It still takes seven years to reach the diminishing numbers of partner positions

It doesn’t take any longer than it used to to become a partner in a law firm, but there may be fewer positions available for associates who want to reach that goal in the future.

According to a survey released yesterday by Robert Half Legal, lawyers interviewed said it takes an average of seven years to reach partner status today, which remains unchanged from when the survey was last conducted in 2003.

“Although the number of years it takes to make partner remains consistent, competition for partner positions has intensified,” says John Ohnjec, division director of Robert Half Legal in Canada. “In fact, some firms have been thinning the ranks of partner by promoting fewer associates.”

That’s because some lawyers are staying on longer in their firms, choosing to postpone retirement.

“In terms of the numbers game there may not be as many openings as there were previously,” says Ohnjec, noting it always depends on the size of the firms. “I think the raw numbers for the firms are probably the same so they’re not downsizing, but everything the firms are doing these days is done with a lot more examination in advance in terms of general hiring, looking for the right people and making sure if there is a space it’s the right person for partnership. While some people would have made it in previous years they may not have make the cut now.”

The Canadian survey includes responses from 75 lawyers at large and medium-sized law firms in Canada.

Ohnjec says there are options for lawyers who don’t make partner.

“It all depends on what one is looking for when they enter the profession. Are they looking to become [an] experienced and very qualified lawyer to serve their clients or is becoming partner the be all and end all? Partnership can mean so many different things. They may not be a full equity partner but still have the title, while others become counsel or senior associate instead of partner.”

For others, Ohnjec says the option may be to move in-house or go to another firm where it might be easier to make partner.

Robert Half Legal offered advice for lawyers interested in advancing their careers:

• Seek out professional development. In addition to legal skills, concentrate on helping the firm improve client service levels and grow revenue.

• Align with a mentor or career coach. Find a more senior lawyer who can provide advice and guidance, as well as help identify ways to raise visibility at the firm.   

• Become involved in the local chapter of the bar association, do pro bono work, volunteer in the community, or contribute to legal publications or forums online.

• Network. Expand your roster of professional contacts and stay in regular communication with them. The more people you know, the more likely it is that you’ll hear of new opportunities that could help you keep your career on track.

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