Linklaters partner: female quotas would rub off on law firms

A female partner in Linklaters’ employment practice has endorsed quotas for women on executive boards in the hope that the upturn in female representation in leadership positions will filter through to businesses such as law firms.

Nicola Rabson
Nicola Rabson

Nicola Rabson, a partner in London since 2010, has described the method of positively discriminating to push up the number of women in top roles as “the only way things will change”.

Speaking to business magazine Management Today, Rabson commented: “I have come full circle on quotas. I was very anti them, I thought they were tokenistic and that I wouldn’t want a board position on that basis. But I’ve come around to them. I think it is the only way things will change.”

Rabson, a mother of three who has worked part-time for long periods, explained: “We are all attracted to our own likeness: if you go to a party you are most likely to talk to someone the same age, gender and class as you. This is part of the reason there are many successful female lawyers who are not being made partners and we need to do more to help women get ahead.”

Clarifying her position, she told The Lawyer: “I was speaking about quotas in relation to board-level appointments, and it is my view that if these entities had more female seniors this should filter throughout industry including law firms.”

Female quotes in law firms are effectively non-existent, with Ashurst coming closest by introducing targets to increase female representation in its management positions (21 November 2011).

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer has contemplated targets for the number of female candidates put forward for partnership promotion each year but has stopped short of calling for a quota (25 May 2012). Magic circle rival Clifford Chance has a long-term target to fill 30 per cent of its partnership with women.

Research carried out last year by The Lawyer showed that women made up just 23.5 per cent of all partners and 9.4 per cent of all equity partners in the UK’s top 100 law firms by turnover (24 October 2012).

The UK government has declared itself opposed to European Union proposals to set a quota of 40 per cent female membership of non-executive director boards of large listed companies by 2020.

A Linklaters spokesperson was unable to confirm the firm’s position on quotas in law firms but said in a statement: “We have been committed for many years to addressing the issue of how we can retain more female lawyers and bring them into the partnership. We have had some success, doubling the proportion of female partners in our London office over the past ten years.

“However, we are completely aware that – along with the profession as a whole – we have a long way to go, and there remains a disproportionate gap between the number of female lawyers we recruit at trainee level and those that go on to become partner. It is a complex issue, with no one solution, but we are determined to address it and have launched a number of initiatives to actively help support the retention of women lawyers in the firm.”

The firm also claims to be the first major law firm to offer maternity coaching and has provided unconscious bias training to the firm’s key decision makers since 2009.