How to Make the Leap from Salaried Partner to Equity Partner

Michelle Di Gioia, Partner and Head of the Property Litigation team at Gardner Leader solicitors talks about her career and shares tips on how to make equity partner.

Michelle is one of only four female equity partners in the firm out of seven female partners and throughout her 20 years as a solicitor, she has always aimed high.

“‘Never be deterred’ is my motto and one that has helped me to move swiftly from solicitor to partner, to equity partner and most recently, an elected member of the board at Gardner Leader – definitely the highlight of my career”, she shares.

At just 38 Michelle made partner and 18 months later she became equity partner, building herself a reputation as a pragmatic and determined lawyer.

“An equity partner needs to think differently, they need to focus beyond their role as solicitor or partner and consider the future strategy, growth and financial wellbeing of the firm”, Michelle tells us. Below, she reveals what it takes to go another step up the career ladder to become equity partner.

Raising your profile within your firm and the legal profession can help in your goal to becoming equity partner.

Be commercially minded

An equity partner must always think commercially. You have a profit share of the business, which generally starts as a small share that builds up over time to full equity partner, so in effect, it is your business.

Think about the volume and quality of the work you’re bringing into the firm. When I joined Gardner Leader, I had a strong client following which demonstrated my ability as a solicitor and the contribution I would make to the firm’s growth. Think about the new business you could potentially bring in and always have good financial accountability. An aspiring equity partner will ensure that their work is valued and reflected in their client fees, with monthly billings collected on time.

Think like a business owner

Equity partners need to see the bigger picture, thinking of ways that will move the firm forward beyond attracting new business alone. They need to know how to continuously grow the firm through other ways, such as improving client and staff retention, to hiring and attracting the best talent.

An example of this is sitting on the steering committee for our continuous services improvement programme ‘Evolve’, which has won us several awards including best customer service and staff engagement. Gardner Leader has been established for over 120 years, so it’s important that we constantly evolve to build on our strong reputation and heritage.

Equity partners regularly work closely together so it’s important for there to be good chemistry between you.

Build a strong reputation

Raising your profile within your firm and the legal profession can help in your goal to becoming equity partner. Being recognised as the lawyer of choice in your specialist area also helps. Over the years I’ve established myself as a sought after solicitor for handling highly complex property litigation and professional negligence matters. I did this by building up a network of referrers, being ranked top in listings such as the Legal 500, and acting on high profile, land mark cases that get me noticed as someone that can handle high value, complex work.

Act like an equity partner even when you’re not one

You can also strengthen your profile by behaving like a partner even when you’re not one. When I was a senior associate, I’d take the initiative to make key decisions about the firm, bring in new business, and mentor and lead rising stars in the team. So, when I was considered for partnership, it was a ‘no brainer’ decision for the firm.

Reaching equity partner takes time but by showing that you can make tough decisions, that you’re committed to the firm’s future success and that you’re commercially minded, you’ll achieve your goal sooner than you expect.

Prepare to challenge but always listen

Equity partners are responsible for the future direction and success of the firm so they mustn’t be afraid to share their opinions, challenge others or be challenged back. Don’t sit on the fence or be sensitive to feedback – the partners have to work collectively as a team for the future benefit of the business. Be a good ‘sounding board’ for ideas or concerns across the business as a whole. For example, through Evolve, as previously mentioned, we give employees the chance to share views or to propose new changes.

Getting on with the other partners, helps

Equity partners regularly work closely together so it’s important for there to be good chemistry between you. Whether you’re a salaried partner or solicitor, socialise with your senior colleagues where possible to build good rapport and relationships. We call this ‘the beer’ test – if you can see yourself spending time with a person socially, then there’s a good chance you will work well together as a team.

Reaching equity partner takes time but by showing that you can make tough decisions, that you’re committed to the firm’s future success and that you’re commercially minded, you’ll achieve your goal sooner than you expect.

 

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