What size of client portfolio will I need to build as a partner in the Big 4?

It is now extremely rare for a partnership to make someone up to partner who does not have the potential to be a work winner for the practice. After all, no partnership wants to dilute it’s profits by promoting people to partner who are technical specialists and can’t win work. Therefore, regardless of whether you are at the Big4 (i.e. E&Y, PWC, Deloitte or KPMG) or another firm, you will need to commit to building a client portfolio. The question is – how big will you need to grow your client portfolio? Or in reality, what do you need to show in your business case for partnership to be in the running to make partner?

What is the typical client portfolio size of a Big 4 partner?

As with everything, there are no hard and fast rules here. There is always a normal distribution curve with portfolio sizes in a Big4 firm. This is because there is different expectations depending on the service stream, office or point in your career you are at. Interestingly, the size of an average Big4 client portfolio is not going to be significantly bigger than the portfolio size of a partner in Grant Thornton or BDO. (This surprised me when I spoke to the Big4 partners)

If you are aiming for partnership at BDO or GT, then you will probably need to show that you will grow within 5 years a client portfolio worth over £1 million. (I say probably because it will differ between region, office, stream, sector and current partnership thinking!) To give you an idea, some partners at BDO will have portfolios worth over £2 million – but not many. Some very senior partners in the Big 4 will actually have a smaller client portfolio, e.g. £600k because they have taken on more managerial responsibilities – and their portfolio size will be adjusted down to take account of this. However, if you assume that the average portfolio size of a Big 4 partner, without managerial responsibilities, will be £2+ million – you wouldn’t be far wrong.

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Very often you will find that the managing partner of a mid tier firm may have no client portfolio, such as Peter Gilman at Price Bailey. Or sometimes a firm may have a managing partner with the largest client portfolio size. The difference between the Big 4 and a mid-tier firm is that a partner’s client portfolio size is often actively managed down if they take on managerial responsibilities.

What about the law firms?

If you are in a Magic Circle Law firm, your partners will still want to see demonstrable evidence that you are able to build up your own practice. However, because they realise that you will struggle to bring in meaningful pieces of work without partner on your business card, they wouldn’t necessarily expect you to have a built a partner-sized practice before you make partner.

If you are not in a Magic Circle law firm you are not so lucky. From my experience of coaching lawyers in top 100 law firms, most firms will expect that you have built up a practice worth £300k or more to be in with a shot of making partner. That £300k needs to include a significant amount of matters you have originated yourself from outside of the firm.

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