Partner status still eludes women, ethnic minorities

Revealed: massive dropout rate from trainee to partner level; management boards still white and male

Women and ethnic minority applicants entering the law are still failing to reach partnership, according to exclusive research by The Lawyer. On average, an encouraging 64 per cent of trainees at those firms which responded to the survey were female. Only 25 per cent, however, are currently making partner.

The ethnic minority figures are even more pronounced. The average number of ethnic minority applicants at responding firms was 23 per cent, but only 3 per cent made the partnership.

The poor representation of women in partnerships is highlighted by the tiny number of female board members at the UK’s top 10 firms. Three of the four largest firms have no women on their management boards at all, while only one of the top 10, Norton Rose, has more than one.

The confirmation that the biggest firms continue to be run by men is a key finding of the report, although it is likely to come as little surprise to most lawyers. As Malcolm Lewis, HR director of Trowers & Hamlins, puts it: “The law remains a white, male-dominated profession.”

The figures suggest that efforts by bodies such as the Law Society to increase diversity in the market will take years to have an effect.

Clifford Chance, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Linklaters all have management boards composed entirely of men. Norton Rose, which has two women on its board, also has among the lowest number of people in total on the board, making its male-to-female ratio proportionately the highest. Lovells, until last year the only one of the top 10 to be headed by a woman, scores poorly in this respect, with only one woman board member (former managing partner Lesley MacDonagh) out of a total of 14.

Most firms have two primary boards, one for day-to-day operational matters and another for international issues. At Linklaters, for example, the international executive has 15 members, two of whom are women, while its executive committee is composed of 12 men.

In contrast, Eversheds has a four-strong executive handling domestic issues. It features one woman, HR director Caroline Wilson.

However, the overriding theme common to all firms is that the senior boards are dominated by men.

Click here to read the HR Survey 2005

Number of women on law firms’ management committees

Firm Turnover (£m) Women on management committee (or equivalent) Total number on board
Clifford Chance 950 0 13
Freshfields 785 0 3
Linklaters 720 0 8
Allen & Overy 652 1 8
Lovells 377 1 14
Eversheds 296.2 1 4
DLA* 275.4 1 9
Slaughter & May 248 0 3
Herbert Smith 243 1 6
Norton Rose 205 2 7
*now DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Carey
Source: The Lawyer