Becoming a Partner: Progression from Senior Associate to Partner

For many, the ultimate goal is joining the partnership. This final jump from Senior Associate to Partner is the most difficult. All firms have two main criteria when deciding whether to invite someone to join the partnership: the individual’s personal qualities and their business case.

The Criteria

  • Individual Personal Qualities

As an individual, you will need to have first-rate legal expertise and ability as well as sound personal qualities. You need to be seen as “one of the club” and look, sound and be the part before you even make partner. When you are a Senior Associate you should be demonstrating that you can be and effectively are a partner. If you have the right legal and personal qualities, the firm is more likely to take a chance on your business plan and have the confidence that you will be adaptable if the business plan does not develop as originally anticipated.

  • The Business Plan

When you face the committee the focus of the discussion is likely to be on your business plan. The firm is a business, therefore they need to be convinced that your business plan has potential, and they you have the ability to follow through (and adapt) your plan. No two business plans are the exactly the same and what might work for one individual, might not work for another. One business case might be based on an individual’s legal specialism or industry specialism or a need for more partners in a particular practice area. One business plan might be focused on development new client and new business, others might be focused on building support to other practice areas, or strengthening existing relationships.

The Assessment

Unless there is only a small partnership group, most firms have a small committee or group to consider the partnership candidates before final appointments are made by the partnership. To help them make the decision, some firms make potential partners go through a rigerous process to help them learn more about the individual’s personal qualities and their business plan before making a more informed decision.  So in addition to an interview a lot of (larger) firms will also make potential partners undergo an “assessment centre” as it allows the current partners get a better idea about what you are all about giving them a wealth of information about you as a potential candidate that might not be available through interview alone. However, it also provides you with a better understanding of the requirements for that particular role. This “Assessment Centre” might include aptitude testing,  giving a presentation, doing a case study, participating ni a group exercise and a competency based interview.

However, there will also be external factors such as market conditions and lateral hires that also affect when an individual will be considered for partnership and this adds an element of unpredictability to the process.