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Five ways to make the most of the path to partnership

Jessica Kemp, tax partner at Travers Smith, talks about the five things that helped her on her path to partnership and gives practical hints and tips on how best to make the most of your skill set.

For young lawyers, partnership often feels like a very distant prospect, and increasingly one that they may feel less than positive about. Do I really want it? This is a question that many young lawyers ask themselves. It is certainly true that a path to partnership requires some sacrifice and hard work, and so it is right to ask whether it is worth it.

Here, Jessica Kemp discusses the five areas that allowed her to make the most of developing a career towards becoming a tax partner.

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Diverse opportunities

The path to partnership is paved with more than chargeable hours. Of course, the bedrock of a successful practice is one that wins work and provides excellent service to clients. However, there is much more to partnership than this and, for me, I have always wanted to think about the other opportunities out there.

Whether becoming a charitable trustee, working with the taxes committees of international lawyers association, or joining the All Party Parliamentary Group on Taxation, I have been very lucky to have the chance to take on other opportunities. All of these have presented challenges of their own but each has, in its own way, expanded my skill set and my horizons, ultimately making me a better lawyer.

So, it is important to take opportunities when they are presented to you, even if they feel scary. You never know what might be at the other end.

Learning

In tax, there is a constant stream of new law that must be learned, digested, and applied. This has perhaps never been more important than it is today with the new efforts on international cooperation and the assault on tax planning around the globe.

There is, therefore, a huge amount of technical learning and knowledge that we must, as tax lawyers, digest on an annual basis – it is always exciting when new budget announcements happen to see what innovations take place. However, this is not the only type of learning that we need to do.

We are all constantly thinking about how best to service our clients, whether technology can help us do our jobs, how to market our business in a constantly changing world and how the needs of our staff change as society becomes more complex. This can feel intimidating and, for those who love to feel like the expert on certain matters, it is often difficult to know how to take on this challenge.

My advice would be to embrace the unknown and embrace innovation because it creates opportunity. Young lawyers coming through the ranks can have a fresh perspective on how things might be done more effectively and that can really create an opportunity and push a tax practice onto the next level.

Sharing knowledge and opportunity

I am very lucky to work somewhere where everyone across the firm seeks to share their knowledge and opportunity. This might be on a personal level (many female partners took me aside to give me advice and encouragement as I went on my first maternity leave), or a professional one (as a firm we work all the time on a cross-departmental basis, linking our expert colleagues in to give the very best service to clients).

This only works, however, where everyone shares in the same way. This provides a wonderful opportunity for young lawyers coming through to partnership to make sure that they are adopting these behaviours and passing knowledge onto others. Nothing is more impressive than seeing a junior lawyer take time out to teach a trainee, or a senior associate taking a junior associate under their wing if they are struggling. This process also gives something back to everyone involved.

Balance

It is undeniably true that to become a partner, it takes a lot of hard work and that there are some sacrifices to be made in your personal life. However, it is necessary to choose your sacrifices.

For me, with two young daughters and a husband who is also a busy city lawyer, I had to think very hard about whether it was possible to be the kind of mother I wanted to be, as well as the kind of lawyer I wanted to be.

I'm very lucky that I have been able to find a solution that, by having a short commute and working later into the evenings, allows me to maintain that balance in my life in a sustainable way. It's not always easy and I often get it wrong, but overall it does work.

So, if you are thinking about partnership, do not think that you have to put your life completely on hold. Work smart, make a commitment, but remember that if you can maintain balance and perspective and remember what is important to you, then it will make you better both at home and in the office.

People

The best thing about being a partner is the people you work with. I am very lucky to be part of a genuine partnership where people offer support and treat one another with respect, as well as with genuine liking.

When thinking about partnership, it is tremendously important to think about the people who will be your partners. You don't have to be the same as them – in fact, some of my great friendships with my fellow partners are those who think very differently from me and that diversity of thought is crucial to a successful business. However, look closely at how partners treat one another and think about whether that is a culture you want to aspire to be part of. Every firm has a different approach and a different culture, and this should be a key consideration in choosing where the best place is for you to establish a partnership track.

In conclusion, the path to partnership can be tough and there may be times when we all question whether the sacrifices are worth it. However, it is also littered with fantastic moments on both a professional and personal level, and if you can find the right place for you and make the most of the opportunities that come your way, then you can make it work for you.

Jessica Kemp is a tax partner at Travers Smith in the UK. She is the president of the International Association of Young Lawyers (AIJA) Tax Law Commission (the first woman to ever hold this role) and is an officer of the Taxes Committee of the International Bar Association. She is a member of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Taxation and sits on the editorial board of Thomson Reuter's Taxnet Pro.

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