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Revealed: How long does it take to make partner in India’s top law firms?

9 (point one) is the magic number
9 (point one) is the magic number

Out of India’s six largest corporate law firms, Trilegal has the shortest partnership track while on average it takes longest at J Sagar Associates (JSA), where the path is on average two years longer, reveals research conducted by Legally India of more than 100 partners promoted between 2009 and 2013.

Legally India analysed the reported partnership promotions since 2009 across India’s six largest law firms – Amarchand Mangaldas, AZB & Partners, JSA, Khaitan & Co, Luthra & Luthra and Trilegal – revealing that on average it took 9.1 years* since graduating from university for lawyers to be called into the partnership.

Trilegal

Trilegal had promoted nine lawyers into its non-equity partnership since 2009. On average, a Trilegal partner had graduated eight years ago, with the youngest taking only 7.7 years and the most senior getting the nod after 9 years (the data excludes those promoted into the equity lockstep from salaried partnership, which was abolished in 2012 with a conversion into a full equity lockstep partnership).

Trilegal also had the narrowest range of seniorities among its promoted partners, with a standard deviation** of only 0.5 years in its sample*** set.

Amarchand & Luthra: Peas in a pod

At Amarchand and Luthra’s corporate and tax divisions, it has taken on average 9.1 years to be called on to become a non-equity partner, although it has recently taken as few as 6.7 years in the case of Amarchand, or 7.4 years in Luthra’s case. Both are almost identical at the top end too, with the most senior promotions at both firms happening around the 14-year mark.

However, Luthra’s litigation division, which is a separate partnership that welcomed three new salaried partners since 2009 according to Legally India reports, had a wait time of between 16 and 20 years from graduation to partnership.

Two tales of two cities

At Amarchand, 20 were promoted in Delhi and 15 in Mumbai, with the average seniority running to 8.8 and 8.5 years respectively. In Amarchand’s Bangalore office, where three partners were promoted in our sample*** during the period, it took 10.2 years on average to ascend into the non-equity layer.

Luthra was considerably more Delhi-heavy in its promotions, with the capital seeing 13 promotions compared to only four in Mumbai and one in Bangalore. The average seniority in Delhi was 9.5 years, but in Mumbai it only took 8.1 years, on average, to make it into the partnership.

AZB, Khaitan

At AZB and Khaitan those bumped into the non-equity partnership since 2009 have had to wait just over nine years to become partner.

At both firms, there majority are clustered quite closely to the statistical average, with non-equity partners at AZB ranging from 6.9 to 11.7 years of life post graduation, while at Khaitan the band is even narrower from 7.7 to 10.8 years.

Khaitan ended its all-equity partnership model in September 2010, introducing the retained partner designation. However, surprisingly the seniority of equity and non-equity partners have been almost identical so far at 9.4 and 9.3 years respectively.

J Sagar Associates

At JSA, the non-equity partner track is typically 9.7 years long – which is more than at the five other corporate firm entities – and to become equity partner, on average, took 13.2 years.

However, JSA also boasted the greatest spread in seniority out of all firms, with both equity and non-equity samples having a larger standard deviation** than the other firms.

JSA, for instance, boasted the most junior non-equity partner out of all firms, at only 5.7 years of post-graduation experience. JSA operates a partnership selection and appraisal process that includes giving a strong weight to a number of parameters apart from just billings.

Clarification: For the avoidance of doubt, this study does not give any direct insight into how many associates never make it to partner level or leave firms before that point in seniority that they could become eligible for partner.

Views outside

At US firms it takes on average 10.5 years to be called into a law firm partnership, according to a study by the American Lawyer in 2012.

At the top 10 UK law firms, it takes 10.6 years to become partner, according to research by UK legal magazine Legal Week, while at the largest four magic circle law firms the average partner track is nine years long, and Herbert Smith Freehills’ partnership had only 7.25 years under its belt in 2013. However, at Eversheds and Norton Rose the path to partnership was just under 14 years.

Photo by Casey Fleser

Law firm sample Avg seniority (years) at promotion* Variation (standard deviations**) Minimum seniority (years) Maximum seniority (years) Total partners in sample***
Trilegal 8 0.5 7.7 9 9
Amarchand Mangaldas 9.1 1.8 6.7 14.2 40
Luthra & Luthra (corporate / tax) 9.1 2.1 7.4 14.3 19
AZB & Partners 9.2 1.4 6.9 11.7 11
Khaitan & Co (equity) 9.4 1.6 6.7 11.7 10
Khaitan & Co (non-equity) 9.3 1.2 7.7 10.8 7
-- Khaitan & Co (all) 9.3   6.7 11.7 17
JSA (equity) 13.2 2.9 9.7 16.7 4
JSA (non-equity) 9.7 2.3 5.7 14.7 31
-- JSA (all) 10.1   5.7 16.7 35
Luthra & Luthra (litigation) 18 2 16 20 3
TOTAL (excl equity / Luthra lit) 9.2 1.9 5.7 16.7 117

* Year count calculated between August of year of graduation to the month of the date of promotion. Year count does not directly equate to PQE (post-qualification experience), as it does not count time spent pursuing further education or career breaks.
** Standard deviations (SD) measure how close to the average most of the sample is. I.e., if the SD number is low, it means that most partners seniority was very close to the average, if it’s high, it means that there is typically a large variation from the average.
*** Samples excludes a small number of partners for whom the graduation year could not be confirmed, or statistical outliers, or those who had been in other careers before entering the law.

Source: Legally India archive stories and research between 2009 and 2013

Additional research and reporting by Prachi Shrivastava & Abhyuday Bhotika

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