For God’s Sake, Retire! Baby Boomer Partners’ Refusal To Quit Blocks Junior Lawyer Career Progression

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By Alex Aldridge on

The number of partners retiring has fallen by a third in the last 15 years, leaving rookie lawyers frustrated by a lack of career progression, new research has found.

The problem – which has left one in three private practice lawyers of the view that their careers are being stifled – has been augmented by firms’ failure to create enough partner roles for the wave of people entering the legal profession in recent years.

Solicitor numbers have increased by 89% since 1990, but partner numbers are up by a disproportionately small 40%, according to the data assembled from a survey of over 200 private practice lawyers by legal recruiter Laurence Simons and the Law Society’s annual statistical reports.

Guy Adams, director co-head of private practice at Laurence Simons, says that previously “years of tenure guaranteed a relatively quick succession up the corporate ladder”, but these days “lawyers now have to consider alternative career strategies in order to achieve promotions.”

Not that becoming a partner is necessarily a great idea right now at many firms. Would you really want to invest in an equity stake – as fully-fledged partners must do – in a business that’s not doing particularly well, and potentially land yourself responsible for all sorts of liabilities if things get worse?

Nor is partnership necessarily the dream some assume it to be. As one cynical associate told Legal Week earlier this year:

“I used to think I wanted partnership, but now I do not. This is principally because I don’t think the rewards on offer are worth the hassle of getting and then the hassle of keeping partnership. I look at my more senior colleagues and don’t want their exhaustion, obesity, alcoholism, paranoia, loneliness, etc. And I certainly don’t want to be a slave to a BlackBerry. If that means I’ll be a 50-year-old assistant on £50,000, so be it. I’ll still have done better than my family and schoolmates.”

Still, the money – upwards of £1 million for equity partners at the top City firms – would be nice.