Congratulations to all of our former candidates who have been recently promoted to partner at Magic Circle and White Shoe US firms!
These lawyers are now partners at firms like Freshfields, Kirkland & Ellis and Walkers Global. Admitted as late as 2005, it is impressive to see such progress so early in their careers. It is exciting to see that great people can advance overseas and often do so faster than at firms in Australia.
Senior Associateship and Your International Career
Progression is one of the most misunderstood aspects of making an international move. It starts with the perception that making Senior Associate in Australia will have an impact on one’s ability to progress overseas, or alternatively, will affect the offer one receives. The reality is actually very different.
Firstly, the Senior Associate title and the significant wage increase that it brings is a uniquely Australian concept. International firms pay on a “lockstep” basis, so while some have titles between Associate and Partner, there is no corresponding large jump in salary. If anything, the title is more to do with seniority than merit. At most firms it is merely indicative of a certain PQE level, regardless of competence or achievements.
Secondly, international firms looking at Australian and New Zealand lawyers make offers based on the totality of peoples’ experience, not on the title they possess. This makes complete sense given that it takes longer to make it to SA at some firms over others in the Australian market. It is only right that titles are essentially irrelevant, as they would be quite unfair to compare, particularly when many firms don’t have a corresponding “Senior Associate” title at all, just “Associate” and then partnership.
Finally, most international firms when hiring are looking for people at the 2-4 PQE level. It tends to be more difficult to relocate with increasing seniority. The result is that many who decide to wait for the “Senior Associate” title with a view to improving their chances overseas, actually do themselves a disservice and ultimately limit their options of making a move because they become too senior. .
Making Partner Overseas
The second misunderstood element about international career progression concerns the partnership track.
Obviously the partnership track differs from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and is highly dependent on the firm itself. However, it is certainly the case that in recent years people have been made partner faster in the Magic Circle than at the top tier in Australia. The reasons for this are complex.
The partnership track in Australia seems to be lengthening an extra 6 months every 2 years or so. It presently stretches out to about 12+ years in the top firms. We expect the pressure that firms have put themselves under for international tie ups will only make matters worse. As partnerships enter global equity pools, pressure will be on individual partners to increase their own profitability. However, increasing fees to achieve this is difficult – billing out in Australian dollars to clients that are used to certain prices means there will be resistance at that end. This strain will make it a lot tougher to justify an increase in partners in Australia, especially for the larger firms. So while mergers create opportunity, the reality of having to increase profitability while keeping fees steady can only mean one thing for progression.
That said, for those who regard partnership in Australia as the ultimate aim, an international stint is certainly neither a barrier nor a delay by any means (a quick glance through the biographies of current top-tier partners should be reassuring). In fact, many lawyers returning to Australia after an overseas stint find themselves in higher demand because of their international experience, with the result that they are placed slightly ahead of their peers, both financially and in terms of progression.
If you are interested in finding out more about your international career and progression, call one of our international consultants on (02) 9266 2900.