Accessibility Links

Magic Circle firms 'still failing women'

Posted by: Laurence Simons 03/09/14

The leading City law firms in Britain are still failing to improve the representation of women in their partnerships, new research has indicated.

A study by Legal Business has found the last four years have produced almost no progress in raising female representation in this area.

It found the proportion of female lawyers was unchanged since 2010 at top firms like Linklaters, Allen & Overy, and Slaughter and May, with the highest proportion of women being 18 per cent at the latter firm.

The only employers where the figure had risen was Clifford Chance, where there was a one per cent increase. However, the number of female lawyers at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer has dropped by the same amount.

In addition to this, a study of the top 25 law firms has found only three of them have drawn more than a quarter of their lawyers from the fairer sex.

Legal Business suggests possible explanations include women being disproportionately affected by the tougher performance management regimes put in place after the 2008 financial crisis, or an apparently growing preference among women to opt for private practice instead.

The issue of female representation is a particular hot potato because law firms have been working hard to ensure they improve diversity in other areas, such as ethnicity and educational background.

However, it appears that legal firms - just like other professions such as politics, the diplomatic service and even membership of the England cricket and rugby teams - may still epitomise an elite of male, public school and Oxbridge individuals, with many significant barriers to social mobility remaining in place.

Indeed, the Social Mobility and Child Poverty (SMCP) Commission's recent 'Elitist Britain?' report showed the legal sector included some of the lowest diversity levels, with senior judges being 75 per cent Oxbridge graduates, 71 per cent public school alumni and disproportionately from the south of England. One imagines this can hardly help encourage diversity in the legal sector as a whole.