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You are a Senior Associate at a law firm and have ambitions to become a Partner. What are the non-legal skills that you need to possess? Neil Harvey – a Consultant to Stephenson Executive Search and previously a Corporate Partner of Clifford Chance in London for 23 years – shares some thoughts with you.

Initial considerations

fortunate enough to operate in an area where actual and prospective demand for legal services is high) that all you need do is keep your head down and work hard. You may be a top-class black letter lawyer with an excellent reputation as well, so surely you have the most important attributes covered? Well, maybe not.

Making someone a Partner is a long-term strategic decision and

someone without the non-legal skills to score strongly on the questions below is unlikely to be worth investing in for the long-term.

Developing these non-legal skills will help you better perform your role as a Senior Associate as well as prepare you for partnership.

As well as self-awareness and good problem-solving skills, a Senior Associate should develop (i) ‘business awareness’, (ii) ’firm

awareness’, (iii) ‘client awareness’, as well as (iv) client-handling skills.

See how you do against this list of questions!

1.) Business awareness

  • How familiar are you with your firm’s strategic objectives and planned areas for growth?
  • Have you thought about how your skills and relationships help, or might help, contribute towards these objectives?
  • Have you thought how your skills and relationships might help towards its achievement?

2.) Firm awareness

  • Are you aware of the Partners who perform the critical management roles within your firm, e.g. Managing Partners, regional Managing Partners, Office, Department and Group Heads, those responsible for conflict resolution and the firm’s professional indemnity insurance?
  • How knowledgeable are you of the international spread of your firm and the capabilities of its different offices? Have you developed contacts in these offices?
  • Are you aware of your firm’s varied initiatives, e.g. in relation to diversity, pro bono, and thought leadership? Do you know who the responsible Partners are in these areas?
  • Are you fully aware of all career development possibilities within your firm, e.g. Senior Associate / Partnership training and skills courses? Have you looked for opportunities to participate, where eligible?

3.) Client awareness

  • Are you aware of your firm’s and your group’s major and strategic clients?
  • Do you know who the client Partners are for the firm’s and your group’s major and strategic clients?
  • Have you asked to see copies of any client plans relating to clients for whom you act? Have you contributed towards any such plans? If not, have you offered to do so?
  • Are you familiar with your firm’s and group’s plans towards the particular sectors in which such clients operate?
  • Where you are involved in acting for any such clients, do you know in which other countries the clients operate and whether or not they already instruct the firm’s offices, if any, in those countries?

4.) Client-handling skills

  • Are you on one or more client teams and, if so, is your role in each case sufficiently clear both to the client and the rest of your team?
  • Do you have a good knowledge of the clients for whom you act? Do you understand their internal hierarchies, the history of the relationship and their particular sensitivities?
  • Are you familiar with the fee arrangements for those clients?
  • Are you regularly looking for cross-selling opportunities with those clients and pro-actively following up with the relevant Partners or offices?

Two sensitive issues

Finally, an over-arching observation in relation to client-handling.

Remember that two of the most sensitive issues that Partners have to deal with on a regular basis are (i) conflicts and (ii) fees. Without

satisfactory resolution of those issues, a healthy client relationship will be very difficult to achieve. Awareness of this will also be a vital

component of your non-legal skills kit.

Neil Harvey is a Consultant to Stephenson Executive Search. Previously, Neil was a Corporate Partner of Clifford Chance in London for 23 years, Head of one of the firm’s Corporate teams and a member of the CBI’s Companies Committee.

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