There used to be a rebuttable presumption that if you were intelligent, hardworking, and good with clients, then after a suitable qualifying period, you would be invited to join the partner track. More recently, however, this is not the case. Now, only 10-30% of top accountants, lawyers and consultants will become partners at their firm. With partnership being very difficult to attain, it has never been so vital to understand exactly what is a partner track and why it is important to your career.

The Partner Track

The ‘partner track’ can often mean two things. It is sometimes referred to the period from graduation to making partner at a highly profitable firm, and on average, top firms have a partner track of 7 to 10 years. The entire process is a very steep pyramid so only a few associates will make partner after 7 years. However, The Partner Track can often be referred to as the 12 month process to go through the partnership admissions process. Or people say “I am on Partner Track” if they have been told by their partners that they are partner potential. 

Generally, to make partner, associates must do very high-quality work, be able to work unsupervised on a day-to-day basis and must also be able to supervise more junior associates and staff members. Towards the end of the partner track, the seventh year associate should be generating their own business for the firm, keeping themselves and one or two other associates busy with the new work.

Often, being able to generate new business is the toughest step of the partner track, so sometimes, it is possible for an associate to become a “non-equity” partner for a few years until that milestone is achieved.

Why the partner track is essential to your career

Making partner is the primary goal for many associates committed to a career in private practice, but for others, they might question the decision, especially if it results in flat, or even reduced compensation as they work their way up the ladder.

If you find yourself on the fence about the commitment, wondering if there is any point at all in you going for partner with the statistics stacked against you, here are a few reasons why it could be a great move for your career.

  1. It is essential for the development and long-term retention of your firm – every firm needs to grow sustainably to survive in such a changeable and growing market, so the more assistants, associates, and partners a firm has, the more they will expand and bring in more business.
  2. Job security – associates that are on the partner track are consistently bringing in more business so the firm, and therefore, their jobs are a lot more secure. The title of partner alone is also a validation of your professional worth and merit beyond that of other fee earners at your firm, so the partner track encourages continued success.
  3. It is easier to grow your own book of business – most in-house institutions like the perception that their outsourced legal work is “partner-led” so, as a non-partner, you run the considerable risk of losing clients if the key people at their firm should change.
  4. Financial benefits – of course, making partner often comes with the rewards of owning a slice of the firm as well as other monetary benefits, especially when the profits are high.
  5. Better work-life balance – although the partner track is a hard slog, it is essential for your career because partnership, that light at the end of the tunnel, gives you a little more freedom of how you want your life to look. This is also true for the firm, being partner, you can delegate the work that you don’t like and focus on what you enjoy and are good at.
  6. You will develop vital skills – even if you don’t make partner the first time around, being on the partner track alone will ensure that you have developed essential skills such as business development. During this time you would have also built up a healthy book of business yourself, built a solid business case, and you would have become extremely knowledgeable about your speciality area to the point where you can lead junior associates effectively.
  7. It gives you more business opportunities elsewhere in the corporate world – the skills that you learn during this process can be used to open up more business opportunities for you, especially if your “insufficient business case” is a “strategic necessity” at another firm

What is a partner track? It’s an opportunity!

Partnership may be a difficult goal to attain, but the partner track itself is an opportunity. It’s an opportunity for you to sell yourself and your strengths and it allows you to develop essential skills that will benefit you wherever you work in the corporate world; it’s a massively positive step that will make a huge difference to your career in the long-term.