When Partnership Is Never An Option

Lisa Gazis, Managing Director Mahlab Recruitment (NSW) explores the avenues for lawyers when partnership is not an option.

‘Will I progress to partnership?’ is the question senior lawyers ask themselves at some point in time. Whilst others decide not to pursue partnership some will simply not get there. The question then becomes ‘Where to now?’ Here are some options.

Many senior associates trapped in the partnership bottle neck in larger firms move to mid size or boutique firms. At the moment many of these firms are pursuing growth strategies and can offer lawyers a track to partnership with quality clients and work. Many also offer lifestyle benefits.

A special counsel appointment suits those who don’t want to be involved in business development or partnership administration. These roles acknowledge the high level of skill and experience lawyers bring to the firm and do not necessarily mean that partnership is not 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 is a popular choice and for senior lawyers. In-house roles provide an opportunity to work closely with the business and be involved in supporting its success. Lawyers often gain exposure to business management, corporate strategy and membership of the management team. These types of roles suit lawyers who are can balance commercial or business imperatives and the law. Sometimes these roles can be used as a stepping stone into non-legal general management roles.

Professional support roles offer an alternate career move within a law firm. Human resources, business development and knowledge management are all options. These roles will require additional skills or qualifications to complement your knowledge.

The Bar can be a natural progression for litigation lawyers. A few years of practice can arm lawyers with the confidence and the contacts needed to get a good start.

Government departments at both the State and Federal level are options. Many government departments lend themselves to practice specialisations. For example, the Commonwealth or State DPP for criminal lawyers, ASIC for corporate lawyers, the ACCC for competition lawyers. For more general positions, the Attorney General’s Department, the Law Reform Commission or Legal Aid.

A career in academia is an option for lawyers who possess a solid academic background and expertise in a particular area. A tentative step can be made into academia by taking on casual tutoring positions whilst considering long term career goals.

Other options include business management, working with not-for-profit organisations, community legal centres, legal publishing, legal recruitment. Other alternatives could be your own non-legal business venture, events management, acting, writing, stand-up comedy … anything at all.

There are a range of career options for lawyers who do not progress to partnership. The decision not to pursue partnership is an opportunity for lawyers to broaden their horizons and start a new chapter in their career.