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So…. you want to be a Partner. Exploits in managing expectations.

One thing people don’t tend to advertise to new entrants to the recruitment profession is just how much time we spend crushing dreams. We’re dream crushers. Some of us pretend we aren’t, we avoid calls from candidates when we need to deliver bad news, try and put a positive spin on woeful interview feedback or send encouraging messages of likely career development when we know there is none. Ultimately of course actively avoiding the negative is detrimental to your own reputation because if you can’t tell the truth you have no credibility. It still amazes me how many recruiters just don’t seem to learn that lesson. If you tell someone the truth about what they can achieve or can’t, or how they really shouldn’t have spent 30 minutes of an interview talking about their cat, Mr. Wiggles, they will, for the most part, respect you for it.

Of course, there are outliers, people who don’t agree with you and that can get antagonistic. I’ve suffered abuse once in a while for being less optimistic that someone would achieve what they thought they could but I always think it’s better to tell someone the truth than let them continue to live in ignorance. On an exceedingly rare occasion, I have even been proven wrong by someone succeeding in the thing I thought they couldn’t. But.. I’m happy to be told ‘I told you so,’ it gives me hope. In general, I’m an optimist and any evidence that my thinking may have been short sighted is very much appreciated. I also have a fairly sizeable ego because I’d like to believe that these incidents of wrongness, at least from a recruitment perspective, are rare.

Which brings me to the point of the article. People sometimes confuse achievable goals with realistic timeframes. It’s entirely reasonable for Patent Attorney to say that ‘one day I’ll be a Partner in a firm’ it’s much less reasonable for that to have an expiry date, a time frame when it will happen, particularly if you want to leave where you are in order to get the thing you’re not getting where you currently work.

There are other issues, what do you mean by Partner? Do you just want a title, recognition, money? When you get to Partner where you will progress then? Do you want to be an Equity Partner? How achievable is that? Partnership can be the MacGuffin that everyone is chasing without, in some cases, ever questioning why or what it means. It’s just the thing that they think they want.

The lack of questioning the goal or defining what the goal even is can you leave digging around the desert looking for the Ark of the Covenant in entirely the wrong place, or worse with your face melted off when you open it up. Granted that’s an extreme example. But not defining why or what can mean that you only look at it from the perspective of your own interests and not that of the firm who might be making you a Partner.

The attorneys who realise what it is they want and are therefore prepared to compromise are much more likely to achieve their goals more speedily than their peers.

If you are currently a frustrated Senior Associate, Partner (salaried or otherwise) or even an Associate thinking long term, I ask you to consider a few of the following.

1) What is in it for them?

Yes you want to be a Partner. We understand. But is it beneficial for the firm doing the hiring to offer it? The most obvious factor would be a client following, and if possible, you really should consider what clients may move with you, what the terms of your restrictive covenant are, if applicable, and what would happen if this promised following didn’t materialise. But, it’s not always about a client following. Some firms need a more experienced head to manage the growth of the firm, they have plenty of work but not enough people at the top. Perhaps a firm has a concern over attorneys retiring or maybe they want to make a high profile hire from a competitor (although clearly a hire entirely predicated on PR has the potential to be disastrous).

You need to think about the risk to the firm as much as the risk for yourself. If they are paying six figures for you to help plug a gap in staffing to do the work they have, why are you better than a recently qualified attorney? Why is that financial outlay worth it? You could consider a lower salary with a higher bonus structure, for example, if you were confident you would generate work, or that you don’t join as a Partner but you have a built-in expectation in the offer, subject to you achieving some agreed goals.

2) What does being a Partner mean?

Some firms have lots of salaried partners and in some cases, this can be a career graveyard, not pitstop on the way to equity. You achieve your immediate goal more quickly than you might have done elsewhere but give up the long-term options you might have had. What voting rights do Salaried Partners have? How often do they progress beyond Salaried Partner? How long does it typically take to climb the equity ladder? You might be better as a Senior Associate with influence than a salaried Partner with none. Don’t fixate on the title.

3) Are there circumstances that make progression more likely?

Is the firm you’re joining top heavy? Are there lots of Senior Associates vying for promotion? What is the culture of creating new Partners? How profitable is the firm? Have these profits been growing each year? How visible is the role to the wider firm? Are there higher profile roles in other offices that could have an impact on you? How much support is there for business development? How much control will you have over the work you choose to do? Firms may give you assurances on the possibility of progression entirely in good faith but if circumstances are also favourable because of demographics, growth or culture then that can give a great deal of security beyond the promises.

4) Taking a step back to step forward might be a good idea.

This often applies to attorneys moving from a senior role in industry back into private practice but can equally apply to attorneys who benefit from generous bonus schemes which vary widely from firm to firm. Sometimes, taking a short term pay cut can be long-term beneficial. If you can overcome the psychological obstacle of doing the same job for less then the trade off could be substantial if you are thorough in your due diligence. If you entirely limit yourself by achieving an increase in remuneration then it may not be worth moving at all. This is a career bet and you should have very carefully considered how likely it is that it will pay off and what the risks are if it doesn’t.

5) It is very possible.

I think sometimes candidates assume that there comes a point when there is no longer any reason to consider moving, but this is rarely true. We’ve moved Senior Associates to roles where they’ve been able to achieve partnership, we’ve moved Salaried Partners with or without a client following and we’ve moved Equity Partners often with a great deal of support from their new firm in extricating them from their old one.

We’re recruiting a Partner/Partner designate role right now in electronics and engineering if you would like to have a chat about that but regardless, we always welcome a conversation about your career options whatever you might be looking for.

Pete Fellows.

Fellows and Associates



61 Bridge Street,

+44 (0) 207 903 5019.
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