The Survivalist

May 20, 2012

Eight years in and not a partner yet? Then you’re finished, claims our new columnist


Welcome to The Survivalist. This article is the first in a series designed to help you survive a legal career.

It unashamedly does, as they say, what it says on the tin. No beating around the bush, no sugar-coating. This is the truth that legal recruiters will never tell you, and your mates in other firms just won’t know.

The Survivalist is the career advice equivalent of buying a ranch in Montana, a rackful of Uzis and enough rations to last until it’s safe to come out of the bunker again.

OK, nuff said. On with the meat.

Your first and most important career asset is awareness.

Awareness is what will keep you alive in the War for Talent which is going on continuously, and increasingly noisily, outside the fox-hole of your current firm. Whether you know it or not, you are in this war and it’s time to get real.

Your first lesson in awareness? Look around your firm. Count how many non-partners there are with more than, oh, eight years’ experience.

Probably not many. In other words, non-partner senior lawyers are increasingly rare.

Where have they gone? Many will have ‘peeled off’ along the way. (Some firms have a tacit or even explicit ‘up or out’ policy, and many assistants will have seen the writing on the wall long before the paint begins to drip on the pavement.)

Some will have bolted in-house. Some will have gone off to have babies. A distressing number will be kicking their heels at home, or doing jobs they never thought they would, such as working in High Street firms or contracting for one of the emerging alternative providers.

Those still employed will probably have reached a salary plateau, and be earning not a lot more than those with half as much experience.

Whatever. Any hope of any further upward movement in their career is, effectively, as good as gone.

Leaving aside the endangered senior non-partners for a moment, you may be in a firm where partners, including equity partners, are getting the boot. Are you aware yet? Nobody is safe. You are expendable. Get used to it.

This should not worry you. This is your call to freedom. Because once you understand you are expendable, whatever your level, you can start to make yourself as indispensable as possible.

Doing so will free you from the shackles of dependency. You will be happier for it.

Contrary to what many lawyers have grown up believing, you should not want to be ‘fed’ because if you are then you will get a nasty shock when the feeding tube gets pulled.

If you allow yourself to get to eight years’ qualified without being firmly on the partner track, then you will need to have a very good alternative plan lined up, and probably a Plan C beyond that.

If you decide you don’t want to be a partner, don’t think there are going to be oodles of opportunities for you as your experience mounts up.

There won’t be. The ugly truth is that you will quickly become awkwardly expensive for law firms to maintain, with little more additional value than less experienced but more profitable colleagues.

Awareness of this truth is the first step. Doing something about it is the next. That’s for another article.

In the meantime, look after yourself. Stay sharp, stay frosty. Over and out. TS

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  • Wasted Youth


    I own a legal firm (well 99% of one), which I set up with £39.55 capital and no clients (restrictive covenant, but I had no decent clients anyway, which is partly why I quit my job) I am also a director of my legal firm and a practicing attorney in the uk.

    I cannot understand all the whinging about partnership. The partnership culture is only a culture. It is not for everyone, and the whole solicitor profession seems to be obsessed with it and brainwashed into thinking that there are only partners and everyone else. It doesn’t make sense.

    If employed solicitors/ lawyers want to be partners, then get on with it and look for some partners. The starting point would be asking the partners in the firm you work for if they would like to go into partnership with you, assuming you want to work ther eof course. If not , then what about other lawyers you know in other firms, who either are already in partnerships, or who might be employed and might want to start a new partnership? If you can’t find any partner candidates, then you can be a sole trader or set up a limited company.

    Slavery is now abolished in the UK. Employees are free persons. If you don’t like your job or your career, then capitalism allows you a release of quitting. If you think you can run and own a firm, then get on with it. In fact the UK needs more persons to create new businesses so as to provide jobs for others.

    Wasted Youth

  • The Survivalist

    Awesome!! Well done you. Don’t disagree with a word of that, mate, more power to you. You’ve inspired me to write a future blog in your honour!