Focus: Ladies in waiting
15 September 2008
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19 August 2009
Female equity partners in the West End are few and far between. In the top 100 law firms listed in the The Lawyer UK 200, there are only 10 women partners with equity in the West End – and six of those are at Mayfair property and private client boutique Forsters.
Indeed, Forsters has a better record than the rest by a considerable margin. No fewer than 44.8 per cent of its total partnership are female – 13 out of 29. Even more impressively, Forsters has one of the highest proportions of female equity partners within The Lawyer UK 200 at 35.3 per cent. Six out of the firm’s 17 equity partners are women. In the last financial year, average profit per equity partner (PEP) at Forsters stood at £449,000, with the equity spread standing at £270,000-£600,000.
The fact that so few women make the equity in West End firms has a considerable impact on their earnings. West End firms tend to operate fairly wide merit-based systems. Take Fladgate Fielder, for example. Of its 39 partners, 11 are female, or 28.2 per cent. But Fladgate, which has an average PEP of £618,000, is a firm that keeps its equity very tight. Only 14 partners enjoy the equity, which this year ranged from £277,000 to £976,000. And of those 14 partners, only one is female – bringing the ratio right down to 7.1 per cent.
It is a similar story at another West End firm, Howard Kennedy. It has 67 partners, of whom 15 are female, giving a ratio of 22.4 per cent. (Those figures are correct as at the end of the financial year – since then, two female partners, Susan Aslan and Susan Charles, have left the firm to set up their own independent practice.) But in order to keep its profit competitively high (PEP was £618,000 last year and the spread was £295,000-£900,000) the equity has to be kept very tight. Only 17 partners enjoy equity, and of them only one is a woman.
Finers Stephens Innocent is another firm with a long, long way to go before it manages to attain gender equality. There are 33 partners at the firm, six of them women. But what of the 13-strong equity? Not one woman makes it into that particular club.
Even Mishcon de Reya has some work to do here. There are 13 female partners out of a total of 55, or 23.6 per cent, which is more than the national average. But a closer look at the equity partnership shows only two women out of a total of 21 who are able to earn the average PEP of £740,000.
In fact, many firms with small equity partnerships do not tend to have many women in the club. Take Ward Hadaway, which has one of the tightest equity partnerships in the country with 14 partners out 54. Those 14 partners at the Newcastle-based firm enjoyed an average PEP of £408,000 in 2007-08. There are 11 female partners, but not a single one of them has been admitted to the equity.
Female-lite equity partnerships
Some firms that make the top 30 firms by percentages of female partners do rather less well when it comes to the number of female equity partners. Lewis Silkin, which has a progressive reputation, does not do particularly well on this score. Although nearly 30 per cent of its total number of partners are women, only one woman is in the 23-strong equity, which posted an average PEP of £330,000.
Five firms in the top 10 of the female partner table – Beachcroft, Berrymans Lace Mawer, Irwin Mitchell, Pannone and Shoosmiths – have more than 100 partners. All of them major in insurance litigation and all, apart from Pannone, have national spreads. Each of these firms has equity partners who make up around 50 per cent of the entire partnership.
Shoosmiths’ numbers dip when you look at women partners compared with women equity partners (30.8 per cent and 17.5 per cent respectively), but insurance-heavy Berrymans and Beachcroft keep their numbers relatively stable. Beachcroft has 31.6 per cent of its total partners female and 25 per cent of its equity; at Berrymans it is 35.9 per cent and 28.3 per cent of the equity.
On the whole, national firms do rather well. Of the top 10, Irwin Mitchell has improved its position of late. In 2004 22.9 per cent of its partners were female; the latest statistics show that this proportion has risen to 30.7 per cent. However, the number of female equity partners lags behind at 21.6 per cent.
The worst performer on this score is Maclay Murray & Spens (average PEP £325,000, equity spread £155,000-£410,000). It has an impressive 30.6 per cent of women in the partnership, but precisely none in the equity.
So can having a bigger equity partnership always help your chances? Wragge & Co, which has an average PEP of £483,000, has a surprisingly mediocre rating for women partners, with only 16.8 per cent of its all-equity partnership being female.
Watson Farley & Williams (WFW) and Barlow Lyde & Gilbert (BLG) both have high numbers of equity partners – surely it follows that a comparatively high ratio of women partners make the equity? Unfortunately there are not many women partners to begin with at either firm. BLG, whose PEP was £380,000 last year and which has a spread of £225,000-£450,000, has 11 women partners out of 78 in total, with nine women in the 70-strong equity. WFW has nine female partners out of 66. Six are equity partners out of a total of 51, eligible for a PEP of £424,000.
The better performers
So far, not so good. But elsewhere there ;are ;more ;encouraging examples, such as at Russell-Cooke. Currently at number 88 in The Lawyer UK 200 by revenue, its all-equity partnership has seen 14 women enter the 41-strong partnership, or 34.1 per cent. Russell-Cooke’s average PEP was £192,000 with a surprisingly egalitarian equity spread of £102,000-£187,000.
It is a similar story at Reynolds Porter Chamberlain (RPC), which has an all-equity partnership and an average PEP of £301,000 and a spread of £130,000-£541,000. A total of 16 women are in the partnership of 63, giving a ratio of 25.4 per cent.
At the other end of the scale and within the top 10, Slaughter and May comes out well, with an average of 18.3 per cent. Virtually all of its partners are in the equity, with 23 women within the Slaughters PEP club of more than £2.25m.
As The Lawyer reported last week (8 September), these statistics show underlying growth in the number of women partners across the top 200 UK law firms. But making partner is just the first hurdle. Getting into the equity – and making the money – is another thing entirely.
Click here to view our table.