Similar to in-house roles, there is definite ambiguity in job titles found across private practice. This can be unsettling for solicitors looking at their peers in other law firms, or indeed within the same firm who might have a different title. It is also difficult for HR and hiring managers to understand when a change of title is appropriate or required.
It is important to remember that titles are used differently in different firms and also that within the same firm there may be strategic reasons to have a certain number of each title within a team (e.g. when tendering to prospective clients, it might be preferable to have more or less senior lawyers within a team). This can result in solicitors with the same level PQE having different titles.
The meaning of a title will also differ. In some firms a new title can mean new responsibilities and or a pay increase, whereas in others it may only mean a higher charge out rate for clients!
The track to partnership deserves its own discussion but, as above, it is important to remember that firms handle progression differently. Some firms have a very structured process, others do not. Invariably, however, there must be space for a new partner appointment in the particular team and indeed the partnership itself.
Bearing the above in mind here is a brief summary of the most commonly seen titles in private practice below:
- Solicitor – This title can be given to anyone from newly qualified until partner. Some firms differentiate at various levels of experience as I will describe below.
- Assistant Solicitor– Some firms use this from newly qualified until 3-6 years PQE.
- Associate Solicitor – The firms that use the term Assistant Solicitor will usually use Associate to more senior solicitors. However other firms use the title Associate from newly qualified until 3-6 years PQE before awarding the title of Senior Associate.
- Of Counsel – This title is often used for the level before Partner or sometimes it is used as a precursor to Partnership, so a solicitor might carry this title for one year before they are made up to Partner. In other cases where a barrister or foreign qualified lawyer works in a law firm or where somebody has a very different working arrangement (e.g. where a solicitor might work remotely, more as a consultant than permanent staff member), the title Of Counsel might be used.
- Partner -There is no ambiguity with this term which refers to both salaried and equity partners. Internally partners might be differentiated according to their equity stake or the regions they cover but externally the title will generally be the same.
- Managing Partner– One partner is usually appointed Managing Partner for a tenure (or permanently).
Part One of “Legal Title Uncovered” focuses on In-House. Click here to read part one
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