Coaching: helping you navigate the Path to Partnership

Coaching: helping you navigate the Path to Partnership

In our most recent Illumin8 blog article, we shared a checklist of areas to think about in trying to achieve the lofty heights of partnership, whether as an internal promotion or external lateral hire. Having played a part in seeing so many senior lawyers transition to partnership, and facilitated so many lateral hires, we believe what can separate the best from the rest is self-belief and having a clear idea about where you're going and how you're going to get there. In this article we called on one of the leading executive coaches to the legal industry, Ian Charlton, to explain how coaching can help you navigate the path to partnership.

Ian has coached many lawyers in private practice. Partnership is one of the most common topics that arises: specifically, how do I make partner at my existing firm, or how do I move elsewhere and make that substantial set-up? The process is opaque at best and mired in secrecy at worst. Even the most apparently transparent partnership application process can seem impenetrable at times. At its heart, there are two issues: what do firms want from me, and how do I demonstrate that I'm the right person?

Woman in MazeOur "Path to Partnership" article hopefully gave you a good understanding of what firms are looking for in their potential partners. But how do you go about satisfying those requirements, demonstrating your abilities and preparing yourself for the process?

Unsurprisingly, there are no right answers or quick fixes. There is no straightforward "How to Make Partner" guide despite dozen of internet blog articles to the contrary.

And that's how it should be. Given your unique combination of skills, experience and approach no-one else can really tell you how to become a successful partner at your particular firm. Only you can work out what sort of partner you want to be and how you want to go about achieving that goal.

This is where a professional coach can play a vital role.


What is coaching?

Before we look at how coaching could play a role in your journey to partnership, it's worth explaining what coaching is (and isn't).

A coach is a facilitator: they enable you to resolve issues for yourself so that you can work out how to achieve your goals. The coach doesn't advise or guide you, rather they use non-directive questioning techniques to help you explore the issues in your own way. The focus is very heavily on creating a non-judgmental environment where you can explore a topic, think about the surrounding circumstances and consider all your options before deciding on your next steps.

Coaching isn't mentoring: that's commonly where you're paired with someone within your firm, usually a partner, and they attempt to guide you through your issues based on their experience and opinions. Mentoring can be enormously valuable, especially where it provides you with an insight into the machinations of the partnership application process or helps you develop that all-important internal network. However, the risk can be that you feel pushed into a particular direction or are unable to explore your thinking fully because of the nature of the relationship with your mentor.


How might coaching help you on the Path to Partnership?

CompassCoaching is a particularly powerful technique for those who are going through a period of substantial change. The transition from Senior Associate to Partner is arguably the biggest career change you're likely to make. This is where it is incredibly valuable to work with someone who is independent and has no vested interests in your next steps.

A great coach should ensure that your sessions are well structured and clearly focused on your particular objectives. They should give you an opportunity to think carefully for yourself, whilst both challenging that thinking and enabling you to look at the issues from different perspectives.


What topics could we cover?

As we explained earlier, coaching is ideally placed to help you work out how to achieve the elements within our Path to Partnership checklist. Questions to explore in individual coaching sessions could be any of the following:

The application process:

  • What does the firm expect of potential partners and might there be criteria I'm not aware of?

  • How do I develop a plan to tackle that process?

  • How do I know whether I have what it takes, and am I ready for this?

  • How do I build a business plan and show that I can deliver on it?

  • How do I start acting like a potential partner, rather than a senior associate?

My strengths/weaknesses:

  • How can I identify my strengths and weaknesses, and who can help with that?

  • How do I demonstrate those strengths, and work on those weaknesses?

  • How do I find out how I am perceived by my peers, team and/or clients?

  • How should I tackle any feedback I have been given on my prospects?


  • What strong relationships do I need to have in place to support my application?

  • What should I be doing to develop my internal & external networks and raise my profile?

  • Who are the key decision-makers in this process and how should I influence them?

  • What might be holding me back and how do I improve those relationships?

In essence it's for you to plot your course to partnership. No-one else can do that for you. However, a coach can help you work out the key elements of that journey for yourself. Where am I now? Where do I want to get to? How am I going to get there?

If you'd like to discuss coaching in more detail - whether as a candidate or a firm looking to introduce coaching as part of its wider talent management strategy to support and nurture top talent - then please get in touch with either Ian ( or Miranda (