Being a young partner or a senior associate in times of Covid-19: first sacrificial offering – or big opportunity?

Back to Closely Held and Growing Business Enterprises Committee publications

18–29 May 2020

Virtual Entrepreneurship Conference

Black Swan Ruling: entrepreneurship and the economy under and after the pandemic


Friday 29 May 2020

Being a young partner or a senior associate in times of Covid-19: first sacrificial offering – or big opportunity?


Introduction by IBA President

Horacio Bernardes Neto  Motta Advogados, São Paolo


Chair, IBA Closely Held and Growing Business Enterprise Committee

Marco Rizzi  Bratschi, Zürich



Giuseppe Coco  Ughi Nunziante, Milan

Marie Brasseur  Altius, Brussels



Zulon Begum  CR Murray, London

Moray McLaren  Lexington Consultants, London

Moritz Maurer  Niederer Kraft & Frey AG, Zürich

Luis Carlos Rodrigo Prado  Rodrigo Elias & Medrano, Lima



Caterina Iodice EMW, London


This webinar was opened by the Chair of the Closely Held and Growing Business Enterprise Committee, Marco Rizzi. Rizzi welcomed all attendees and followed with some remarks on the topic of discussion, emphasising the important role of young partners and senior associates and describing them as the most valuable resource law firms have during these current unprecedented circumstances.

Horacio Bernades Neto referred to young lawyers as key reliable resources for law firms which are going through many changes, especially so given the importance of the use of modern technology.

Giuseppe Coco briefly introduced the topic with a reference to the most appreciated valuable feature of a modern lawyer, which is the ability to adapt in a fast-changing environment. Coco stated that, within this context, it is worth considering the risks and obstacles that senior associates and young partners are likely to face dealing with the current circumstances. Equally, it is important to consider the role of young lawyers once the Covid-19 pandemic is over.

For such purposes, delegates took part in a survey to enable the panellists to discuss the outcome during the webinar.

Marie Brasseur introduced the speakers. The panel was made up of a balanced range of young and senior partners who were able to give valuable insights from different perspectives concerning the various issues discussed during the webinar.

Brasseur addressed the first question to Zulon Begum, who believed that the current pandemic would have negative effects on senior associate and young partners’ careers and remuneration. Due to the effects of the pandemic, senior associates who were going through partner promotion rounds would probably see their promotion to partner deferred until next year or later. This would also be felt lower down the hierarchy, because any potential promotions of junior associates in pipeline for this year, are also likely to be delayed.

Begum, herself a new partner, referred to personal challenges during this pandemic. She pointed out that without human interaction being possible, young partners were being deprived of the ability to rely on the most valuable tools available to build up personal relationships with prospective clients and professional contacts. This situation would be less challenging for senior partners who have already established and consolidated a client portfolio. In such circumstances, young partners are required to adapt quickly to the current lockdown and social distancing rules by making better use of technology and social media tools to raise their personal profiles, develop referral opportunities and develop their client base. Despite everything, Begum was of the view that young partners growing up within a dynamic technological environment will be able to adapt quickly to such a new working environment. They can rely on their excellent technology skills and expertise to make more use than ever of valuable social media tools for business development purposes. Although promotions would be deferred, Begum was confident that those young lawyers who are not only good technical lawyers but are also adaptable, innovative and resilient would achieve a promotion eventually.

Moray McLaren agreed with Begum’s view and pointed out that law firms are different depending on where they are in their development and in which jurisdiction they are based. In particular, he referred to three types of law firms, those law firms managed by founding partners, start-up law firms and institutional law firms. Since founding partners generally have strong, driven personalites, it was likely that they would not have such a proactive attitude to guide young partners through their professional career to partnership. This may cause a loss of confidence and engagement from young lawyers. Founding partners of start-up firms were likely to adopt an entrepreneurial and constructive approach toward young partners, looking to work together and building up a sufficient level of business required to sustain such an additional position within the partnership. However, such start-up firms often do not usually have any formal process in place that would assist young partners in developing their careers to enter into the partnership. In such circumstances, they may be kept within the firm as salary partners for many years. Institutional firms, which may include those firms of 20-30 partners, are likely to have a clear career process in place for young lawyers to follow. Different law firm structures can therefore have on impact on how young lawyers may enter into a partnership position.

Some pessimism was shown in the survey, as 45.45 per cent of respondents believed that the current crisis would bring more opportunities, while 53.73 per cent thought it would bring more obstacles to their career paths.

