The proportion of female associates made up to partner level this year at the top 30 UK firms has risen slightly - from 25 per cent of new partners in 2008 to 27 per cent.
Of the 24 firms that have announced promotions this year, 13 have promoted a greater proportion of female partners compared with 2008, but 10 have promoted a smaller percentage.
One firm - Macfarlanes - has marked its third year running with no women being made up to partner level. The firm promoted four associates in 2007, five in 2008 and two this year - all of whom were men.
Despite the slight improvement in female career prospects at most of the largest firms, the proportion of new partners that are women is still much lower than the estimated 60 per cent of women entering the profession.
In common with many other senior partners consulted by The Lawyer, John Young at Lovells did not think this 30 per cent gap was as a result of management specifically discriminating against talented female associates, but rather because women are choosing to leave the law.
“We’re distinction-blind when it comes to promoting the best available talent,” he said. “The biggest problem is not discrimination when it comes to promoting but preventing people leaving the profession.”
Ex-chair of the Association of Women Solicitors and Webster Dixon partner Dawn Dixon said that there was a “multitude of reasons” why women leave the law or do not put themselves up for partnership.
“There are an increasing number of women who just want a job, they don’t want to be partner,” she said. “It’s quite clear that women are not as risk-averse as men because they have a lot more things they need to take into account.”
Those reasons often include women eschewing the time commitment involved with being a partner and mother. When The Lawyer spoke to Nabarro managing partner Nicky Paradise, she was about to head out of the office to look after her son.
Twenty-five per cent of Nabarro’s total partnership are women, including three of the six executive partners, so Paradise was sanguine about the fact that her firm is among a small cluster of those that did not make up a single woman this year.
“We decide on merit and timing. We’ve always promoted women and so we don’t have a backlog or need to tick any boxes - we don’t get hung up on that issue. There’s a wider diversity issue now - people are raising other questions.”
But Dixon argued that the disparity between the number of women entering the profession and those becoming partner was in-dicative of a “professional rather than gender problem”.
“People wanting to workflexibly is the reason some men and women are deselecting. If 60 per cent of those coming into the profession are women but only 30 per cent of partners are women then there’s a time-bomb waiting to happen. But as per usual, solicitors are looking at their belly-buttons [rather than dealing with this],” she said.
Promotions: ups and downs
On the up Firms promoting a greater proportion of women this year than last Allen & Overy Beachcroft BLP Bird & Bird Clyde & Co Camerons Eversheds Freshfields Hammonds Herbert Smith Norton Rose Olswang Shoosmiths
Going down Firms promoting a smaller proportion of women this year than last Addleshaws Ashurst Dentons Linklaters Lovells Nabarro Pinsent Masons SJ Berwin Wragge & Co