In this two-part blog post, taken from an extract of ‘How to make partner and still have a life’, we explore the four different routes you can take to get to partnership. 

While each professional’s route to partner is different, there are four main routes:

  1. The Traditional Route: This is where you work your way up from trainee to partner within the same firm.
  2. The Lateral Route: This is where you make partner by changing firm(s).
  3. The In-house Route: This is where you leave private practice and go into industry (in-house), but return later to private practice, and either work your way up to partner or, return as a partner.
  4. Going it alone: Rather of staying within an established professional practice and working your way up to partner, you leave to set up your own practice.

The Traditional Route

Twenty or thirty years, it was uncommon for established professionals to move between practices. If you look at the career paths of the older partners within your practice, you will find that there are a significant percentage who have grown-up with the firm – ‘man and boy’ having joined the firm, usually straight from university, as a trainee and made their way up to partner. Unless they have undertaken secondments along the way, they have no external work experience. It’s now getting less common for partners to have only worked at one firm during their working life. For this route to partnership to be right for you, you need to be confident regarding the following criteria:

  • Your personal values and those of your firm, are closely aligned;
  • Your firm is able to meet your personal partnership ambitions in your chosen specialism, within your personal timetable; and
  • You feel that this is the “right” firm, and you have established strong personal relationships within the firm.

The Lateral Route

The lateral route to partnership has become more common in recent years. Most firms expect that they will need to regularly augment their talent pool with experienced hires from outside of the firm. This happens where the firm hasn’t been able to develop their own talent in a particular specialism, or the firm chooses to bring in an experienced hire for strategic reasons, e.g. the experienced hire brings with them a valuable client portfolio.

You will need to seriously think about choosing this route to partnership if:

  • Your route to partnership within your firm is blocked by more senior members of your practice area who will make partner before you, and, in all probability, significantly slow your career progression;
  • Your personal values are clashing with the firm’s values;
  • You are not excited by the thought of spending the whole of your career with your current firm;
  • You feel as if your face doesn’t fit within your firm;
  • You’ve have some personality conflicts within influential parts of the firm and believe that people will block your way;
  • You feel as if you won’t be able to achieve all your life goals, if you make partner within your current firm;
  • You are not excited and passionate about your firm’s clients and likely future clients;
  • Your firm is experiencing financial difficulties and growth of the firm is looking very unlikely;
  • Your firm has many partners within your particular specialism, none of whom are likely to leave or retire in the short- or medium-term;
  • You want variety to experience work in more than one firm before making partner.

In tomorrow’s post we look at the last two routes through to partnership, the in-house route and going it alone route.