How to signal the desire for, and get on, the partner track


3 Be open and honest about your aspirations

Once you have clarity in your own mind about your desire to become a partner in your current firm, communicating your career direction to the people who have the ability to facilitate it is important. It's human to make assumptions and your manager may not be aware of ambition unless you are explicit and seek specific guidance.

"Work hard and be honest, open and transparent about your expectations and what you are looking to achieve. The fact that you have a young family should not prevent you from becoming a partner, if you and your firm are willing to work towards striking a work/life balance."

Karen Wilkie, associate, Peterkins

"Make it known to the firm that you want to be on that track - they might assume you're happy just to do the job and not interested."

Suzie Falconer, associate, Walker Laird

Jenny Allan
"Showing a commitment to your professional development can take many forms. Just saying and knowing that you want to progress in this way is half the battle sometimes, I think, as some mothers (and others!) in the profession are quite vocal about not being interested in that career path. If you make it clear to your line managers that you are, hopefully they will guide you as to what you need to do to achieve it."

Jenny Allan, senior associate, CMS Cameron McKenna

4 Focus on demonstrating commitment

You may have watched colleagues similar to you in terms of life stage/family profile fail to get onto the partner track in your firm and conclude it is impossible for you. If you believe there is conscious and/or unconscious bias at play, consider who inside and outside the firm you could approach to discuss your specific situation and any concerns you have. Consider the Law Society’s mentoring scheme - it may be able to place you with someone who has achieved partnership whilst having a young family. (Also see the Society's Standards of Conduct Rule 1.15 on diversity). The perceptions partners have of individuals' levels of commitment are likely to be a significant driver of their propensity to see a given person as having partnership potential. Given this, it is important for you to consider how you can best demonstrate commitment and therefore manage perceptions decision-makers have of you.

"I was a new partner when I had a child. I think having a child is a bit of a red herring in terms of career development. People with no children may clearly have other interests which distract from/conflict with the business, particularly millennials/generation Y. It's all about fit and commitment to the business, children or no children. Having said that, if you are a woman at a firm with vast majority men at senior management level, it's going to be a pretty lonely road. Better to choose somewhere with more female critical mass."

Clare Macpherson, partner, Thorntons Law LLP

“Having a baby changes your priorities, and many females, post-baby, decide that they don't want to be on the partner track. For those who do though, it's completely achievable - we have several new partners here who have been appointed partners after having families, but they have come back to work at least 4 full days a week.”

Lindsey Cartwright, partner, Morton Fraser

"You have to try and persuade people that long hours out socialising with contacts is not the only way to win and retain business - I know this is very difficult - and show your commitment in other ways than putting in long hours. Increasing your efficiency whilst in work is key."

Carly Mason, associate, MacRoberts LLP

5 Have an honest conversation about expectations and flexible working

There's still much work to do in our profession to shift assumptions about the aspirations of individuals who work flexibly. It may be useful to approach the more progressive partners in your firm about how you can best demonstrate your commitment and suitability for partnership. Additionally, flexibility can mean many things and there may be ways of creating informal flexibility that allows you to cover the practical realities of family life (dropping off and collecting children from childcare, eating a daily meal together, doing bath time or supporting with reading and homework) whilst still delivering for your firm.

Sue Arrowsmith Rodger
"I thought that being flexible in my approach to working, being keen, being a valuable contributor to team meetings, being a reliable fee-earner and being proactive in business development would be important. However, it is clear that the partner track is not always approachable while on flexible working. I juggle these things with a young family by making sure that I have support in place to look after my child when work needs me beyond my contracted hours."

Sue Arrowsmith Rodger, partner, Pagan Osborne

Katy Wedderburn, Macroberts
"I don't think it is possible for me to be as effective as I want to be as a partner on less than four days a week. I wondered if I could do it in less but there is much more admin than you anticipate so it eats into your days! I now do five days a week, having done four for nine years as an employee and as then a partner."

Katy Wedderburn, partner, MacRoberts LLP

"I think it is very difficult to meet the criteria of exceeding time recording and fee targets and still having time to do business development and management if you work part-time and/or have to leave at specific times for child care. I suspect that being willing to log back on to work at night and making other sacrifices from your family time would be necessary."

Claire Anderson, solicitor, Scottish Government

6 Build your expertise and showcase it internally and externally

An individual's track record and future potential for bringing work into the practice are key considerations for partnership decisions. Spending time building your expertise and showcasing it in places your target clients and referrers regularly access (social media, speaking at conferences or CPD sessions, radio, magazines, journals and business events) will build your reputation as a go to person and make you a more attractive prospect as a partner, which may be some way into the future. It's useful to set aside some time each month to a) expand/deepen your knowledge on a given topic and b) plan how you can share it internally and/or externally.

Janet Hood
"Read your baby a story from the Law Society Journal or other text book or online publication - until they are older they won't know what you are saying and you can combine legal update and bedtime routine."

Janet Hood, solicitor, Janet Hood Consulting

"I had my children at an early stage in my career and, as such, my main focus at present is to remain qualified and keep my skills and knowledge up to date while accruing as much experience as I can. Once my children are older, I hope this will have put me in a strong position to focus more and build my career."

Lindsay Anderson, solicitor, Stewart & Watson

"Being on the partner track at the moment is not a priority for me while I have a young family. I have had open discussions with my managers about my career progression so that I am not considered permanently off the partner track and I have contributed to internal groups about different career paths available within the firm so that partnership is not the only option available”

Carolyn Burns, director, Maclay Murray & Spens LLP