I’m almost at the end of my work experience at Fides Search, and after a week I have developed a detailed insight into the UK legal market. Currently in the process of applying to university to study Law, naturally I had to look into the trends associated with this year’s partner promotion rounds to have an idea of what awaits me in the future.
1. Social Mobility in the Magic Circle
April saw the completion of partnership promotion rounds in the magic circle, with Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Freshfields, Linklaters and Slaughter and May all publicising who had joined the upper echelons of their firms in 2016. With 40 new partners revealed, despite now being “at the top” of their profession, where did these lawyers start out? The most recognizable names on the list were University of Cambridge and University of Oxford, with almost half (19 out of 40) of the new partners graduating from these institutions. Other institutions commonly drawn from include the University of Edinburgh, University of York and University of Leeds with a number of new partners having also studied overseas.
Nevertheless, despite working hard to improve social mobility within the sector, we can still see some firms performing better than others in terms of the educational backgrounds represented in their promotions. Allen & Overy seem to achieve the best representation in making up only one new partner from Oxbridge. Slaughter and May and Clifford Chance have the least amount of variation in the backgrounds of their partners. Over half of the new partners from Slaughter and May (6 out of 10) graduated from either Cambridge or Oxford, whilst the figure was 5 out 8 at Clifford Chance.
2. Gender Diversity in legal partner promotions
With 60% of new solicitor admissions being women, law firms continue to struggle in transitioning this representation into partner promotions and senior positions. This issue can be clearly seen in the number of the major law firms in the UK, as female partnership numbers stand at 17% in the top 10 law firms.
For example, although the overall representation of gender at Slaughter and May a is balanced with 52.2% of employees being women, Diversity and Inclusion Statistics from 2015 show a clear disproportionality between men and women in partnership. Almost three quarters of new partners are men, with only one women being promoted to partnership in 2016 out of an 11-strong promotions round, an example typical of many other UK firms.
Nevertheless, there are signs that progress is being made with White & Case performing exceptionally well in their promotion of women compared to other legal firms this year. Globally, 40% of the firm’s promotion round were women which included four out of the eight partners made up in London. This 50/50 split in partnership promotions shows other firms the potential of developing female lawyers internally.
3. Partnership promotions across the Globe: Linklaters Case Study
The promotion of partners in different jurisdictions, as well as the practice areas of the lawyers made up, reveals an awful lot about market conditions and individual law firm strategy. In taking Linklaters as an example, the firm promoted 24 new partners worldwide this year following a fluctuation in partnership promotions in 2010 and again in 2014. Noticeable trends include the lack of investment in South Africa since 2010 and no promotions in the Middle East since 2014. The number of partner promotions has decreased in most locations including Europe, USA, South America and Middle East. Only the number of promotions in London and Asia have increased since 2010, which coincides with the expansion of these offices.
Linklaters has seen the majority of its partner promotions in the London office, with over 60 partners made up between 2008 and 2016. The second most popular office, is Hong Kong with only 18 promotions. Therefore there is a massive difference between first and second place, which coincides with the global strategy of many law firms in the City to consolidate their London base. Moreover, promotions at other offices – such as Paris, Brussels, Moscow and New York – only range between 5 and 15.
Through the analysis of partner promotions, key trends can be seen into the legal market regarding a firm’s progress on the social mobility and gender diversity of its workforce, alongside insight into its international strategy and future plans. Despite this, the consistency of partner promotions across the sector indicates a healthy and competitive market and an exciting prospect for those planning on entering the profession.
Written by Sandra Mikosinska, Economics, Psychology and English Language & Literature Student at Westminster Kingsway College