What to do if Partnership Isn't Your Endgame

The allure of partnership is becoming less attractive as younger generations enter law firm life. As many millennials and Gen-Z try to find balance between work and home, the stresses and pressures associated with partnership do not align with their core values. However, their mindset is not about working less – after all, through the use of technology, younger generations embrace the mantra of work smarter, not harder, and have adapted well to the remote working demands of the pandemic. Instead, their aim is to avoid burnout. Far too often, younger lawyers see senior partners overworked, overtired and, in turn, often struggling with poor health.

If this vision aligns with yours, and you are ambitious but have your sights set on an alternative goal to partnership, how can you still push for opportunity at your firm?

Does building a book of business really interest you?

It is well known that a small percentage of every newly qualified (NQ) class will make it to the firm’s partnership, so as a new associate try to understand early on whether going out and winning business is really for you. It is a completely different role to that of associate and, while it will tap into your developed legal skill set, you need to enjoy connecting with people and selling your services to succeed in the law firm partnership ranks. If your firm offers a robust development programme for senior associates that helps them to transition into a partnership role, then that’s a positive sign that they may also have resources to support other career options. 

Think ahead

The key to any future move is planning; remember that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. The reality of that means that you should take small steps, celebrating wins and tackling challenges at every stage. Networking is a great place to start – think about people in your perceived dream job and find a way to get to know them. Meet people at networking events (when you can as covid-19 restrictions ease), use LinkedIn and look at other lawyers’ career trajectories. Then, make a plan, but understand that not every move will take you right to the top. It may be a stepping stone, so embrace that. Sometimes waiting for the right thing can leave you too senior or specialised for what the recruiting market actually needs.

Look in as well as out

Consider what opportunities your current firm can provide. Can you get a secondment or work with a specific group of clients? Explore your firm's portal. Is there training or an internal job board for opportunities, even within a business that you may have developed a new skill set for? If you have a strong relationship with a particular senior associate or partner that you feel comfortable discussing your career goals with, ask them for a coffee to talk about how you can succeed in your current role and what their experiences were, particularly if they also made alternative career moves. 

Don’t rule out your current clients

Finally, remember that we are seeing firms increasingly waking up to the reality that not all of their juniors see partnership in their future. Rather than turning their backs on them, many partners will in fact facilitate an introduction between their associate and their client at the appropriate moment. This might follow a secondment or training scheme, but some partners will actively advocate for associates with clients and help them to transition in the long term. In the end, knowing that your sights are set on a client helps firms to invest partnership training in the right associates, so it benefits both you and them.

Unfortunately, there is no linear career path, as much as is often touted. Many events will affect your life and career decisions but having a goal in mind and developing strong self-awareness will move you in the right direction. Ultimately, younger generations need transparency in the workplace, and it is something that law firms can implement relatively easily and are increasingly striving to achieve. Younger lawyers should, therefore, be open to conversations about their alternative aspirations with partners. With the war for mid-level and junior talent fierce in the wake of the pandemic, you may find that they fight hard to keep and develop you, even if you don’t want your name on the door.

Nathan Peart and Jacqueline Bokser LeFebvre are managing directors of Major Lindsey & Africa’s associate practice group.

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