The FT reports that twenty-four, or 30 per cent, of the 80 promotions went to female candidates in 2014, compared with 14 per cent in 2013, according to the Law Society Gazette. Indeed, Clifford Chance and Linklaters, two of the firms, promoted more women in their London offices than they did men, with new female partners taking four of the seven slots at each firm.
While the news was encouraging, it belied a more basic truth about the UK’s £25bn legal market: law firms are laggards when it comes to diversity and are belatedly making efforts to improve matters. Take Clifford Chance, the UK’s biggest law firm by revenue: despite setting a 30 per cent target for female partnership worldwide in 2008, this still languished at 15.3 per cent in 2012 (in its UK base, the rate is higher at 21 per cent).
The firm is by no means alone. Just 18.6 per cent of partners across the UK’s top 20 law firms are women, according to 2013 research by The Lawyer magazine, even though their intake of trainees is fairly evenly balanced between men and women.
This compares unfavourably with other City institutions. Lloyds Banking Group has 28 per cent of its senior positions occupied by women, and has set a target of 40 per cent by 2020; Barclays’ figures are 21 per cent, with a target of 26 per cent by 2018.
It is not just in gender where law firms score disappointingly: diversity dwindles across the spectrum as seniority increases. Research on career progression in law firms by the InterLaw Diversity Forum found that “the more an individual diverges from the elite-educated, white, male norm the less well-paid and the less satisfied they will be with their career progress”.
Its findings made for all-too-familiar reading. White male lawyers outearn any other group (although gay men reported higher salaries than their straight counterparts, which InterLaw attributed in part to the fact that respondents who feel comfortable enough to identify themselves as openly gay tend to be at a more senior level). Women and ethnic minorities are given more routine and less prestigious work, particularly if they work part-time. And firms place a disproportionate amount of faith in an Oxbridge education when selecting their senior ranks.
Moreover, as in other sectors, good lawyers, are promoted into the partnership and therefore management positions without adequate leadership training, the report found.
Read more at the Financial Times
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