What happened to A&O’s first female partner?

Clare Maurice

Twenty-five years later, ­gradual change in the profession means that around 15 per cent of the magic circle firm’s partnership are women. Conversely, roughly the same proportion of partners at Maurice’s new firm – Maurice Turnor Gardner – are men.

Admittedly, Maurice Turnor Gardner, which Maurice runs as senior partner, is a far smaller ­outfit. The private client firm that was spun off from A&O last year has just six partners. Other name partners are LLP ­specialist Richard Turnor and tax and estate planning expert Ceris Gardner.

The strong female presence goes right to the heart of the firm’s DNA, with the partnership agreement breaking with tradition by opting to use feminine pronouns throughout. Maurice, who is listed in The Lawyer Hot 100 this year, claims that sole male partner Turnor “didn’t seem too upset” about this move.

Maurice’s progressive approach to textual composition would make feminists proud, but it would be wrong to see her as a radical. She is against quotas for women in firms because personally she would hate to think she got the job only because she is female. And when it comes to culture, financial management and client service, she is firmly wedded to the traditions of her ancestral firm.

“We took what we regarded as the best elements of A&O culture – we were always very collegiate, very open at A&O and extremely well-run financially,” she says. “We took our director of finance from A&O [David Shearing], who manages things very conservatively and ­prudently. The idea that the client is the centre of the universe was very much inculcated in us
at A&O.”

The links between the two firms are strong. “We were taking on an already mature practice from A&O with their blessing and they’ve been very supportive,” she says.

Maurice Turnor Gardner operates a referral arrangement with the larger firm, although not on an exclusive basis. “We had plenty of options of marriage from other firms,” she hastens to add, but these mostly came once the decision to launch an independent entity had been announced and the LLP established.

Maurice’s own practice combines international tax and estate planning with charity advice. She says that the two provide a natural synergy. “Fundamentally, if you act for people with wealth they may have feelings of altruism and ­philanthropy and will look to you to help them navigate through that,” she says.

While at A&O some of her team’s work involved acting on the establishment of charitable ­institutions such as Leeds Castle Foundation and the World Trade Center Disaster Fund. She found the latter particularly interesting because of the need to establish dual registration in two jurisdictions simultaneously.

Maurice’s practice was among the best in the City when the ­decision was reached to demerge from A&O. But what was it like launching in the middle of a ­recession? “It was daunting ­setting up a business at such a difficult time,” she admits.

The increase of the upper tax rate to 50 per cent and new ­regulations governing banker’s bonuses may have created ­concern for some of her clients, but they have resulted in a steady flow of instructions. “The two ­certainties in life are death and taxes – the real uncertainty is about the ­political future,” she says. “I have one client who keeps calling me and asking if everyone is leaving. Plenty of people are asking for advice on how to leave the UK.”

Maurice Turnor Gardner does not have a managing partner – it is too small for that – although Shearing does take on some of the duties associated with this role. Maurice herself does not have a fixed term for her role as senior partner, but she does not plan on staying around forever either.

“Maybe I’ll be like Gordon Brown, but I hope not – I hope I’ll understand when it’s time to go. I think my antennae are stronger than his. Succession planning is important.”

But such plans are clearly ­irrelevant for the immediate future. What Maurice calls the “honeymoon period”, which ­followed the firm’s establishment last May, has ended and the hard work has begun. She is coy on financial performance over this period and admits that the firm probably will not make it into The Lawyer’s UK 100 list this year – last year firms made more than £21m – but says that the team is “pedalling hard” nevertheless.

As an extremely well-regarded lawyer and one of the few female senior partners in the City, there is probably little change there then.

“I expect that some younger lawyers look at senior people and think that they couldn’t manage this and so give up,” she says. ­”Little do they know that everyone’s ­pedalling like mad. You can’t have it all and you have to compromise in some areas. But I always say I’m the lucky one because I’ve had the choice. Millions of women don’t. I’m very blessed.”