In the last six months I have been working with a handful of senior associates looking to make partner in their UK law firm. These tips to making partner in a law firm come directly through helping them to make the step up to partner.
1. Hit your numbers
It doesn’t matter how good you are at leading a team or whether you truly think like a partner, if you are not hitting your numbers, i.e. your chargeable and billing targets, you will struggle to make partner in a law firm. Hitting your numbers means:
- consistently producing personal billings worth at least 3 times your salary
- achieving your utilisation and recovery KPIs
2. Build your own referral networks
If you want to make partner in law firm then you need to build up your own referral networks. Remember that unlike accountants, lawyers rarely hunt in packs. This means, if you want to make partner in your law firm, that you need to have your own referral networks which can feed work to you and others in the firm.
When I talk about referral networks I mean groups of people who will send you work. These could be internal networks within a firm, i.e. a sector group, or external networks such as a professional networking group. If you are a litigator you will need a greater number of referral networks than a non-contentious lawyer. A litigator, based on one of my clients, will typically need at least 4 referral networks which are consistently sending work.
It can be tempting to leave the network building until you are a year or so away from partnership. This can make the run into partnership incredibly difficult as you will be dealing with high chargeable time targets, possibly supervision of juniors AND need to spend 3-6 hours a week actively networking and relationship building. Pretty tough going! The earlier you start building up your networks the easier it is to start to win your own work and build up your own tally for matters originated.
To get more referrals from your network read 7 annoying reasons why you are not getting enough referrals from your network
3. Have a high profile within the partnership
To make partner in a law firm your firm’s equity partners need to know who you are AND want you to become a partner. Yes, the fixed share partners and salaried partners have a level of influence with the firm, but the people you need to have on side are the full equity partners. The title ‘partner’ in your law firm, particularly for salaried partners, may not have any influence on who is being admitted to the partnership.
To gain this high profile you need to have built a great reputation for:
- hitting your numbers (see earlier)
- being a ‘good’ lawyer
- bringing in work for others
4. Become known as a ‘good’ lawyer
The ultimate accolade for any lawyer is to be seen by their peers as a ‘good’ lawyer. You will rarely hear lawyers rating other lawyers for their business development or leadership skills. This means that to gain the respect of the partners in your firm they need to see you as a good technician first and foremost.
5. Build up a following and be able to feed yourself
Whenever you speak to a law firm who is looking to recruit in a senior associate or junior partner they are ultimately looking for someone who has a ‘following’. What this means is ready-made referral networks (see above) or clients who will follow the lawyer to the new firm.
Unless you are a senior associate in a very large firm you will need to be able to feed yourself if you want to make partner. To what extent you need to be able to feed yourself will vary from firm to firm. However if you are in a UK top 100 – top 20 firm, then you need to be able to demonstrate:
- you are able to bring work into the firm (even if it is not for you to service)
- you have a client portfolio worth £300k+
- you are not overly reliant on one client or one referrer
6. Tell your partners that you are committed to progressing to partner
You really do need to let your partners know that you are interested in progressing your career to partner. Here is advice on how to safely tell your partners you want to make partner.
7. Start thinking and acting as if you are a partner
Now I don’t mean ordering people around as if you are already a partner. What I mean is change the conversations that you have with people. Instead of thinking like a senior associate would, what would a partner with leadership/managerial, profit and loss responsibilities be thinking or doing?
8. Know the process to get to partner
Every firm will have a process to get to partner. This may not be a formal openly communicated process, but there will be a process. Talk with the equity partners in your firm, particularly the ones in your practice area to understand what you need to do and demonstrate to be seen as a future partner in your practice.
9. Create your business case to make partner in your law firm
Lastly and by no means least, you need a business case to make partner in your law firm. This is the same whether you are in the UK, US or elsewhere in the world. No law firm can afford to make up a senior associate to partner just because they feel like it. To help you create your business case for partner read 5 essentials which need to go into your business case for partner.
- What changes as you move from senior associate to partner in a Magic Circle Law Firm? (It’s more than just your job title)
- 6 essential strategies to help you make partner in a new law firm
- How do I become a partner in a magic circle law firm – part 1