Female partners: five-year trend reveals boost in numbers

Partner headcount across the UK’s largest 100 law firms by revenue has increased by 14.2 per cent since the credit crisis in 2008, while female partner headcount has increased by 27.4 per cent in the same period.

The research, which analyses the top 100 UK firms by revenue over a five-year period from 2007-08 to 2011-12, indicates a change in attitude to gender equality since firms began weathering the economic downturn five years ago, despite the fact women remain a minority at top UK firms (24 October 2012).

The magic circle bucks the trend with little growth in either categories, though. Including Slaughter and May, global partner headcount among the magic circle has dipped by 2.6 per cent since 2008, with the number of female partners falling by 0.4 per cent in total.

Across the five years, the total partnership at Linklaters reduced by 11 per cent with female partner headcount down by 7.8 per cent, while female partner numbers at Clifford Chance dropped by 8.4 per cent and the total partnership by 7.3 per cent.

In comparison, while Manches has seen its total partnership decrease by 17.8 per cent since 2007-08, its female partner headcount has grown by 31 per cent. Likewise, Lawrence Graham has seen its overall partnership contract by 17 per cent in the last five years while its female partnership has increased by about 5 per cent.

Of the top 10 firms by revenue, Clyde & Co, Herbert Smith and Norton Rose have seen their headcounts significantly increase at partnership level, though for Clydes and Norton Rose this is as the result of mergers. Nevertheless, Herbert Smith has seen its total partnership increase by 18 per cent and number of female partners rise by 48.3 per cent.

At Norton Rose, which has merged with Deacons in Australia (23 June 2009), Ogilvy Renault in Canada, Deneys Reitz in South Africa (15 November 2010) and second Canadian outfit Macleod Dixon (4 October 2011), the total partnership headcount has risen by 261 per cent while the female partner headcount has risen by 327 per cent.

According to CMS Cameron McKenna diversity and inclusion partner Daniel Winterfeldt the change has come as a result of firms finally realising that the under-representation of women in their ranks is a problem.

“You talk about gender now and you get people’s attention, law firms have woken up and realised that there’s a big problem,” said Winterfeldt. “People realise that they’re wasting money if they have all these women at trainee level who then walk out the door to a competitor or to a client later on. It’s all about merit – how do you value and how do you judge merit? It’s subjective and we need to challenge that. Targets are critical because if you don’t know where you’re going you don’t know how to get there.”

According to Eversheds’ diversity head Margot King organisations with more diverse boards perform better when it comes to female representation.

“We aim to have 25 per cent of women on our partnership by 2016,” she said. “The market has stopped seeing this as a women’s issue and started seeing it as a business issue.”

Yesterday The Lawyer found that female partners remain a minority at top UK firms, with just 23.5 per cent of all partners and 9.4 per cent of all equity partners across the UK’s largest 100 law firms by revenue being female.

For the full data see this year’s The Lawyer UK 200