Career progression: a comprehensive guide to reaching senior partner
Many firms are developing alternative career paths for lawyers by enhancing the status and compensation of associates, but the career ambition for most solicitors remains the same: to become a partner in their chosen firm. Here is a comprehensive guide of what most can expect from their career.
A trainee solicitor is a prospective lawyer obtaining professional training at a law firm in order to qualify as a full-fledged solicitor. This period of training, also called a training contract, typically extends for two years. To be eligible to train, the trainee must have an undergraduate degree in law or some other degree, along with completion of a conversion course and the Legal Practice Course (LPC).
When a lawyer has finished earning their training certificate, they will be entered onto the roll of solicitors, making them eligible to apply for a practicing certificate and join the Law Society as a full member. Once they secure a job, they will begin their life as a solicitor. The Law Society recommends that training-contract providers pay trainees £21,561 in London and £19,122 outside London, but there’s no obligatory wage for trainees beyond the national minimum wage.
Associate solicitors, also known as assistants, typically work under the supervision of a partner or senior associate. Associates are qualified to provide legal advice and counsel to any secretary and their staff – the deputy secretary, assistant secretaries and other offices, bureaus and agencies – and are required to interact as both a solicitor and counsel in the lower and superior courts. Associate solicitors must continue to build their legal, business and client skills, as they are given increased responsibilities to prepare for promotion to senior associate and then to salaried partner, depending on skill and performance level. According to payscale.com, the average salary for an Associate Solicitor is £40,453 per year.
Senior associate solicitor
Associates are law-firm lawyers with the prospect of becoming partners, and law firms often divide associates into junior- and senior-level associates according to experience and skill level. The typical solicitor works as an associate for six to nine years before they will be considered for partnership. Senior Associate lawyers one step below partner can expect to earn between £60,000 and £90,00 or more at a UK firm, depending on skill and area of practice.
Most law firms are structured as partnerships, so when a lawyer makes equity partner, it means they have transitioned from being an employee to being a part-owner of the firm who shares in the firm’s profits as well as the liabilities. Non-equity (second-tier) partners will receive a higher salary than they did as associates, but earn significantly less than an equity partner. Generally, it will take eight or more years to make partner at a large commercial firm (perhaps slightly less at a smaller firm), although the exact time will depend on the lawyer and the firm. Partners can earn salaries ranging from £80,000 to £100,000 or much more, particularly at larger firms.
The senior partner in a law firm is often considered the “face of the firm”, deals with the firm’s most important clients and is most effective when they function primarily as a leader, not a dictator. In many cases, the senior partner is elected by the firm’s partners to serve a three-year term and is typically re-elected until they step down from the role or someone else voices an interest in the position. Many law firms operate a “lockstep” partnership system, meaning that a new equity partner will not have the same share of the profits as a more senior partner, although some firms have a share/remuneration structure in place that’s based on profitability and revenue generation.
Solicitors don’t always need to go through all these steps to reach senior partner, and it is possible to go straight from associate to equity partner, although it’s also highly unusual.