Freshfields needs a woman’s touch

Are you female? Do you want to be a corporate partner? Then train at a top City firm and move elsewhere for partnership.

As you’ll see from the feature by Joanne Harris beginning, we’ve been investigating partner promotion statistics over the past five years. The findings display an extraordinary variety of partnership prospects according to practice area and gender across the top 20 firms. (Note: these figures do not take account of lateral hires into partnerships.)

Take the statistic alluded to above. More women than men leave the firm they trained at to make corporate partner: 58 per cent of the men trained
at the firm where they end up as a partner, but only 40 per cent of women. Are women are falling foul of politics in corporate departments, which are notoriously tribal? Does it hint that the problem about female corporate retention isn’t all about the fertility window? Yet the positions are reversed in finance, where 60 per cent of female partners made up over the past five years trained at the firm against only 48 per cent of men. With the number of female trainees outweighing males, this is a statistic corporate heads may wish to explore.

Freshfields stands out as having one of the largest concentrations of homegrown partners. Sounds great, but it means the firm needs to be very confident in its trainee recruitment policy if it wants to fulfil its own diversity aspirations. It’s oddly confident that it has managed to slough off that hearty public school reputation of being full of blondes and blues, but it’s going to take more than 10 years of not sponsoring sporting events for that particular reputation to disappear, unless it goes big time for darts and snooker.

Freshfields likes to trot out the stat that it recruits from 39 academic institutions, but Oxbridge nevertheless exerts a tremendous grip on the firm, accounting for 50 per cent of its trainees. Freshfields doesn’t seem to have figures on whether those recruits are privately or state-educated, which from a monitoring point of view appears pretty darn lax. And with no women making the cut in the UK this year, it can only reinforce the perception that to be a partner at Freshfields you’d still better be part of the establishment to begin with.