Are associates no longer interested in partner roles?

Posted in Latest News on 18 Apr 2024

Some recent studies are starting to show an interesting trend that might be happening at the highest levels of the legal profession.  

A recent report by LexisNexis has revealed that nearly three-quarters of associates aren’t looking to move up to a partner position at their current firm. The survey, which spoke to over 500 associates in the United Kingdom, found that only 25% are looking to move up to partner level in the next five years, with only 3% looking to do this at a different firm. Are associates no longer interested in stepping up to one of the highest rungs on the legal ladder?  

The report, entitled “Disloyal lawyers: has the partnership track officially lost its lustre?” reveals that most of those who have reached associate level are more concerned with striking a good work/life balance rather than pushing to reach the top. Senior leaders have noticed these declines in the legal market, with nearly half of them seeing a decrease in the number of people going forward for partner positions (with this number rising to 63% for larger firms). 71% believed that shift is due to the desire for a greater work/life balance, with this emerging as the primary reason people might move roles (this had the same statistic - 69% would move for bigger salaries). However, most associates are happy where they are and aren’t looking to move firms at all: 56% said they had no plans to move in the next five years, with only 12% of all surveyed thinking of leaving private practice. Many senior managing partners have commented upon the report and are aware that people no longer feel like they have to stay with a firm to try and get to the top.  

With the report’s publication, we thought it might be worth looking through the data for our own salary survey to see if we found anything similar to what the report was saying. In our survey, we found that, from the associates that responded to the survey (10% of the total), 20% of them had aspirations to move up to partner level – in many ways, a similar number to the LexisNexis survey. Our survey was a little less optimistic about the number of people looking to move up to partner level at their current firm: 45% believed they could do this at their current firm, with 47% concerned that firm structure would be a blocker to progression. This was the key reason we found behind not advancing to the partner level, unlike the work/life balance of the LexisNexis survey. 46% of respondents, however, are unlikely to change roles in the next five years, which, like the LexisNexis survey, shows that people might be happier not jumping to that level now and taking on a greater workload and responsibilities that might upset their work/life balance, or feel their firms might not allow them to balance that workload better.  

Overall, it’s clear that associates are considering the jump up to partner level very carefully, and some are choosing not to make that move. While jumping up the ladder with one firm may have been the old model, times have changed, and some are more concerned with having a better overall work/life balance rather than simply more money and a shinier title. It will be interesting to see if this trend impacts the wider market in the future. 

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