Private Practice Lawyer Timeline

The majority of lawyers start their career working their way up as lawyers in Private Practice with the choices and decisions you make will shape the future success of your career. Traditionally, for many lawyers their end goal is Partnership; for others, it is working towards a move in-house or a non-fee earning position. Some lawyers will opt to remain with their training firm throughout their legal career progressing all the way to Partner level. Others will make later moves to achieve the discipline, size and culture of law firm that they desire. In the current market, lawyers need to consider their options internally and externally at several key points in their career, as detailed below in our Private Practice Timeline:

Newly Qualified

Becoming fully qualified is a satisfying feeling for all new lawyers. It is the achievement following numerous years of study and training, however, it is only the start of your career and focus is essential. If you are fortunate enough to qualify into your chosen area, then your aim should be on honing your skills, learning from Associates and Partners around you and developing your client management and business development skills.

For those who have had to make some form of compromise, it is equally important to learn from those around you and to make the most of the opportunity in front of you. At the same time, it is also important to start engaging with internal stakeholders in other departments, looking for collaboration opportunities to widen your skills. In some cases, you will now be seeking the best route to make an internal move or being able to demonstrate your value when looking at moving laterally into different areas and disciplines.

What you achieve during the first 12 months of qualified role can vastly affect the options in front of you.

1 Year PQE

By the time you have a year under your belt, you will have cemented relationships with your Partner and colleagues and will have gained enough ‘hands-on’ experience to be valued more internally but also you will find lateral opportunities will start to open up for you. It’s no coincidence that many external roles and in particular in-house, London and Overseas roles in top private practice law firms will start at 1-year PQE+ as opposed to at newly qualified level- this is for a number of reasons. Primarily you will have demonstrated your sustainability and often be able to demonstrate a commitment to long hours and challenging clients. Equally so, you will find your level of expertise and confidence will have grown significantly.

Assistant – Associate

By this point in your career, you will be accustomed to the mechanics of working in a law firm. Your targets will be set and your reward will depend on how successfully you meet these expectations. You will be more efficient technically at this point, but hitting targets is not enough and there will be an expectation to participate in business development and ultimately, bringing in your own clients. Business development comes naturally to some, but for others, it will require solid networking and personal branding to differentiate yourself from your competitors.

Also at this stage, you may have opportunities to move in-house on secondment. This can be a great move to gain experience as well as being a successful route to a permanent move in-house. By now, your clients trust you and expect you to be ‘solution orientated’ and able to demonstrate that you understand their market and their needs. The more ‘client facing’ you can be at this stage in your career, the more loyal and often portable your clients will become, making you a more attractive option to other firms when looking laterally to offer you private practice solicitor jobs.

Senior Associate

Reaching Senior Associate level will often bring you to a crossroads in your legal career. There is no question that when you reach this point, there is a ‘ticking clock’ and a small window of opportunity to be made up to Partner. New partners are appointed primarily on business cases that demonstrate you can earn your keep as a Partner. Being able to demonstrate key client wins is important as well as managerial experience and development of more junior lawyers in your team being also highly beneficial. Targets for Senior Associates are high and competitive with the majority looking to now climb to the top of the Partnership ladder.

It is of the utmost importance, however, at Senior Associate level to self-evaluate where you are and where you want to go. The partnership ‘carrot’ will often be within touching distance but it is also important to recognise when you are out of the race.


Once you reach Partnership level, you will have demonstrated a sustainable contribution to your firm’s growth and its profits – consistent performance and hard work will have got you to this position.

As demonstrated during the economic downturn, a prime responsibility of a Partner is ensuring law firms are managed correctly and economically. The return of a more buoyant market presents the opportunity to merge with other firms, which can radically change your position as a Partner. Strategically, as is the case throughout the private practice timeline, even at Partner level you need to annually take stock of where you are and where you want to be. For Partners considering lateral moves then its essential that you maintain your client relationships as a portfolio of business or indeed a team that will move with you, makes you a much more attractive proposition.

For more details on our current private law practice jobs and opportunities within the top private practice law firms please click here

For lawyers in private practice currently looking to evaluate your career, please get in touch with us via Contact Us Page. You can also review our Annual Legal Career Review here.