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Five tips to become a Partner by 35

Written by: Robert Walters Legal Recruitment
Published on: 4 Sep 2018

Sam Walters

Are you a hard-working, aspirational lawyer looking to fast-track to a Partner position?

Despite being more afflicted by economic and political uncertainty over the last decade, partnership at a law firm is still very much an attainable goal for millennial legal professionals wanting to forge a long and illustrious career in the sector.

Robert Walters is a leading legal recruitment agency advertising a range of law jobs across the UK, in cities such as London, Bristol and Manchester, and beyond, in countries including Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. TotallyLegal displays the latest roles from Robert Walters, both in practice and in-house, in a variety of PQE and salary levels.

Sam Walters, Director of Legal Recruitment at Robert Walters, shares five key tips to help you on your way to becoming a Partner by the time you are 35.

Understand your firm’s expectations

Understanding from the outset the progression framework in place at your law firm enables you to map out your route to partnership straight away.

Sam comments, “It is still surprising to meet many mid-level lawyers who crave a partnership badge yet have little idea from their current employer what expectations the firm/partnership require in terms of self-generated work, profitability, or whether or not the firm has an “all equity” structure.”  

“Most law firms are becoming increasingly transparent on career progression and candidates should be managing upwards in the early stages of their career. Some firms have implemented mandatory “partnership clarity” conversations at six years PQE that has seen a greater return to retention and promotion levels. Most law firms also have very differing views on what is required to enter partnership, so it is imperative these conversations start early with your HR colleagues and immediate reporting lines.”   

Develop your business straight away

Don’t wait until your promotion to Senior Associate before thinking about your firm’s business development plan. Being proactive and adopting critical business thinking could facilitate your transition to Partner level, allowing you to demonstrate key senior-level skills, generate work for your business and make an impact straight away. Sam describes areas where professionals are already driving business development at the junior level.

“Leading junior lawyers from a lot of US law firms have taken an active step in demonstrating their partnership potential in the early stages of their career. As private equity and venture capital appetite has increased in London over the past 18 months, many bright corporate lawyers are spearheading internal business development initiatives in this space. For instance, many lawyers have tracked leading VC businesses from San Francisco to London and have generated a lot of work for their firms from simply applying a touch of business nous.”

Sam continues, “Many VC/private equity lawyers from these firms are also following portfolio companies that they work with and are ultimately far more advanced than their peers waiting for work to be fed down the line. Some leading litigation lawyers are also partnering in very innovative ways with litigation funders as 3rd party funding becomes a hot spot for growth across the globe. Whatever the area, it is key not to sit idle and wait for the work to fall in to your lap.”  

“I would encourage lawyers to be business-focused and entrepreneurial early on and not let the “business thinking” be done by the current partners. Many stand out candidates are being creative with a variety of trade press publications and making very actionable plans for firms to support their analysis. Building relationships with your business development or marketing functions and creating an impression early on will also help raise your professional profile within the business.”

Specialise in a high-growth area

Sam explains how keeping an eye on industry developments can allow you to specialise in future high-demand areas of the legal profession:

“It is very important that lawyers can spot a trend and be forward thinking about economic cycles. For example, the amount of work now being generated around blockchain and data analytics is staggering, and some firms are becoming increasingly forthright in their investment in these areas. The payments and derivatives industries are also two areas whereby some firms are leapfrogging others due to the innovative ideas of their lawyers.”   

Build a professional network

Sam continues, “Engaging with a variety of professional mentors is proven to help reach Partner status earlier in your career. Wider exposure to the industry through alumni events, trade fairs, chamber of commerce events, CPD events, as well as old university contacts, gives you a plethora of opportunity to forge a strong professional network and accelerate your progression in the field. Lawyers can unfortunately become indoctrinated in their own firm, so it is helpful to seek advice from sources outside of the firm.”   

Develop your skillset in-house

While private practice is considered the traditional route to becoming a Partner, Sam explains some of the benefits of progressing in-house to reach this position.

“Going in-house for a period is not seen as a blockade to partnership anymore. Many positives include utilising the time to generate business, consulting a mentor outside of a law firm, refining your softer skills through “one client” and appreciating life as a support function as opposed to a fully-fledged fee earner. These subtle nuances could assist you down the line when making the transition to partnership.”

Although the halcyon days of strong law firm growth in the mid-90s and early 2000s have come to an end, if you are a forward-thinking lawyer with entrepreneurial spirit who can manage up accordingly, there is no reason why you shouldn’t become a partner by 35.