This blog post explores what you need to demonstrate to get put on Partnership Track and then put forward for partnership when your firm does not have a formal process for admitting new partners.

Many firms, including some very large top 50 UK based Accountancy and Legal firms, do not have a formal or structured process to get onto Partnership Track and then to Partner. Sometimes this is because the firm has not felt the need to get around to formalising a process, or it is a very secretive process, or the firm may have recently merged and is still working out how things are done around here. These scenarios have happened to all of my clients in one way or another. Even if there doesn’t seem to be a formal structured process there will always be an informal process, normally “the way it has always been done around here”.

It can be both a blessing and a curse to not have a structured formal process. Even if your firm decides and votes on future partners in total secrecy, without their future partners even knowing they are being voted into the partnership, there are certain standards that you will need to achieve. These are:

1. Demonstrate or show strong potential that you can grow and profitably manage a partner-sized client portfolio

It is not always the case, but partners are generally very reluctant to share the profits of the firm with someone who hasn’t shown they can grow and profitably manage a partner-sized client portfolio. There is an exception to this rule. Very occasionally a partnership will make a head of one of its practice management departments, such as the Marketing or HR director. The rationale for promoting non-fee earners is typically that they can do a far better job for the firm if they are privy to the discussions around the partnership table.

If you develop a very strong personal brand, such as becoming the Go-To Expert for something both externally and internally within your firm, it is a very good sign that you have a convincing case to be made up to partner.

One of the pieces of evidence your partners may be looking for is a commitment to build up your client portfolio. The best way to do this is to be actively working towards a marketing plan.

2. Be trusted to run and own a slice of the firm

Very often you will have strong clues that the partners trust you. Perhaps you already run a practice area or are being visibly lined up to replace a retiring partner. A good way to make a case for partnership is to look for managerial and leadership responsibility within the firm.

3. Be able to lead and develop a team to service the work you win

When a partner is starting the wind down as they head towards retirement, they will start to look for their successor. They may already have a successor in their department and, as happened with one of our clients, will hand over more of the day-to-day running of the team to them.

4. Work harmoniously with the firm’s existing partners

No partner will vote in a new partner if they don’t respect and feel they can work with them. Whilst not all partnerships require a unanimous vote for someone to be made partner, as one managing partner told me, he would be very reluctant to make someone up if this was going to mean additional conflict within the partnership team.

5. Exhibit long-term commitment to the firm and its values and vision for the future.

Partners in a firm need to be role models for the firm’s values and demonstrate total commitment to the firm. If you are seen to embody the firm values in everything you do AND always be thinking about the needs of the firm, then you have a strong case for partnership.

Ultimately:

When your firm does not have a structured formal partnership admissions process or criteria which its junior partners need to achieve, then you need to drive your own career progression through to partner. This means you need to make your intentions to make partner subtly known and ask individual partners what they would need you to demonstrate to be make partner.