For many senior lawyers in the current market, the path to partnership has never been harder.
As Tony Phelps, managing partner of Piper Alderman, explained: “The globalisation of the top tier has put even more emphasis in those firms on conformity to a tight set of partnership criteria, which are both difficult to achieve and unappealing to many people.”
Moving firms can significantly accelerate your route to partnership. Richard Chew joined Piper Alderman earlier this year as a partner in their IP & technology group after nine years with King & Wood Mallesons, where he was a senior associate. As Phelps adds: “In the current market, there are more opportunities for partnership in the mid-sized firms.”
A transportable practice is usually a pre-requisite for partnership, though this is not the only factor. John Nerurker, managing partner of Mills Oakley, who recruited Lisa-Marie McKechnie (previously a senior associate at Minter Ellison) as a partner two years ago, explains: “Financial thresholds apply in terms of average annual billings, but this is only part of the equation. Other factors include acknowledgment as a technical expert, leadership and management skills, and a positive influence on practise or team culture.”
Even if a firm does not offer immediate partnership, an alternative is that you join as a senior associate or special counsel while you build your practice before being promoted to partner, of which there are a number of recent examples.
Either way, a credible business plan setting out your transportable practice and how you plan to develop it is crucial. Thresholds for salaried partnership vary hugely: from practices of $1.5m at some top-tier firms to $400k at smaller mid tiers. Knowing what you have to achieve to make partner at your current firm, and how that compares to the requirements of other firms, is key. In the current market, there are plenty of firms prepared to create opportunities for the right people.