Partner promotions drop

Partner promotions in the UK drop in top 20 firms to levels lower than 2009

UK partner promotions among the top 20 firms have dropped to 2009 levels in what could be a sign that 2012/13 financial results will be flat at best.

The top 20 firms collectively made up 111 partners in the UK this year – excluding foreign offices – one less than in 2009, when revenues tumbled amid the turmoil of the financial crisis. The figure is a 15 per cent drop on 2012, when the top 20 promoted 131 new partners in the UK. International partner promotions were also down compared to last year.

If the past is anything to go by, next year could also be tricky. The smallest partner promotions in the last five years was 2010, when 104 were made up by the top 20 firms, with a rebound in 2011 and 2012.

Across the top 20, the picture does vary. Of the magic circle, Clifford Chance and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer both made up one more partner in the UK than in 2012, while Allen & Overy (A&O) and Linklaters remained the same.

The biggest drop in promotions was at DLA Piper, which last year made up 12 partners in the UK but only four this year. Ashurst and Simmons & Simmons promoted four fewer partners this year than last year. Hogan Lovells and Norton Rose also reduced their UK promotions, by three each.

The biggest rise was at Irwin Mitchell, which promoted 14 this year, including four non-lawyers, compared to four in 2012. Of course, the firm is different from the rest of the top 20, with its focus on insurance and personal injury possibly proving more lucrative in the current economic environment than the corporate and commercial work of its peers.

Promotions chart 060513

This is also reflected in the practice area breakdown. There was an overall drop in the number of promotions to litigation, with 24 litigators made up in the top20 this year compared to 28 last year, but there were eight fewer promotions in corporate (19, after 27 in 2012), and six fewer in both employment and IP/IT.

Tax was the only practice area to see an increase in promotions between 2012 and 2013, perhaps an indication that tax regulation and legislation changes are concerning clients and prompting a boom in work. Several firms also promoted regulatory lawyers.

There was little change in the diversity stakes, despite firms making noise about pushing their talented women forwards. Ashurst made up seven new male partners but no women. Overall, a third of newly-promoted partners were female, around the same as 2012.

The magic circle also collectively let the side down on diversity this year. Only one woman was made up at A&O, Clifford Chance and Linklaters and two at Freshfields.

But credit should go to Norton Rose and Eversheds. Both firms promoted more women than men. And at Bird & Bird and Taylor Wessing, which promoted one partner each, the lucky lawyers were female.

Gender chart 060513