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Want to make partner? It's a case of stick or twist, according to UK promotion analysis

Posted by: Laurence Simons 13/06/12

Not all lawyers make partner where they train, according to figures.

Starting a new job is a hassle. You have to pack up all of your desk-based geegaws into a miserable-looking cardboard box; you have to relearn which of the restaurants within a five-minute walk of the office provide anything resembling something good to eat; you have to make friends. Ugh.

But it seems this rite of passage is something a number of lawyers are prepared to go through in a bid to make partner, according to an analysis of partner promotion by the Lawyer this month. The first of its kind since 2008, the in-depth analysis of making up patterns at the Top 20 major UK firms uncovered a raft of figures on male-female partner ratios and the average profile of your common-or-garden partner, but one of the key areas focussed on was retention. And while eight out of nine Freshfield lawyers follow the trainee-to-partner route, only one Top 20 firm in the UK - Slaughters - was found to boast that perfect, 100 per cent making up figure. 

"We've always been very focused on attracting the very best people and then developing them to be excellent business lawyers," said Freshfields HR director Kevin Hogarth. "We recognise that from time to time we need to recruit from outside the firm where we don't have the skills and experience internally. But at associate and partner level it makes sense to nurture the talent we have."

And that goes double for those in the corporate legal field., according to the analysis. Just over half of corporate promotions at Top 20 firms in the past five years have been trained in-house, while exactly half of finance partners had never had to spend an unendurable lunch hour alone in Pizza Express. "That's telling you a story about the fact that finance is still an international growth area," explained Allen & Overy finance head Stephen Kensell. 

So which is the best strategy to make partner: stick or twist? Well, it depends: seeing as Big law firms aren't exactly transparent about partner-making policies (seeing as it makes them a sitting duck for employment tribunals from disgruntled employees who've been passed up), analysing the data seems to be the only way to figure it out. So that's what American Lawyer did, earlier this year, thankfully: according to their analysis of 97 of the Am Law 100 HR departments, they found the average partner had been at the firm 10.5 years, and waiting very patiently. If you're coming up to a decade of service and no one from up top has been milling around complementing your tie and winking lately, you might want to have a word with a legal recruiter.