Law Firm Partners Get Younger the Bigger the Firm

01 Sep, 2016

Partners at UK law firms tend to be younger, on average, the bigger the firm they work for, reveals research by Edward Drummond, a leading management consultancy for law firms.

According to Edward Drummond’s research, 72% of partners at the UK’s Top 10 law firms are aged 50 or under – whilst this is only the case for 60% at UK law firms overall.

It also shows that on average, partners at Top 10 law firms are almost two years younger than the national sector average – 46.7 years compared to 48.4 years.

Edward Drummond says that this is because leading law firms are aggressively meritocratic so top talent tends to be promoted earlier, and older partners also tend to be moved aside more pro-actively to make room for younger partners or as their income generation slows.

Edward Drummond adds that this can present a good opportunity for smaller, mid-tier firms to hire experienced partners who wish to continue their careers rather than retire early.

Gareth Ward, Partner at Edward Drummond says, “The more rapid lifecycle of partners at the biggest law firms can give smaller, mid-tier firms a chance to snap up high profile partners with an impressive track record – but taking on a new partner is a big investment for these firms, so it’s a decision that needs to be taken carefully.”

Edward Drummond warns that smaller firms need to ensure that these partners are likely to add real value beyond the prestige they bring with them. Firms need to be able to identify those candidates who are not only ambitious to build up their new practice but who also have realistic prospects of bringing in enough new business to cover their costs.

It explains that some prospective new partners may overestimate their ability to bring clients with them because large law firms tend to ensure that key client relationships are institutional – rather than personal to individual partners.

Edward Drummond says that this means departing partners can often appear to have a strong standing among clients and contacts but that the strength of those relationships may be over-played and their clients’ willingness to change firm not as high as anticipated.

Edward Drummond adds that, in many cases, partners may also find their hands tied, in terms of marketing, by their exit arrangements with their old firm.

Gareth Ward says, “Hiring partners from top firms can be something of a catch for smaller firms but while many still have a lot to offer, it’s important to establish what they can actually bring to the table in practical terms.”

“Sometimes there can be a disconnect between what the firm thinks they’re hiring, based on what partners believe they can deliver, and the reality.”

“Firms will be attracted by the candidate’s “reputational capital”, but also their “relationship capital” – the clients and contacts they could bring with them.”

“While it may seem that these well-connected individuals will be able to bring new business to the firm from the networks they have established throughout their careers to date, that may not necessarily materialise.”

He adds, “Top firms usually manage their partners’ exits very carefully, ensuring that relationships with existing clients remain institutional rather than personal. Partners’ ability to bring clients with them when they move on can often be highly restricted.”

(Source: Edward Drummond)

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