Each year, a new crop of lawyers enters the legal arena. Inspired by thrilling on-screen portrayals of courtroom showdowns, motivated by the noble goal to make a difference, or charmed by the allure of competitive salary and prestige, they’re eager and excited to begin their budding careers.
Without a doubt, there are significant career advancement opportunities for lawyers. Yet, behind the glamorous facade lies the often-overlooked truth: the early years are tough, to say the least, and often involve wading through the legal trenches to climb the corporate ladder. But, for those who enter the fray informed, resilient, and determined, a myriad of opportunities await.
In this guide, we’ll discuss best practices to chart a strategic course for a successful legal career.
Similar to the path of most professionals, a traditional legal career follows a hierarchical structure. Most lawyers start in entry-level or junior associate roles and advance as their expertise grows.
Naturally, navigating this structure to advance your professional career often comes with various challenges, including:
What if the traditional ladder doesn't resonate with your ambitions or align with your vision for the future? Fortunately, there is no rigid, one-track trajectory. You have options!
In the initial phases of your legal career, you will undoubtedly face a heavy workload as you work through foundational responsibilities. However, distinctive career opportunities materialize upon successfully navigating through these formative years. This may involve venturing into exciting in-house positions, assuming a business role at a growing company, or a lateral transition into other practice areas. The spectrum of career flexibility guarantees the ability to strategically navigate a successful career trajectory congruent with individual passions, strengths, and career aspirations.
An attorney’s trajectory can vary based on a multitude of factors. If you are interested in scaling the heights of a law firm, you can expect most large law firms to adhere to a similar framework. The journey is a long haul, often requiring 7-10 years of consistent standout performance as an associate. Generally speaking, the various stages for associates include:1
The title of law partner is a coveted role in practically every law firm. For many attorneys, this is the ultimate goal—the final destination in a long and arduous journey up the corporate ladder, carrying with it the promise of prestige, power, greater autonomy, and, of course, substantial financial rewards. According to the ABA Journal, “Partners in the nation’s top 200 law firms earned an average of $1.054 million in 2019,” a testament to the lucrative potential of the role.2
Incredibly, in a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, it is stated that “equity partners at top firms can make around $3 million or more per year, which is more than triple their earnings two decades ago. And some top partners are earning more than $15 million at firms that include Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz; Kirkland & Ellis; and Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison.”3
But reaching that pinnacle is no easy feat. With a limited number of available partner roles, it often comes at a steep price. Specifically, there are four major challenges involved with this high-pressure environment:
Making partner is a bit like a game of musical chairs; not everyone will find a seat when the music stops.
Many lawyers, upon introspection during their tenure as mid-level to senior associates, recognize that the partnership track might not align with their personal or professional aspirations. For others, systemic factors—be it seniority bottlenecks or internal firm politics—can obstruct the path upwards.
But this doesn’t mean the end of the road. Rather, this career experience prepares lawyers for various advancement opportunities outside the confines of a traditional firm setting. One of the more popular career segues is transitioning into an in-house role, where individuals can blend legal acumen with business strategy.
Such a pivot often brings a welcome reprieve in work-life balance without sacrificing the potential for career development. For instance, some might progress to General Counsel roles—overseeing the company’s entire legal strategy.
Whether you seek to follow a traditional track, explore niche legal specialties, or eventually branch out into the corporate world, navigating the legal labyrinth of career advancement can be overwhelming.
That's where legal recruiters step in, acting as invaluable guides along the way. They can offer deep insights into firm cultures, shed light on real advancement opportunities, and keep a pulse on evolving industry trends. Plus, top recruiters take the time to understand your skills and aspirations, and then match you with a firm or business for an ideal fit.
Beyond mere market intelligence, legal recruiters can unlock doors to the often 'hidden' job market, connecting aspirants with influential industry professionals. Recruiters also make it easier to make a lateral move or even embark on an entirely new trajectory within the expansive legal realm.
You may find yourself asking, “Should I use a legal recruiter?” From refining your CV to mastering interview techniques and negotiating employment terms, recruiters provide that critical edge to lawyers looking to steadily progress over the course of their career, bridging the gap between ambition and opportunity.
The legal field is vast, and every attorney's journey is unique—even those within the same firm might face varied paths and challenges.
At E.P. Dine, we've championed legal careers for nearly 50 years, understanding the nuances that make each story different. To that end, we don't just help candidates find their dream law jobs; we align aspirations, skills, and experiences to identify the perfect opportunity.
Whether it's a lateral move, in-house transition, or C-suite leap, our mission is to listen, strategize, prepare, and execute. From pinpointing the ideal legal work culture to realizing long-term professional ambitions, let E.P. Dine be the trusted partner in your professional development advancement.
Contact us today to utilize a legal recruiter to advance your career.
1The Magazine of ALA. 5 Business Development Basics for Associates. https://www.alanet.org/legal-management/2019/february/columns/5-business-development-basics-associates
2ABA Journal. How much do partners make? The average at larger firms tops $1M, survey finds. https://www.abajournal.com/news/article/how-much-do-partners-make-the-average-at-larger-firms-tops-1m-survey-finds
3Wall Street Journal. On Wall Street, Lawyers Make More Than Bankers Now.
At E.P. Dine, we are committed to delivering content that is not only relevant and insightful but also rooted in professional integrity and expertise. To achieve this, every article published on the E.P. Dine blog undergoes a meticulous review process by qualified professionals with deep knowledge and experience in the legal field and legal recruitment.