When partnership is not an option

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(Opinion) -- “Will I progress to partnership?” All senior lawyers will find themselves asking this question at some point in time. While some make an active choice not to pursue partnership, others simply will not get there. The question then becomes: “Where to now?”
 
A low prospect of partnership does not devalue your career opportunities, or limit your progression. There are multiple options you may want to consider:
 
MidSize or Boutique Firms
Senior associates at larger firms often find themselves trapped in a “partnership bottleneck”. Moving to a smaller firm with a growth strategy can offer lawyers a track to partnership with quality clients and broader work. Many also offer lifestyle benefits.
 
Special Counsel
Senior lawyers who are not interested in the business development or administration aspect of partnership may want to consider a special counsel appointment. These roles acknowledge the high level of skill and expertise senior lawyers bring to the firm, and do not necessarily cancel out partnership as an option. They also suit lawyers making a lateral move to a new firm who have a mandate to develop a practice before making partner.
 
In-house Counsel
Making the move in-house is a popular choice for senior lawyers. In-house roles provide an opportunity to work closely with the business and be involved in supporting its success. Lawyers can gain exposure to business management, corporate strategy and membership of the management team. These types of roles suit lawyers who can balance the law with commercial and business imperatives, and can be used as a “stepping stone” to non-legal management positions.
 
Professional Support Roles
Professional support roles offer lawyers an alternate career move within a law firm. Human resources, business development and knowledge management are all options. These roles often require additional skills or qualifications to complement your legal knowledge. 
 
The Bar
The Bar is often a natural progression for litigation lawyers. A few years of practice in a commercial firm can arm lawyers with the confidence and contacts needed to get a good start.
 
Government Departments
Lawyers may want to consider roles within government departments, either at the State or Federal level. Many government departments lend themselves to practice specialisations. For example, criminal lawyers are well suited to the Commonwealth or State DPP, while corporate lawyers should consider ASIC, and competition lawyers will find they have invaluable experience for a role with the ACCC. Departments such as Legal Aid, the Law Reform Commission or the Attorney General’s Department offer more generalised positions.
 
Academia
A career in academia is an option for lawyers who possess a solid academic background and expertise in a particular area. A tentative step into the field can be made by taking on a casual tutoring position whilst considering long term career goals.
 
Of course, there are a range of other options you may wish to consider outside the legal realm. These may include business management, working with not-for-profit organisations, or recruitment. Many lawyers who leave practice go on to create careers for themselves in events management, acting, writing or stand-up comedy! The opportunity you find yourself taking up will depend on the risks you take.
 
The decision not to pursue partnership should not be taken as a setback, but rather an opportunity for lawyers to broaden their horizons and start a new chapter in their career.
 
By Lisa Gazis, managing director, Mahlab (NSW)
 

Gazis  manages Mahlab’s NSW operations and conducts senior corporate and partner level search and recruitment campaigns. She provides strategic consulting services to corporations and law firms in Australia and abroad.

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