Gender balance in law firms - diversify or die?

31 March 2015

A recent article in the Evening Standard reminded me why I am proud to be managing partner of Kingsley Napley.

The article, Law firms ‘will fall behind if they fail to promote women’, looked at a recent report by Skarbek Associates which concluded that the future of London law firms will be threatened unless they speed up efforts to help women progress to their senior ranks. It warned that ‘attitudes’ and ‘organisational culture’ are still hindering female progression with women accounting for fewer than one in five of full equity partners in the City’s top 10 law firms.

We may not be a top 10 law firm by turnover, but compared to many of our peer firms and other City firms, Kingsley Napley has bucked the trend.

53% of our partners are female (38% of equity partners). We have a senior leadership team that comprises both a female managing and senior partner (myself and my colleague Jane Keir) and a management team of six, of whom four are female. In fact, you could say we are a predominantly female firm with 75% of our total staff, including lawyers, now being female too.

We have reached this exceptional ratio not through quotas and special promotion programmes, but by naturally and organically looking at who is best for each job. Yes, we have policies that enable women to work flexibly and balance their childcare responsibilities in some cases, but the same policies also apply to men at the firm. There is no special treatment of women at Kingsley Napley, just a respect for capability from whichever gender it comes and shines through.

The Skarbek report rightly reminds us (as Equalities Minister Nicky Morgan highlighted last week too in her speech about Investing in Women in Business) that more than 50% of new entrants to the legal profession are women, so our pool of lawyers perhaps reflects that trend more accurately than most. Some of our practice areas are traditionally seen as more female – employment, family law and clinical negligence for example, and we don’t do big M&A deals. However, we are also a strong criminal law firm, an area of the law traditionally perceived as “male” if ever there was one - and yet, some of our most high profile female partners specialise in that area. The fact is that our female lawyers are spread throughout all of our departments and practice at all levels.

Why does this matter? I believe the gender balance we achieve as a firm positively contributes to the fact we are “a nice place to work” (which surveys such as the Sunday Times Best Place to Work awards verify we are and suggests that our employees think so too) and it provides inspiration for females entering the profession. Trainees and newly qualified solicitors looking to join Kingsley Napley regularly mention that the positive role models here give them confidence that they will be supported and encouraged in their career, whatever their sex. Importantly also, it helps in our dealings with clients - both individuals and more corporate businesses. We are not “out of step with the modern world” – a danger highlighted by the Skarbek report. 

While we may have successfully addressed the gender imbalance at Kingsley Napley, there are other areas of diversity and inclusion that we, as well as our industry in general, continue to need to actively work on. However, our attitude to and culture supporting gender diversity is one area where we consider ourselves thoroughly modern.  We are ahead of the curve on the issue of investing in women and realising the business value from that, which Ministers Nicky Morgan and Vince Cable often talk about. We have every reason to be proud of our progress both in comparison to our peers and the wider business community and this can only help us towards greater inclusion and diversity in other areas too.

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