The Missing Link: Linklaters to promote first senior female partner

May 16, 2021

3 min read

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What's going on here?

Linklaters, one of the UK’s elite “magic circle” firms, is set to elect a female senior partner for the first time in its 183-year history.

What does this mean?

The firm follows in the footsteps of Freshfield Bruckhaus Deringer, which became the first of the 5 elite City firms to elect a female senior partner in January. Herbert Smith Freehills joined in with this move shortly after. In the running are Sarah Wiggins, current London corporate and M&A partner; Claudia Parzani, Milan-based western Europe managing partner; and Aedamar Comiskey, global corporate head. 

The position of a senior partner is often considered to be the “face of the firm”, dealing with the most important clients and managing the day-to-day operations, alongside establishing the strategic vision of the firm.

The pending election can be seen as a significant landmark in legal history and a huge step in the right direction for hitting diversity targets within UK law firms. But is this a cause for celebration, or more of a shocking impetus for change?

What's the big picture effect?

More female lawyers are securing top positions within prestigious City practices. Linklaters’ guaranteed appointment of a female senior partner could encourage the setting of a solid precedent for other firms to follow.

However, this is a reminder of the relatively little representation of females in the top spots in law. What is particularly stark is the drop-off rate of females at post-associate levels and upwards. This lack is especially striking when it gets to partnership levels.

Why is the gender imbalance so apparent at the senior level? There seems to be a plethora of possible reasons. McKinsey’s research illustrates some of the top reasons for why females in private practice may not want to be a partner. Among these is the belief that there are not enough benefits to balance out the personal costs, excessive extra pressure, and danger of “too much politics”. However, coming out as the main reason women do not seek out partnership is the inability to balance family and work commitments. It has been noted that “you need to be doing around 2,000 chargeable hours a year plus business development [to make partner]” according to Nakul Kapur, director at recruitment firm Sequoia Associates. This makes it difficult for those who have responsibilities that fall outside of work, such as childcare, a responsibility that still tends to overwhelmingly fall on women. This makes the track to partner and beyond a more challenging and, in some cases, unattainable feat.

Sustainable change is required over the long term, with greater encouragement for females wanting to make a step up. Jo Dooley, head of diversity and inclusion at Allen & Overy remarked, “it’s not that women aren’t performing well when they go up for partnership…the issue is there weren’t more women going for it in the first place” (see our report on female partnership promotions here). Transparency in the number of female promotions and “elevating” wins such as this one will be “very important” for women in the profession. Being “championed and encouraged to remain in the game” is seen as crucial to Anne Grewlich, head of Ashurst’s global loans team in Germany. Championing women’s achievements, greater encouragement for those seeking promotion and enhanced transparency will all assist in breaking glass ceilings.

The profession has come a long way since Ruth Harris joined the City firm Ashurst in 1995 and made history – not through winning a case or signing a deal – but for being among the first female lawyers allowed to wear trousers in the UK. There is clearly a long way yet to go, and change is happening at a somewhat glacial pace. A guaranteed female senior partner at Linklaters, however, is certainly a start.

Report written by Hannah Parker

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