A Win for Women: half of partnership promotions go to women

November 14, 2020

2 min read

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What's going on here?

For the first time in the UK’s legal history, almost 52% of newly-promoted partners over the last year were women, according to Chambers’ annual report. 

What does this mean?

This represents an eight percent increase on the previous year. This, alongside the recent news of Magic Circle firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP appointing Georgia Dawson to head up the senior leadership team, paints a bright picture for the future of the industry. However, a report earlier this year by the Financial Times highlighted that although just under half of associates at firms sampled were women, women only made up around a fifth of the partnership. Even fewer are equity partners, which requires partners to buy into the business. 

What's the big picture effect?

With law firms setting goals and pledges to increase diversity and create a more inclusive working environment, such progress is encouraging but also serves as a reminder of the importance of intersectional equality.

It is also important to consider the wider evolving landscape that firms’ clients operate in. In the US, some corporate clients have demanded that their lawyers be diverse teams or risk getting fired. For example, Intel stated that they would only hire a law firm if they were made up of at least 21% women and 10% underrepresented minorities

Additionally, this opens up the conversation around work-life balance. The £28bn, traditionally male-dominated legal profession is notorious for its intense working culture as a result of tough billing targets, long hours, high demands of clients and the pressure to bring in more business. This can make it incredibly difficult for those wanting to make partner while having family responsibilities or wanting a work-life balance. Jo Dooley, head of diversity and inclusion at Allen & Overy LLP UK stated that “it’s not that women aren’t performing well when they go up for partnership – the success of women who go up for partnership is higher than men – the issue is there weren’t more women going for it in the first place”. The high cost of a talent drain of women leaving the profession should be a key consideration for firms wanting to retain talent at the top, which will, among other things, require a change of culture and addressing structural inequality. It will be interesting to see if the greater flexibility offered as a result of the move to working from home will change law firms’ working cultures at all.

Having representation at the highest levels of a firm’s structure rewards hard-work, can provide encouragement to junior and aspiring lawyers and creates a more open culture. The shift towards more women being recognised for their talent should certainly be celebrated, but there is still a long way to go. 

Report written by Yaeno Fernandez 

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