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Partnership prospects at… Linklaters

Written by: Richard Simmons
Published on: 26 Apr 2016

Linklaters announced its partner promotions last week, with 10 lawyers getting the nod in London, the most since the heady pre-recession year of 2007. But what’s the process of making partner at Linklaters and what are odds of getting there?

Where do lawyers get promoted?

In pure numbers terms, Linklaters is the most generous of the magic circle firms when to comes to making up partners in London. It has promoted 64 lawyers in the City since 2009. By contrast, Clifford Chance has promoted 55, Allen & Overy 52 and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer 51 in the same period.

Hong Kong has been the second-biggest focus for Linklaters over the last eight years, with 17 promotions, followed by Frankfurt (15), Paris (13) and New York (11).

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Which groups do most promotions come from?

It’s unsurprising that the firm’s powerhouse corporate and finance departments see the most promotions, but by exactly how much do they dominate?

An analysis of the last eight years shows that the mainstream corporate team accounts for just over one quarter (26 per cent) of the firm’s total promotions in London. Since 2009, the standard has been that two lawyers per year are made up in this team (2014, when just one was promoted, was the exception).

Banking is the next most common area for promotions, with 10 lawyers made up in London since 2009. Apart from mainstream corporate, it is the only practice to have seen at least one partner promotion in each of the last eight years.

Capital markets (eight promotions since 2009) and litigation (six) come next. It is unusual for any one practice area to see more than two promotions per year – the three people made up in capital markets this year was something of an anomaly.

In comparison with the rest of the magic circle, Linklaters has made up more corporate partners (15) than Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance and Freshfields. It has also made up more partners outside the big four areas of corporate, banking/finance, capital markets and litigation than any of those firms.

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Who gets promoted?

In total, 37 out of 57 lawyers made up in London since 2009 trained at Linklaters – 65 per cent. That means on average, four or five trainees from each annual intake eventually make it all the way to the partnership. Given that in the early noughties the firm was taking on 125 to 130 trainees, the 37 who have made it since 2009 have risen to the top out of a total group of around 1,000.

Of the 20 partners who trained elsewhere, seven started out at UK firms, three trained in Scotland and 10 overseas, mainly in Australia and New Zealand. Just one new partner trained at a different magic circle firm (Clifford Chance). The other UK firms that trained Linklaters partners were Simmons & Simmons, Norton Rose, Nabarro, Denton Wilde Sapte, Field Fisher Martineau and Charles Russell.

In terms of university background, there are no surprises. Oxford leads, followed by Cambridge, among new Linklaters London partners. However, of the 37 ‘home-grown’ partners, 25 went to Oxbridge (68 per cent). By contrast, of the 20 partners promoted at Linklaters but who trained at another firm, only two attended Oxbridge (10 per cent). One non-Russell Group university is represented by a new partner who was an undergraduate at Brunel. Of the nine lawyers made up in 2016, five are law graduates and one studied chemistry, with the subjects of the other three unknown.

Linklaters became the first magic circle firm to adopt gender diversity targets in 2014 when it stated its aim of having 30 per cent of new partners be female by 2018. In the two rounds since it set that target, however, it has actually done worse on the diversity front. Just 22 per cent (four of 18) of new partners have been female in 2015 and 2016, compared with 28 per cent (11 of 39) between 2009 and 2014.

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How long does it take?

Linklaters says it has no set amount of time after qualification before lawyers can be considered for partnership: it is purely on merit. However, in practice no lawyer in the last eight years has made partner before they are 8PQE.

Furthermore, the road to partnership has lengthened somewhat. In 2009, all of the four UK-trained new partners had reached qualification in 2000 or 2001 – an eight or nine year wait. In 2016, there were nine UK-trained new partners; only the fastest of them to make partner, Will Aitken-Davies, took nine years, having qualified in 2007.

Of the others promoted in 2016, four qualified in 2006 (a 10-year track) two qualified in 2005, one in 2004 and one in 2000. In the last three rounds of promotions, only litigator Rory Conway has made partner eight years after qualification. Ten or 11 years is now a much more standard wait.

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What’s the process?

Candidates are put forward by one or more sponsoring partners – usually including the head of their practice group or office.

Once they have been entered, there are two key elements to the process for each election to the partnership, says Linklaters partner Richard Hodgson.

“There’s a business case: is there a business need for an additional partner in the relevant practice group? ” he explains. “Then there’s a separate case about the individual candidate and their personal qualities. Both elements must be met and the analysis of them is broadly run in parallel.

“In some firms you have to write your own pitch for the business case; that’s not how we do it,” Hodgson continues. “Clearly candidates will have an involvement with the business case: you wouldn’t be in the running for partnership if you didn’t have an awareness of the issues and a personal plan for growing the business, but the sponsoring partners and practice group are principally responsible for looking at that.”

Linklaters has a Partnership Election Committee (PEC), which is a subcommittee of its partnership board, to look at the personal cases of the candidates. Members of the PEC are allocated candidates, on which they do due diligence.

“They work in pairs, and candidates are typically allocated partners they have never worked with, often from a different office and certainly from a different practice group. I was allocated a New York litigation partner and a Munich tax partner, for example,” says Hodgson.

The PEC duo basically go round the world speaking to all partners about their allocated candidates. Their work forms a report on the candidate.

There is then a process which includes a short case study and an interview with the candidate’s PEC pair and the senior partner. That is followed by another interview with a different PEC pair.

“Thematically, the partner interviews cover topics such as client relationships, candidates’ ideas about their own personal practice and how they best align with the strategic growth of the wider practice and how they fit into the firm’s goals: basically, showing a broad understanding of what you’ll be doing as a partner and how it fits in with the firm,” says Hodgson. “There’s also discussion of people and management skills, as well as mentoring and helping other lawyers in the team to grow and develop.”

After the interviews, the report is finalised. Linklaters’ executive management committee reviews it and make a recommendation to the board, which then makes a recommendation to the partnership. Finally there is a full partnership vote, which takes place at the annual partners’ meeting in April.