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Our Poor Sisters Across the Pond

Vivia Chen

November 27, 2011

381px-Mignon_Nevada_Ophelia2Jolly old England is not so jolly if you are a female lawyer. Some news and tidbits about our sisters across the pond:

1. And you thought that 15 percent equity rate for American women lawyers was crummy. The Lawyer reports that efforts to increase female equity partners are essentially failing at the United Kingdom’s largest firms:

Despite apparent management efforts to increase the number of female partners, and the increasingly widespread introduction of flexible or part-time working practices, numbers are failing to grow significantly.

The female equity partnership rates are strikingly low among the big U.K. firms, including most of the Magic Circle:

    Allen & Overy - 13 percent

    Clifford Chance - 12 percent

    DLA Piper - 12 percent

    Freshfields - 11 percent

    Herbert Smith - 10 percent

    Linklaters - 14 percent

The worst place for women is Simmons & Simmons, which has only 6 percent female equity partners. That’s like Am Law 100, circa 1990! Reports The Lawyer: “Simmons also has the poorest record at increasing its proportion of female equity partner numbers over the past five years. Since 2006, the proportion of equity that is female has fallen by 4 percent.”

One Magic Circle firm that has a “good” track record on this front is the super-elite Slaughter and May, which clocked in at 18 percent female equity partners.

2. Ashurst stacks the decks—but please don't call it a quota system. How did Ashurst (16 percent female equity partners) finally get a woman on its management committee? Simple: present an all-female slate.

The Lawyer reports that Ashurst elected Madrid partner Cristina Calvo as its first-ever female board member in an ­election where all four candidates were women.

Ashurst's senior partner Charlie Geffen told The Lawyer that there were no quotas: “We didn’t say only female partners could stand, but we’ve said we want more women in senior management positions.” He added that it was ­“obviously good” that ­partners elected a female board member “of their own accord.”

We can only guess that a little nudging didn't hurt.

3. What British women really want in a law firm: Pampering. RollOnFriday reports that Glamour magazine rated Freshfields as one of the best places for women:

The magazine plugged Freshfields as the firm which is the most female-friendly in an article entitled “Bosses who love women” (presumably in the platonic sense). Apparently this is because the firm has “a gym, doctor, and restaurant.”

The honor is a bit puzzling, notes RollOnFriday, considering that women have a rather sad track record at the firm on the partnership front.

Ah, but as everyone knows, the way to a woman’s heart is not equity partnership, but those little touches—like access to a good salad bar, yoga classes, and a beautifully decorated lactation room.

Related posts: More Bad News for WomenProgress for Women, Except at High End.

Photo: Wikipedia. Soprano Mignon Nevada as Ophelia in an operatic adaptation of Hamlet, circa 1910.


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Good article Vivia,

I would love to know whether you have spoken with any women lawyers, or with women in the UK legal press, to get their reactions to your post. I have been struck by the low profile of the women's bar in Britain. I see the men, but not the women, on Twitter---maybe I have just missed them. And the word I get from colleagues with London offices suggests that women's initiatives are not the norm in the UK. Thoughts?

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: [email protected]

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