Senior Associate, you are now considered to be a senior member of the firm, and expected to stand in occasionally for the partners. To be promoted to this stage, you need to be regularly winning work from existing clients and you will be finding that you are often being helped (or expected!) to start to win your own clients and build up your own portfolio. Also included in this level are highly experienced technical specialists who may or may not have staff. Such people have strategic importance to the firm without necessarily be heading for partner. People at this level of seniority are often authorised to sign-off files and client work, on behalf of the partnership. (Particularly within the mid-tier and large accountancy firms.) Depending on the size of your firm or practice area within your firm, you may be expected to participate in the day-to-day management of your department or practice area and so free up partners’ time to concentrate on clients, business development and wider partnership responsibilities. As you become more and more senior as a director or senior associate you may find that you get given the title of salaried partner. This is to help you have partner on your business card, which foolish though it may sound, maybe a deal-breaker for business development. Yes, many clients will not consider hiring someone who doesn’t have the prestige and associated credibility of the title of partner.  

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