Connor Simms - Principle Consultant, DMJ Recruitment
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is fundamental to a balanced and representative legal system that can best understand and represent the views of its clients.
A key aspect of this, and one that has received the bulk of publicity and research is into the gender gap between male and female lawyers in positions of power and responsibility. One of the key case studies for gauging this is the ratio of male to female equity partners in London.
Law.com has undertaken in-depth studies into the largest UK-based law firms and only two of the largest 20 feature in the top 25 highest proportion of female partners in the UK. In short, British firms are severely lagging behind their international counterparts.
Withers, Irwin Mitchell and Ropes & Gray topped the ranking with women making up over 40% of the equity partnership at all three. Withers are in first place and boast the only leadership team that is weighted in favour of female partners at 51% whilst the other two are at approximately 41%.
Widening the search to all partners, including both equity and non-equity, Irwin Mitchell topped the table. None of the U.K. elite firms — such as Slaughter and May, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Clifford Chance, Allen & Overy and Linklaters — made it into the top 25.
Equity is fundamental to providing an excellent service, but it is also crucial to creating supportive teams with representative leadership and fostering a positive working environment for all members of the team.
How will this current gender gap leave female solicitors with attempting to gain access to the upper echelon of the field in the future?
There is strength in numbers and female solicitors are on the rise. They first took the majority of the UK field in 2017 and this trend shows no sign of slowing.
In 2022, 69% of students applying to law were female and this is no flash in the pan with numbers steadily rising. Compared to a decade ago, male applications have risen by 2% whilst female applications have risen by 41%. Admissions to the roll in the year that ended July 2021 were 4,181 females to 2,284 males and as of the same date there were approximately 12,000 more women admitted than men.
We have a profession that is now weighted towards females over males and based on those applying to law degrees this gap is only going to widen further in the next 5-10 years and, presumably, beyond that. Of course, partner level positions should be representative of the field itself and what can be done now to correct these discrepancies should be done however, would the gap, without intervention, right itself over the next decade? With females handsomely leading intakes year after year, I would like to think so.
Having said that, this line of thinking can be dangerous and meaningful change to the establishment seldom happens naturally. If you want to be heard, you have to make some noise. Yes, it will become easier for women to enter positions of power as the industry continues to tilt in their favour but that’s no reason to sit and wait. Cultural and social changes are important components in measuring the health of an industry and the gender gap is one of the most important considerations in fostering a positive and inclusive industry culture.