Women drivers needed

Ever wondered why women are so under-represented in the upper ranks of law firms when so many continue to enter the profession at the junior level?

Margaret Taylor

Some of our readers reckon they have the answer. “If they want to make partners they should work and they’ll get made up. There is no magic to it,” quipped Harris Berry in response to our report last week that females make up less than 10 per cent of the UK 100’s equity partner numbers. Female Lawyer, meanwhile, believes that “the same old difficulty really goes down to the personal and lifestyle choice made by women when they have a family”.

Both views contain a grain of truth, but the reality is more subtle. As countless other readers observed, the key to achieving partnership remains the ability to bring work into a firm, regardless of how – or by whom – that work is handled once won.

In this respect men have the upper hand. How many male clients – and let’s face it, the majority are still male – would find it easier to tell their wives they are spending a fifth evening in a month with Georgina from X Firm than George?

But does the fact that George brought in the instruction negate the work that Georgina then does on it? Unfortunately, in too many cases the answer seems to be yes. It’s not so long ago that a high-profile female partner quit a top-10 firm for a City rival only to be derided by her former (male) partners for ‘not bringing any work in’. She’s gone on to complete some stellar work for her new firm while her old one has faced a well-documented identity crisis.

As CMS Cameron McKenna diversity and inclusion partner Daniel Winterfeldt told us last week, it’s merit that counts, although working out how to value this still confounds. As judgement calls will always be subjective, it is the firms that have strong female representation at the top – for which read judgemental – level that stand the best chance of redressing the gender imbalance across the board.

And there, it would seem, is the rub.