THREE senior women solicitors have resigned from Ashurst Morris Crisp's property department in successive days amid claims that not enough women in the firm are being made up to partnership.
The solicitors associate Shona Price and assistants Delia Kempley and Barbara Kerin resigned successively over a three-day period two weeks ago.
Their departures followed that of another senior assistant Katherine Collie in February.
Ashursts only has four female partners out of a total of 83, significantly less than most City firms of a similar size.
It has no female partners at all in its property department of 11 partners and over 50 lawyers.
Price, who is 15 years qualified, confirmed that she had resigned and that she was “undecided” about her future.
Twelve-year qualified Kerin is joining Charles Russell and five-year qualified Kempley is going to Berwin Leighton.
Kerin is understood to have been deeply unhappy about the perceived lack of opportunities for women in the department although she would not comment on why she was moving.
And The Lawyer understands that a lack of opportunity for women was also a factor in seven-year qualified Collie's decision to move to Belfast firm Cleaver Fulton & Rankin.
However, Kempley denied she was influenced by any perceived barriers to women.
One male solicitor working in the property department said of Price's failure to gain partnership in the firm: “You couldn't get a better candidate.”
He added: “It really reinforces the perception that the firm is against women. It seems to send a message to them that there aren't very good prospects for them in the property department.”
Laurence Rutman, head of property at Ashursts, said that the departures of the lawyers was a “non-story” and that they were entirely coincidental.
Rutman blamed the departures on the current recruiting crisis faced by all firms looking for suitably qualified property lawyers.
He said this crisis was caused by the lack of solicitors taken on to do property work after qualification during the last recession.
Denying that there was a barrier to partnership to females, Rutman said: “When the right people come along they will get promoted.
“We have a substantial number of girls in the department for whom we have high hopes.”
But Rutman admitted there were none at a senior level in the department with expectations of partnership in the near future.