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EVERSHEDS' head of property in Birmingham has been elected the firm's first female managing partner, taking over from Ian Jollie next year.
Meg Heppel, who has been at the firm for 20 years - her entire working life - and a partner for 10 years, will take over for 12 months at the Birmingham office from May 2000.
She joins an elite group of women who hold the most senior management position in a top 20 firm, along with Denton Hall's Virginia Glastonbury, Nabarro Nathanson's Nicole Paradise and Lesley MacDonagh of Lovell White Durrant.
Heppel, 42, denies that her personal rise is a role model for women wishing to climb to the top of their profession."It has never been an issue for me. I am feminine but not a feminist," she says.
She adds: "The issue of whether someone is male or female is irrelevant. People rise through the ranks on merit. It's whoever is the right person for the job."
Women in senior management roles at Eversheds is nothing new - three of the five heads of department are female, as is the deputy managing partner, Sue Green. Green remains in the post when Heppel takes the reins.
Heppel says she may have to relinquish her role as head of property. No replacement has yet been chosen. But Heppel is keen to maintain client contact.
"It is very important not to cut yourself off from clients otherwise you can lose credibility and lose touch with reality. I am only 42 and it gives me a buzz talking to clients. I enjoy putting deals together and still want to do it."
Heppel wants to develop Eversheds' training and mentoring schemes when she takes the helm, giving the firm's lawyers the broader business perspective that is increasingly expected of them.
She says: "I place a lot of emphasis on this area. Over the last few years staff are expected to take a broader business role. It's important for the clients and for staff progression through the firm. We have got to train them to meet these standards."
Jollie, who has held the top job for 10 years - the longest-standing Eversheds managing partner to date - will continue as deputy chairman of Eversheds nationally.