In this respect, Luis Carlos Rodrigo Prado explained that those senior associates and young partners (who, beside demonstrating excellent technical and professional skills, were also positive, innovative and proactive) were likely to be successful in this current challenging time.

Moritz Maurer remarked that, regardless of the pandemic, it would be important for senior associates and young partners to focus on building up an established client base. His experience was that having a resilient attitude to reaching out to clients and offering a complete level of assistance and flexible fees during such a difficult time was very much appreciated by clients. This crisis had given him a good opportunity to consolidate his relationships with his clients, although it had also limited opportunities to obtain new clients.

A further survey revealed young lawyers’ concerns in respect of a prospective decrease in work in the near future.

Moray McLaren referred to a general trend where the ability of young partners to bring a substantial caseload of business to the firm is seen to be the most important skill for entering into a partnership. In the current pandemic, it seems that law firms have increasingly required senior associates and young partners to be more entrepreneurial. This appears to be strictly linked to young lawyers having an ability to build up relationships with clients and business contacts. Young lawyers are therefore required to show more than just an ability to share risk, bring business together and trust each other as good partners in order to get into partnership. McLaren remarked that it is highly important that law firms keep diversity within the firm. They should identify those people who will fit within the firm regardless of having such entrepreneurial skills, to allow them to develop their careers towards specific targets, such as being a director, counsel etc, whilst those young lawyers who do no longer fit into the firm should be dismissed. In his view, both law firms and young lawyers would benefit from such a clear and honest approach.

Luis Carlos Rodrigo Prado agreed on the importance of entrepreneurial skills, although the ability to effectively bring a substantial caseload of business to the firm would not be considered a key requirement. In his experience, in South America it is difficult for young lawyers to develop a substantial caseload of business because of their junior position. He also considered it important to keep diversity within the firm, since different skills and abilities are highly valuable contributions to a firm.

Coco then shared with the panellists the outcome of a survey concerning the disadvantages of the intense use of technology during the current crisis. He commented that a large majority of respondents raised concerns about the lack of personal interaction with current and prospective clients and colleagues and reported their difficulties to mentor and communicate effectively with young lawyers during the lockdown.

Moritz Maurer considered that personal interaction is irreplaceable because face-to-face communications have immeasurable importance for the type of services supplied by law firms. Face-to-face meetings allow lawyers to communicate clearly and build trust and relationships with clients effectively. In his view, the pandemic clearly has had an impact on all our lives and has proved there are various means of interaction that can be used as alternatives in situations such as a lockdown. Despite this, those alternatives should not be overestimated because they are not able to replace direct human interaction.

Begum remarked that, before the pandemic, the intense use of technology had already diminished human interactions in our daily life. This had made it possible for people to interact with a wider and diverse audience worldwide. With such interaction intensifying during the lockdown, it also gave us the opportunity to appreciate much more the value of face-to-face interaction. Once the crisis is over, in her view, the use of virtual interaction will complement face-to-face interactions.

Luis Carlos Rodrigo Prado greatly valued the importance of human interaction for law firms because the majority of law firms are focused on building their own culture through daily, face-to-face meetings and conveying their specific culture to young lawyers. This makes a firm stronger and assists members of a firm to work well together during challenging times. Virtual communications are not able to achieve the same outcome and so far it has proved to be the case that they can also raise some difficulties.

McLaren agreed with Rodrigo Prado on the importance of law firms to promoting a common culture and purpose, which distinguishes one firm from another.

Unfortunately, there was not much time left to consider questions raised by the delegates during the webinar. However, Brasseur picked one question addressed to all panellists. Panellists agreed that regardless of the current pandemic, law firms should focus on investing in young lawyers because they represent the future of those firms. At the same time, it was considered sensible that discussions are commenced with those senior partners who are close to retiring. This will allow them to dedicate time to other activities and implement their transition out of the firm. Equally, the panellists also agreed on the important role senior partners have in conveying to young lawyers their experience in building trusting relationships with current and prospective clients and preparing young lawyers for senior positions in the future.

This webinar was able to reach a good number of delegates worldwide. It was well received by the delegates and provided food for thought and an opportunity for comparison. Although interactions with panellists were limited by the time available, the panellists and moderators were able to establish a lively and interesting discussion throughout the webinar.


The webinar can be watched here: /Young-Partner-or-Senior-Associate