First Step Promotions & US Firms: Should I stay or should I go?

Becoming a partner in a US law firm is a significant milestone in a lawyer’s career. It signifies not only a substantial increase in income but also recognition of one’s expertise and dedication.

The path to partnership is rarely straightforward and is often only relevant for lawyers with six or more years of experience. One of the key decisions these seasoned attorneys face is whether to remain at their current firm or explore opportunities elsewhere to achieve their partnership aspirations. There are many considerations to factor in – here are just a few.

Prerequisites to Partnership

Becoming a partner is not just a matter of tenure; it requires a combination of factors to be in your favor. Here are some prerequisites to consider:

Experience: Typically, law firms look for candidates with at least six years of post-qualification experience. This experience should encompass a deep understanding of your practice area, a track record of success, and the ability to manage client relationships effectively.

Client Base: A strong book of business is often a prerequisite for partnership. Partnerships rely heavily on revenue generation, and your ability to bring in clients or cultivate relationships that can lead to business is crucial.

Leadership Skills: Lawyers seeking partnership must demonstrate leadership qualities. This includes managing and mentoring junior associates, contributing to firm initiatives, and being seen as a trusted advisor within the firm.

Cultural Fit: Firms value attorneys who align with their culture and values. Your ability to work well with colleagues and clients, as well as your commitment to the firm’s mission, can greatly influence your partnership prospects.

Partnership track usually requires a positive combination of all these attributes. Having strength in one with little in others does not bode well.

How to Spot If Your Firm Has Earmarked You for Partnership

Identifying whether your current firm has earmarked you for partnership can be a challenging task, but several signs may indicate that you’re on the right path:

Increased Responsibilities: If you find yourself consistently handling more complex cases, taking the lead on important client matters, or being involved in firm management and decision-making, you might be on your way to a partnership opportunity.

Mentorship and Feedback: If senior partners are investing time in mentoring you and providing constructive feedback to help you progress, it’s a sign that they see potential in your future as a partner.

Inclusion in Strategic Discussions: Being invited to participate in discussions about the firm’s strategic direction and growth plans is a strong indicator of your importance within the organization.

Client Relationships: If you’re entrusted with managing critical client relationships or have been assigned to develop new ones, your firm likely sees you as a key asset for business development.

If you find that you’re lacking in the prerequisites or haven’t been given any indication the your current firm is interested in putting you on a partner track, perhaps setting your sights on new horizons is your best option.

Benefits of Moving

While remaining at your current firm may seem like the most straightforward path to partnership, if you’re at 6 years’ experience, but not meeting any of the prerequisites from the previous section, exploring opportunities at other firms might be your best way forward and can offer several advantages:

Fresh Perspectives: Moving to a new firm can expose you to different practice areas, client industries, and legal strategies, broadening your skill set and perspective.

Accelerated Progress: Some firms may have a more expedited partnership track or a lower equity requirement, allowing you to achieve partnership sooner.

Client Base Expansion: Joining a firm with a broader client network can facilitate business development, making it easier to meet the revenue targets required for partnership.

Cultural Fit: If you feel that your current firm’s culture is not aligning with your values or career goals, a move to a different firm with a better fit can be refreshing.

How a Recruitment Consultant Can Help

Considering a move to another firm for partnership can be a complex decision. This is where a recruitment consultant specializing partner legal placements can provide invaluable assistance:

Market Knowledge: Recruitment consultants have their finger on the pulse of the legal job market. They can provide insights into which firms are actively seeking partners and where your skills and experience are most in demand.

Personalized Guidance: Consultants can assess your career goals, strengths, and weaknesses and match you with firms that align with your aspirations.

Negotiation Expertise: They can assist in negotiating compensation packages, partnership agreements, and other terms to ensure you receive the best possible offer.

Confidentiality: Recruitment consultants can maintain discretion throughout the process, preserving your relationship with your current firm until you decide to make a move.

Market Conditions

Market conditions can greatly affect partnership advancement and first-step hires. During down periods, for example, firms are less likely to advance senior associates or hire outside their firm for partners. Understanding market conditions for your region and specialism can help manage your expectations. Consider reviewing market reports like the Jameson Legal Analysis of Partner Hires – New York & Washington, D.C. for more information on the partner hiring trends in these important regions.

While you might be highly regarded by your firm and have already been approached for Partnership – this is an “inflection point” for your career. Thus, you will be extremely focused on taking your practice to the next level and ensuring that you have a platform of sufficient scope and sophistication for growth. You may be looking for that rare large law firm or boutique that combines a sterling reputation, global/domestic presence, and deep, broad expertise across many practice areas with a demonstrated commitment to and investment in your practice. We would be happy to explore your “inflection point” with you – get in touch at for personalized and insightful advice