Male-dominated lateral market hits gender diversity at US firms

Women made up just 16 per cent of partners across the top 30 international firms in London last year, with sources pointing to a male-dominated lateral hiring market as one of the areas blocking gender diversity.

The UK offices of Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, Edwards Wildman Palmer and Gibson Dunn & Crutcher recorded the lowest proportion of female partners during 2012, with women making up zero, 3.3 per cent and 6.25 per cent of total partner numbers respectively.

Sources interviewed by The Lawyer claim that various US firms have turned to the ‘male-dominated’ lateral hiring market as a way to bulk up in the City, subsequently struggling to get a diverse pool of candidates for the top jobs.

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“Out of our 30 partners [one female] in London, 19 have joined as lateral hires over the last four years, and unfortunately only about two per cent of partners on the lateral hiring market are women,” said Edwards Wildman’s London managing partner Nick Bolter. “It doesn’t help that the automatic reaction when people get approached by a US firm is that they’re going to sell their soul and do thousands of billable hours.”

That said, Cleary, which had zero female partners in London during 2012 but has since promoted corporate lawyer Polina Lyadnova to its partnership, is known for its cautious approach to growth, rarely making lateral hires or launching offices. Likewise Gibson Dunn, which had just one female partner out of a pool of 16 last year, rarely makes an appearance on the lateral hiring front, relying heavily on contract lawyers and paralegals for major litigation matters such as the investigation into Libor.

However, speaking to The Lawyer about the figures, Cleary London partner Andrew Shutter said he agreed with the observation that there are “not many women on the lateral [partner] market”.

The lack of diversity among US firms in London is a clear problem, not only for those within the firm but also for business. “We have female clients specifically asking how many female partners we have,” explained Bolter. “In retaining our best people, male or female, it’s important that we have a wide range of role models that associates can look up to.”

Other US firms that had either none or zero female partners in London last year included Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, with no female partners out of a total of 13, Davis Polk & Wardell, which had zero out of a total of seven, and Morrison & Foerster, with one female partner out of 14.

Elsewhere, Debevoise & Plimpton, applauded for its diversity in the US, had two female partners out of 19 in the UK during 2012, while Weil Gotshal & Manges recorded four female partners out of 25 and Dechert four out of a UK total of 36.

However, Bingham McCutchen and Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe both had seven female partners in the UK, nearly half of the 20 total partners working at both firms’ City practices last year. Nearly half of Bingham’s global partner promotions were women last year (9 January 2013), with female lawyers making up six out of the 13 promotions at the firm.

Female partners also remained a minority at top UK firms last year, with just 23.5 per cent of all partners and 9.4 per cent of all equity partners across the UK’s largest 100 law firms by revenue being female (24 October 2012).