Is the UK the last place to be if you want to make partner?

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Tis the season to be promoted. With firms all around announcing partnership make-ups, there will be celebrations aplenty for those lucky associates that have made the grade.

But we all know partnership promotions are not as common as they used to be. Clifford Chance, for example, has made up twenty lawyers to the partnership this year. That’s seven fewer than last. And CC is far from alone on settling for a strict rationing policy when it comes to doling out the top prize.

There’s an additional challenge now, too. More of those limited promotions are going to lawyers overseas. This means that lawyers aiming for the top need to think like their firms: globally.

Overjoyed and over there

According to figures from The Lawyer, a big number of partnership promotions are being made overseas. Allen & Overy, Ashurst, Eversheds, Freshfields, Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) and Norton Rose have all made more promotions across their global networks than in London.

The reasons are obvious. Amid ongoing economic stagnation at home, these large firms are seeking additional revenue lines in new markets – with attention increasingly drawn to opportunities in regions such as the Middle East, South East Asia, Latin America and Africa.

Not surprising, therefore, that these are also the places earmarked for growth, including investment in partnership.

So what do ambitious UK associates need to think upon?

  1. Is sticking with the UK the best bet? It may no longer be enough to opt for the London office of a large firm – to get the best stab at partnership associates may also have to push for a role in one of the firm’s growth markets overseas.
  2. When should you move? By the time an associate is ready for partnership – say, six to eight years PQE – he or she may already be too embedded with UK clients and have an established life at home, including family responsibilities. But to move overseas too early might be to make a bet on a market/expansion trend that doesn’t pan out. Firms do sometimes try new markets only to pull out a short while later.
  3. Will there be opportunities at all? Many of the larger firms may be venturing into new markets, but they will usually do so through a merger or alliance with a domestic firm. This may limit the chances of an overseas post in the first place, let alone a promotion there.
  4. If it all goes wrong, can I come home? International experience may increasingly feature on the CV wish-list of both candidates and law firms, but several years working in another jurisdiction at a senior level may make a lateral return home more complex – particularly in terms of having a transferable client following.

This changing world is more complex than ever for associates attempting to steer the best course for a successful legal career. But when it comes to global trends, knowing how to adapt, and when, may be one of the most difficult considerations of all. CP

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