The Survivalist on how to avoid being left in associate limbo

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It’s always been the way, in war, that the generals get to sit back at base in a fancy tent with canapes and champagne while the soldiers get trench foot and rats for breakfast.

As well as decent nosh, the generals also have better information than the poor saps at the front line. They know stuff the good lads just can’t be trusted with. They know full well that to get the most out of their cannon fodder, they need to keep them in the dark as long as possible.

It’s the same in some law firms. Associates, you see, are the most profitable foot soldiers a firm can have. The Survivalist met one not so long ago. Paid a handsome £125,000 plus bonus, over five times what the average bloke earns every year, but billing a stupendous £720,000 a year. That’s one heckuva lot of profit for the boys upstairs.

Our boy is, of course, chasing a carrot, a fat golden carrot which would see his earnings treble overnight if he manages to clamp his jaws around it. Yeah, there’s that little word, the two most dangerous letters in the English language, jammed together: if.


You see the Survivalist was able, after a few questions, to ascertain that our boy was being given the run-around by his generals. This is the kind of firm where proper, timely appraisals are seen as a dashed inconvenience by some partners and they’re allowed to get away with it. It’s the kind of firm where objective criteria are applied some of the way, but then it’s all about whose face fits best and whose turn it is to make someone up to partner. In other words, you can do all the right things and still be royally stuffed.

Our boy should make it – after all those billings are pretty tasty – but he’s soon reaching the point where he will start to become difficult for a recruiter to place; too senior, too expensive, too disruptive, too risky to make partner right away for a smaller firm.


Trouble is he’s afraid to pin the partners down to a firm commitment or honest conversation in case it scuppers his chances. But that risk, junior Survivalists, is one he’s just going to have to take. His firm will keep him hanging on in super-profitability mode for as long as it possibly can before making a decision.

So if you’re on the partnership track, make sure you’re getting straight answers from your generals as to whether you’re going to make it or not. Call their bluff. Insist on proper appraisals and proper signals. Have the quiet chats and outright face-downs that you need to properly assess your position, and if you’re in doubt, hightail it before it’s too late.

Above all, stay frosty. TS

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