I was interviewed a few months ago by a journalist for an article in Economia on the different routes to make it to partner.
As I was speaking to her, I found myself wanting to say: but what if you don’t want to make partner? In chapter 2 of How to make partner and still have a life, we challenge you to work out whether partnership is right for you and if it is really what you want. Actually the whole book ‘How to make partner and still have a life’ will properly equip you to make an informed decision, and this article will start with some challenging questions about whether you really want to become a partner.
After all, making partner is not the only destination for your career. In fact, in my view, success shouldn’t be defined by your job title, but by how fulfilled and happy you are, inside and outside of work. When I worked in a firm I would have never defined my career success that way though! It would have been all about the job title, the salary and the kudos related to my position. What can I say? I’m now older and wiser! As the saying goes, life is not a dress rehearsal.
Let’s get back to the point of this blog post, what are the pros and cons of making partner?
The advantages of making partner
Making partner brings many advantages. I think they fall into four areas: respect, money, control, and focus.
Having partner on your business card brings a level of professional respect and kudos. In some ways it is also a validation of your professional worth and merit. With that professional respect and kudos normally comes the rewards of owning a slice of the firm. Of course, in the years when profits are low, there is no certainty that a junior partner will earn more than the director/senior associates in your firm. It is probably fair to say that as a partner in a Big 4 or Magic Circle firm, your drawings (i.e. share of the firm’s profits) will be substantial. (See how much do Big 4 partners earn).
One of the benefits of being a partner is you have a little more freedom to organise how to run your life. After all, if you achieve the targets you have been given by your fellow partners it doesn’t matter whether you take holiday for 35 days or just 5 days a year. It also doesn’t matter whether you decide to work from home one day a week. Very often the only thing holding you back, as a partner, from taking a bit of ‘life’ back from your firm, is your own routine and way of working.
When you own a slice of the firm, you have the luxury of building your part of the practice around what you want (within reason). This means you can delegate the stuff you don’t like and just focus on what you enjoy and are good at. In many ways this is similar to the advantages of running a small business, but with a much bigger support structure around you.
The disadvantages of making partner
But nothing is without cost. There are downsides too: burn-out, competition, personal sacrifice.
Let’s strip away the glitz and glamour of being partner and actually look at what you need to do to get there. The years between associate/manager and partner are probably some of the hardest you will ever work. Hitting high billable targets AND growing your own profile and client portfolio is tough. You will be required to work outside of the 8-6 working day and attend events to ‘get your name out there’.
The sad fact is only a small percentage of people who start in the professions will make it to partner. You only have to look at the pyramid structure of a firm to realise this. Not everyone is cut out to make partner. After all, it takes a multi-talented lawyer or accountant to do the three things all partners need to do well; being great with clients, winning new business, leading and managing a team. (see find out why partners need to be a triple threat) In my opinion, far too many people in the professions have put their life on hold in the hope of making partner, and then not making it.
I’m going to be controversial here. The prime time for making a move to partner is in your 30s. From late 20s to late 30s, this is the decade when many professionals actively build up their profile in order to generate a client following. This takes time and dedication, often outside of the normal working hours. However, many professionals, both male and female, don’t want to sacrifice family life, or the chance of having a family, just to make it to partner. Many firms have brought in initiatives to aim to keep more of their high potential female talent. The sad fact remains that working 60+ hour weeks doesn’t sit well with the delights and challenges of parenthood. (Particularly when both parents are working full time). Very often the only way to combine making it to the top of the professions with having a family, is either have one parent staying-at-home, getting a full time nanny, or downshifting to a smaller firm where there is more flexibility over working hours.
Only you can decide whether you want to be a partner or not.